There are three important things when you think about signs.
1. Know the signs
2. Know when to look for the signs
3. Execute on the signs
Know the Signs
I cannot stress enough the importance of knowing your signs. Coaches should review signs before every game. This will make the signs more memorable and your players accountable. Players-- ask about signs if you forget them.
Know when to look
Know the situation and be thinking about what signs might be given. Whether you are the hitter, a runner, or a basecoach, you should anticipate possible scenarios and look carefully for the signs. If there are runners on 1st and 2nd base with no outs in a close game, you best be looking for some signs!
It goes without saying that we want to execute on a sign whether it be getting a bunt down or stealing a base safely. It is equally as important for the other players to do their job. This could mean swinging over a strike when your teammate is stealing a base. Knowing what your teammates are trying to do will enable you to make the best decisions on the diamond.
How do you think about signs?
As a baserunner, keep your eye out for a pitcher who goes into a daze and pitches from the wind-up when there is a base to be taken. In my amateur baseball league, I see this happen at least once a year.
I don't care if you run with a piano on your back or if you are the fastest runner on the team, a pitcher going into the wind-up is a license to steal. No sign needed. Once you see the pitcher's leg drop back (left leg for a righty, right leg for a lefty), take off!
You might think that this is a trivial point, and a waste of time in terms of teaching points for your team. There are lots of fine points like this one in baseball. They all add up. Covering them could mean the difference in close games.
Let's take a look at a situation where a third strike is dropped by the catcher.
The Defense--Back That Bag Up
The ball often goes to the backstop in this scenario.
The 2nd baseman should absolutely back up that throw from the catcher. It's a long throw, it's rushed, and not typically practiced. Note: The rightfielder should also sprint to the line to back up that throw.
The Offense--Make The Most Of It
The baserunner can only run to first base if it's 1. unoccupied or 2. there are 2 outs. This is a rule that is often misunderstood.
The baserunner must stay within the running lane or could be called for interference if he obstructs the catcher's throw. Nice fields have this lane marked. Most fields don't. It's up to the umpire's discretion.
As a baserunner, there is nothing wrong with running to 1st when it is occupied in this situation. Often times it will cause confusion for the defense.
What is the highest # of strikeouts a pitcher can have in an inning?
From little league to high school ball to college and beyond, I have observed a common trend. There IS such a thing as opening day butterflies. There is something about having a fresh beginning (a winter off from the game) that invokes anxiety during
The question is....Is there anything you can do to slow those heartbeats? Are there strategies you can take (particularly early in the game) to avoid nervous errors.
My best advice is to acknowledge the jitters. Talk about how it is normal to be overly excited and how the other team is feeling the same way. Make it a team goal to take advantage of the fact that the other team will be feeling this way.
Maybe you think this is psychobabble. What does everybody think?
Running on a lefty pitcher is one of the toughest tasks for a baserunner. There are many aspects to studying a lefty pitcher. Here I will focus on a fine point.
We know that a lefty pitcher must follow the 45 degree rule. Once the pitcher has committed to the plate (determined by his right leg having traveled 45 degrees from the line connecting his left leg and 1st base) he no longer is allowed to throw to 1st base.
Conservative baserunners will wait until a lefty pitcher has made this commitment to the plate. Be wary of an exception to the rule. If a pitcher's right leg crosses his left, he has committed himself to the plate. In this instance, a baserunner can often get a great jump on a lefty.
Stress the importance of studying a lefty's move. Players should do this on the bench so they are best prepared when they are in a live situation on first base.
In a double play situation when the pitcher will start the double play through 2nd base...
Communication is critical. Before the 1st pitch, it is the shortstop's responsibility to tell the pitcher he will be turning two through him (the shortstop). Yes, the pitcher probably knows this. But baseball is about routines and consistency. You want to plant the seed in your pitcher's head so he knows exactly what to do with the ball when he gets it. Hesitation could lead to a busted play. When a ball is hit up the middle, both the shortstop and 2nd baseman are naturally moving towards the bag so it's important that the pitcher knows who his target will be.
This may seem like a picky detail, but coaches who stress small things like this will instill discipline in their players and probably avoid several errors over the course of a season.
Runner on 1st base. Steal is on.
You're on first base with the steal sign. You take off a little bit too early and the pitcher fires over to 1st base. What should you do?
Don't stop! Run hard and run directly at the middle infielder covering 2nd base to put yourself in the throwing lane. More often than not, you will be safe at 2nd base. By taking this approach, you will force the 1st baseman to make a perfect throw.
With a righthanded pitcher, runners should not be leaving before the pitcher has committed himself to the plate. However, you might consider going on a lefty pitcher's 1st move because it is much harder to swap a base off a lefty. If you include the first move steal in your strategy, be sure to stress the Pick & Go approach.
How should the leadoff hitter approach the 1st at bat of the game?
The leadoff hitter's role is to get on base. It helps if he has decent speed, but the most important attribute of a leadoff hitter is his ability to reach base so the strongest hitters in the lineup can drive him home.
Traditional strategy suggests the leadoff hitter take the 1st pitch. I also like this approach. In fact, I like to take at least one strike when leading off the game. Taking pitches gives you some education. You start to learn the speed and trajectory of the pitcher's stuff. This will be helpful for you in this at bat and later at bats. You set the precedent that the pitcher will need to earn his outs. In the absence of reaching base, a good leadoff hitter will gain information and share it with his teammates.
Switch It Up
Any strategy should be dictated by situation. There are no hard fast rules.
If I've faced a pitcher before and know his stuff well, I might pick a spot in the strike zone where I will swing if he puts it there.
If the pitcher is a stud with good control, I might also swing at that first pitch.
What approach do you take as a leadoff hitter of a game (or an inning)?
Book Reference: Ted Williams talks a lot about taking pitches in his book, The Science of Hitting. Williams took a lot of pitches, but of course he was one of the greatest hitters of all time.
I look forward to using this page as an outlet (and hopefully a forum) to discuss baseball strategy & tactics. While some situations may be pulled from major league baseball games as real life examples that many of us will relate to, the majority of strategy will apply to amateur & scholastic levels.
A lot can be learned from watching major league baseball. However, the consistent high skill level of the players takes many of the most interesting baseball plays 'out of play.' Take a 1st and 3rd situation as an example. You rarely see many creative plays in MLB because catchers have rockets for arms and so do the middle infielders. This situation is much more interesting to discuss in the context of amateur baseball, and the same logic applies to many other scenarios.
I invite coaches, players, and fans of the game to participate in this discussion. It will be fun, and will hopefully lead to better decisions on the diamond.