At the outset of this article, we just have to remind ourselves that the objective of the offense is not to just hit the ball, but to score runs. Scoring runs involves more than just stepping up to the plate and being able to hit double and home runs.
Every pitch is an opportunity to move up a base. Whether it be on a ball in the dirt or on a ball put in play, the emphasis of the offensive team is to advance a base whenever possible.
In this month’s edition of Situational Talk we are going to discuss advancing first-to-third on a ball hit to the outfield. We will cover what to look for as a runner and some rules runners should follow while in this situation.
As a runner gets to first base via a number or results, the first thing should do after getting the sign from the third base coach is check the depth and placement of the outfielders. This will allow them to get a better jump once the ball is hit by being able to anticipate if and how quickly an outfielder will get to the ball. The split second less it takes for the runner to have to make a decision whether or not to advance is a split second closer to being safe at third.
One Simple Rule
A simple rule that I have used with runners in the past, and obviously a player’s speed factors into this decision, is if on a ball hit to center field or right field, if you as a runner touch second base before the fielder has the ball, you automatically are advancing.
The reason I used this as a rule is it takes out the decision-making for the runner. A lot of times with that rule the runner can anticipate as well that they will reach the bag before the fielder has the ball. This rule does not apply to the ball hit directly towards the left fielder or on a ball hit towards the left field line. It is a much easier play for the left fielder to make at third than the center or right fielder.
Using the Outfielder as a Key
Another thing to explain to runners is using the outfielder’s movements as a key in decision-making. Let how the outfielder has to play the ball be the runner’s guide as to whether to advance or not.
For example, on a ball hit to center field and the rule we mentioned before does not apply, read what the centerfielder has to do to get to the ball. If they are moving forward towards the ball and towards the ball to the left center field gap, it probably is not a situation where we can advance as the outfielder has the momentum to throw to third base.
If the outfielder is moving towards the right center gap, it is a much more difficult play for the centerfielder to get to the ball, spin and throw to third. When the runner sees that type of movement (towards the right center gap), they should be able to advance, even if the runner has not reached the base before the outfielder has the ball. Obviously there is a decision for the runner to make gauging how far they are from second base with regard to how long the outfielder is in possession of the ball.
The reads on balls hit to the right fielder are a little tougher as the base runner cannot see a lot of right field. The runner should make sure to pick up the third base coach as they can help the runner decide whether or not to advance, however if the runner can make decisions before having to check the third base coach, there is more of an opportunity to successfully advance.
One key that can help runners is seeing the ball off the bat allowing them a chance to make a decision before even having to see the rightfielder’s movements. For example, once the runner take their normal secondary lead (two hard shuffles off the base once the pitch is delivered) and the ball is hit on the ground behind them, meaning towards the first base line, their first thought should be to try to advance.
I say this because if the ball is hit behind the runner, most likely the right fielder is moving towards the right field line making it a very difficult play to throw a runner out at third base. The runner must still pick up the third base coach for the situation where the first baseman fields the ball, or the ball is hit hard directly to the rightfielder.
Ways to Practice Advancing First to Third
The absolute best way to practice advancing in those situations is during live batting practice. Having runners at all bases getting reads off the bat is the best way to make a realistic situation. Even if the hitter at the plate doesn’t have a specific situation they are working on (Hit and Run, Guy on 2nd move the runner over, Guy on third, score the runner) it is important that runner take every rep they can seeing the ball off a live bat.
Another way to practice is have a coach hit balls with a fungo in different areas of the field. This allows for more controls during the situation because the coach can place where they want the ball and how they want the outfielders to move.