Get A Good Jump! How Baserunning Wins Games

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Stealing second is a calculated risk; you could get picked off by the pitcher, or thrown out by the catcher. But if you make it you’re in scoring position, and your next teammate’s hit will more possibly produce a run.

The key to stealing second is getting a good jump, and this is done more by clever observation and timing than by sheer speed alone. Some of the best base stealers in the Majors aren’t necessarily the fastest. How? Because they get a good jump, and they quickly get ahead of the point of getting thrown out by the catcher, even with average speed.

A good baserunner will begin his process of observation from the bench. You can be watching several things from the dugout during the game:

• The catcher’s arm – how strong and accurate is his throw to second?
• The backstop - how deep is it? Does a passed ball bounce off the back and return to the catcher, or carom off to the side?
• The pitcher – how quick or deceptive is his pick-off move?

When you get on first, check to see where the fielders are positioned. If a left-handed batter is up, your chances to steal improve because the batter shields you from the catcher’s direct line of sight, and he also is more in the way of a right-handed catcher’s throw (which 99 percent are).

Watch very closely as the pitcher begins his pitching motion. Once he begins his motion towards the plate, he must finish it or it’s a balk. But does he step back off the rubber a lot to keep you close to the bag? You must figure out the
difference between his pitching motion, and his pick-off move. It can be hard to detect with good pitchers. A good rule of thumb is, if the pitcher’s back heel begins to rock up and away from the rubber, he’s going to pitch. If his foot begins to pivot your way at the heel, he’s turning to throw to first.

Your lead should be as far off the bag as you can go while being able to safely dive back to the bag in case of a pick-off move. This distance is usually farther than most young players feel comfortable with, and it takes practice to see just how far out you can go. Once the pitcher is committed to his motion, you can take your “secondary lead” by bouncing out another couple of yards. Remember - you’re fighting for inches here, as inches is what most baserunners are out by!

Watch the first baseman too. If he’s far away from the bag, you picking you off. But if he’s hanging around the bag, your lead will be much shorter. Until the ball is actually pitched, your eyes are on the pitcher. As it is pitched, you’re watching the batter and the ball, unless you’re instructed to steal. In that case, you’re charging to second.

The key to baserunning is that you should always be right on the verge of breaking to that next base. You should be loose, keeping your body moving a little, on the balls of your feet, ready to bolt. That little extra jump is often huge when you get to second an inch or two ahead of the tag.

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