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Being a great base runner is different from being a great base stealer. Too many ballplayers think they are one in the same, and therefore relax on the base paths if they don’t consider themselves base stealers. The truth is that everyone can be a great base runner if they are smart and work at it. Scott Rolen is a prime example of a non base stealer (has averaged less than 10 SBs per year) who is known around the league as being a great base runner… Below are 5 things that all great base runners do.
All Great Base Runners…
1. Take a good lead every pitch, not just when you’re stealing
2. Read balls in the dirt
This aspect of base running alone can separate good and great base runners. If you see that the pitch is going to be in the dirt before it actually gets there, you can get a great jump and will usually be safe even if the catcher blocks it well. Occasionally the catcher will pick it perfectly and throw you out by a few steps, but the point is making him make that perfect play… Usually they won’t.
3. Always know where the outfielders are positioned
Knowing where the outfielders are playing allows you to get good jumps on the base paths. For example, if you’re on first and you know that the right fielder is playing deep and there’s a soft line drive to right, you are heading to third without any hesitation. Or if you’re on second and know that the center fielder is playing deep, you are planning on scoring on any base hit to center.
4. Know when to be aggressive in taking the extra base
When there are less than two outs, you should be more aggressive trying to get to 3rd base, such as going first to third on a single or tagging on a medium fly ball like Scott Rolen does here.
When there are two outs, you should be aggressive getting to 2nd, such as taking off on any ball in the dirt or trying to stretch a single into a double. Even though JD Drew gets thrown out in this clip, it was the right situation for him to try it.
Know if the opposing outfielders are left or right handed! If an outfielder runs down a hit to his glove side, he will have to take extra time either spinning or coming all the way across his body in order to make a strong throw to a base. By knowing the outfielders ahead of time, you’ll know when you have those extra few seconds.
5. Slide head first when stealing a base
Sliding head first gives the fielder less body area to tag you out as well as allows you to slide into the back corner of the bag. Watch how Jimmy Rollins executes the perfect slide to the back corner of the bag as he steals 2nd. If he goes feet first, there is a good chance that he is out on this play.
On the other side of the spectrum is this attempted steal by David Wright. Wright is an amazing player, but because he didn’t slide head first, Hanley was able to tag him in the chest for the out on this attempted steal.
Notice Reyes in this youtube video below. He gets a good lead (a step and a dive back to first base on the pickoff attempt) and then steals second with a great head first slide.
Special thanks to coach Brian Green at the University of Kentucky for helping me fine tune this list. What are some other things that you guys think should be added to this list?