Why do we run the bases with a stationary start? Does this make sense? Science tells us that an object in motion tends to stay in motion. Also, the initial force to start an object moving is much higher than everyone thinks. It is a major obstacle to getting up to full speed. Why not get a running start into your initial move? Pitchers understand this and they wind up and get body momentum into their release point. Infielders and outfielders know this as they get their feet going before making a throw. Hitters are starting to catch on to this again after going through a “foot down early” period in baseball. More and more hitters are getting momentum into their launch positions to make a quicker turn to the ball. With everyone seemingly throwing 95-105 mph these days, hitters need momentum to be quicker.
So how exactly does momentum help the runner? First, having momentum will reduce your initial reaction time as you don’t have to overcome the initial force to get started. Second, this momentum will help propel you faster into your first two steps. When you are stealing a base or going from 1st to 3rd on a single, this make a significant difference.
So, how do we do happy feet. Simple, all you are going to do it take baby steps (1-2 inches) on every lead, bouncing back and forth on the balls of your feet. Think about having a stove under your feet and you don’t want to burn your feet. As long as your feet are moving, you can capture momentum to reduce your reaction time and propel you quicker into your first to steps. The key is that you have to do this on every lead otherwise the opposing team will know when you are going to steal. Try it out. I think you will realize fairly quickly that getting momentum using the happy feet technique makes a lot of sense.
Turns at 1st base are heavily lopsided toward kicking out early and rounding into the bag. This makes sense since you are running at a high rate of speed and need to round into the bag to stay on line with the next base. However, what happens in reality is that the runner makes a large turn at 1st base and ends up swinging out too wide going toward 2nd base. Thus, they defeat the purpose of the first bump out turn. Why spend time bumping out on the way to 1st base if you are only going to make a wide turn anyway going to 2nd base. You see, what happens is the faster a runner goes, the more he builds up force pushing him wide after he hits 1st base. So, he ends up losing time on his way to 2nd base.
There is a better way. Sometimes you have to slow down to go fast! Why not run directly at 1st base, slow down enough to reduce the G force that pushes you wide, and make a turn that is more direct toward 2nd base. As long as you don’t slow down to a stop or significantly lose your momentum, you will end up with a quicker time to 2nd base by cutting down the distance you have to run. Running a more direct line toward 1st base (faster), running a more direct line toward 2nd base (faster) and the slow down on the turn will not significantly affect you overall time. Think about it, why run as fast as you can if it only pushes you farther from your target? Does that make sense? Also, by running a direct line to 1st base and getting there quicker, it puts more pressure on the outfielders to pick up a clean ground ball or cut off a marginal shallow gap ground ball.
I know it is counter intuitive to think about slowing down to go faster, but when you throw in the obstacle of turning at 90 degrees to your next target, cutting down distance is the main contributor toward reducing running times. Try it!
If you have good data, using a 5 man infield or 4 man outfield should be used. If you can get past the traditions of baseball and not worry about possibly looking silly once in a while, using these strategies makes a lot of sense. You will see an occasional 5 man infield with the game on the line once in a while, but using it more often can really help a team get out of difficult situations. Think about it, a run in the first inning counts just the same as a run in the 9th inning. Why not try to combat letting in runs the best you can, when you have an opportunity. Remember, in the MLB a runner scores 83.7% of the time with a man on 3rd base and zero outs. Why not throw a 5 man outfield out there and cut the runner off? The 4 man outfield can be used anytime with good data. The field is lopsided toward covering the infield. There are 6 potential fielders covering 12,000 SF in the infield and 3 players covering 36,000 SF in the outfield. If you have a hitter showing more than 50% of his hits going to the outfield (line drive/fly balls) why wouldn’t you throw another man out there? Again, playing the percentages in a game with hundreds of outcomes makes sense. Will it work out every time? No, of course not. But it may give you that advantage you are looking for to stop a potential rally or get a key out in a game deciding situation
This may seem odd at first but it makes all the sense in the world. RHPs should incorporate a pick off to 3rd base into their repertoire. According to 2013 MLB stats, with a man on 3rd base and zero outs, that runner scores 83.7% of the time. With a one out, that runner still scores at a 66.7% clip. Those are not good odds. This is why having a pickoff move to 3rd base is advantageous. Why? First, there is an element of surprise. Runners tend to turn their shoulders early toward home plate on their secondary lead at 3rd base. This makes it very hard to rotate their body back once the pick is implemented. As a pitcher, if you can hold the look for as long as possible toward home plate this is almost ensure you get a first step out of the runner and a pickoff is greatly increased. Second, it keeps the runner close to 3rd base. Okay, the runner now knows we will pick off to 3rd base. Great, now you have him where you want him. Now you can fake pick and jab step with the 3rd baseman to keep him flinching back to the bag. With your infield playing in, he can no longer get a good jump toward home plate. It gives your infield the chance to cut the run off or hold the runner and get the out at 1st base. But what if I pick to 3rd base and I throw the ball away? Well, remember that runner was going to score 83.7% of the time anyway. No big deal. Also, this is no different than LHPs picking to 1st base. It’s just practice and making a decent throw chest high to the bag. Every Pitcher should be able to do this.
What do coaches say when a pitcher gives up an 0-2 hit? In many coach’s minds, this is a huge baseball sin. The perception of giving up an 0-2 hit is so strong that coaches just go nuts when it happens. Most of the time, these coaches tell their pitchers to intentionally waste a pitch or throw a set up pitch out fo the zone. So, as a hitter, where is the pressure to swing? Why are you worried about an event that has little chance of happening? Your game plan should be to only look at a big mistake pitch down the middle and spit on everything else knowing that it’s a sucker play. Do teams actually do this? Yes. I know a team that actually put in an automatic take on 0-2 pitches and tracked it for a whole year. What they found was extraordinary. By taking on 0-2 and eliminating the pressure to swing at close pitches, they actually lowered their K% in that count from the previous year. Very telling about how human nature can affect a baseball game. The fear of giving up an 0-2 hit and the repercussions from the coach, tilted the advantage to the hitter in that count. Give it a try if you dare. It might surprise you.
The shift should be your basic defense. Data has proven that it is much better to cover 100% of ¾ of the field than it is to cover ¾ of 100% of the field. Think about it, why would you purposely cover an area with the same man power that has a 10% probability versus an area that has a 40% chance of probability? Does that make sense? Of course not. By covering that low percentage area, I am taking away my ability to cover the higher probability area. No reason to cover the opposite line if a hitter hasn’t shown the ability to hit it there, right?
Now, here is where the controversy lies. What if you have no data on the hitter? MLB clubs have a plethora of data and can justify positioning but what about college/high school/travel ball teams that don’t have access to that kind of data? Well, what makes you sure your straight up positioning is any better in those situations? This is a good argument for shifting based on the count. Typically, hitters will be early and more aggressive when they are ahead of the count. In this scenario, why not shift your infielders, your outfielders or both to pull side and see what happens. I bet you will make more plays. Conversely, when the hitter is behind in the count, they tend to stay up the middle more. Why not bunch your defense to the middle and leave the lines alone. By taking away the middle 75% of the field, you will find your defense making more plays and getting more outs. Again, the percentages of with you when you take away 100% of ¾ of the field.