Here is the situation. Third inning, the lead off hitter just hit a double, the hitter coming to the plate is right handed, what happens next? Well, in many cases, automatically the employed offensive tactic is a sacrifice bunt. Why? Simple. It is the safest, most conservative method to move the baserunner up 90 feet and put him 90 feet away from scoring. Is that building and educating your players in the intricacies of offensive strategy? Yes, but at what cost? At the expense of trying to score a single run in the first third of the game?! Yes, this would be considered safe and a coach would never be second guessed. But, boy oh boy, are we developing our hitters to be masters of the sacrifice bunt? Surely, no high school or college player has ever been drafted for showing a scout his ability to bunt in the third inning! Let the kid swing...but teach and educate all hitters in the art, strategy and importance of hitting behind the baserunner and play for a big inning rather than a single run inning. If a scout were to see this it would certainly open some eyes. Just then how is it to be fashioned.
Let's look at the approach from the right side of the batter box. The hitter must keep in mind this is a team at bat. The objective is to hit the ball behind the runner, preferably on the ground. The right-handed hitter would be looking for a pitch a little down in the zone and on the outer third of the plate. This being said, you now have situational pitching versus situational hitting. The pitcher knows the hitter is trying to execute and will rarely give in and want to pound the inner half of the zone with fastballs. The hitter must have extreme discipline to lay off these pitches, as it takes a superior batsman to handle an inner half or inner third pitch and take it the other way. If the first pitch is a strike on the inner half, the hitter needs to take the pitch. The key is to look for pitches on the outer third and drive the ball to the right side. Conversely, a left-handed hitter will get fastballs on the outer third of the plate, but should be looking for a pitch on the inner third. His job is to pull the ball. It is usually easier for a left-handed hitter to effectively accomplish this than a right-handed hitter. Now caution needs to be heeded here in that, a fly ball, unless it drives the right fielder or centerfielder back for the catch, will not always permit the baserunner to advance. However, it is almost with 100% certainty, any ground ball to the right side of the infield, even weakly hit, will advance the baserunner up from second to third base. This type of situational hitting differs greatly from the hit and run insofar as the hitter has an option and should NOT treat the at bat as "I must swing"! It is the hitter's option based on the pitch location. Now, once the hitter gets to a two strike count, their options have run out. Now they need to battle and go to war to win the at bat and still try and get a ball to the right side.
In conclusion, a scout or college recruiter observes a hitter do this with success, that is one set of eyes that was just opened.
Work hard with your team to have them understand the importance of this team at bat situation, and instead of one run, a multiple run inning may take place. Good Luck
Image courtesy of thesportsfannetwork.com & nydailynews.com
Defending the Hit and Run:
Let’s walk through a successfully executed hit and run and see where the defence failed to understand what happened. Baserunner on first base, one out, the count favours a fastball. The baserunner breaks on the pitch, the hits a lazy ground ball through the vacated hole between first and second base, because the second baseman released to cover the base. The hit and run play worked to perfection, but it worked with the help of the middle infield. In other words, the middle infielders failed to do their job and thus got caught in no position to defend the hit and run.
Now, let’s look at how we can defend the hit and run and see where the defensive problems can arise. First, the defence must be able to determine the difference between a hit and run and a straight steal of second base and a hitter’s option to swing or take the pitch. In doing so, the defence must be conscious of the following:
- Baserunners speed or lack of speed at first base
- The ability of the hitter
- The batting order
- The game situation
- The number of outs
- The count on the hitter
- The ability of the pitcher to throw strikes
- Baserunners generally lacking speed are considered good candidates for hit and run. As a rule, if the baserunner occupying first base has plus speed and steal potential is there, the hit and run would not be a good directive. If the hit and run were to be commanded to a well below average runner and the hitter were to swing and miss, the likely hood of the baserunner getting thrown out is very high
- Hitters who handle the bat well, make contact and hit the ball on the ground are considered good candidates for hit and run
- Other than middle of the order hitters (for the most part) can be good hit and run guys
- Teams that are leading, games that are tied and games where the opposition is down a run early to mid part of game are good situations to command the hit and run
- The number of out is usually one out, however, the player mix might work with none out. It is not recommended with two out
- The count will favour the fastball
- If the pitcher is able to make pitches in the zone, then the hit and run is a good tactic, conversely, pitchers that struggle with command and throwing strikes, the hit and run would not be a wise tactic
After the defence has given thought to these factors, if they follow some simple steps, they will have a better chance of defending the hit and run. Once the middle infield recognizes the baserunner is breaking for second base, the middle guy who is responsible for base coverage should take steps toward the back of the pitcher’s mound instead of vacating their position early to cover second base. When the infielder responsible for base coverage moves toward the mound, it will assist them in “holding” their position on the field to prevent the ground ball from going through. Infielders that break early to second base as the baserunner breaks, will open up a massive hole for the hitter to try and shoot the ball through (although most hitters should simply try and hit the ball on the ground where it is pitched). As the coverage infielder moves toward the mound, it will also inch him toward second base, while at the same time assisting to maintain his defensive position. If the ball is hit, the hope is each middle infielder is in a position to defend either the hit ball or the baserunner if the hit and run is failed and a subsequent throw is coming from the catcher.
Appreciate your comments.
Rick Johnston, Head Instructor - The Baseball Zone
Photo courtesy of bryantbulldogs.com
As has been indicated in a previous post regarding the Hit and Run, it is a very high risk offensive tactic and as such there are many cons that can have a glaring effect on its outcome. Now let’s look at some of the pro's of the Hit and Run
- Helps the offensive team stay out of the double play with a baserunner moving on the pitch.
- It has the potential to move a slower baserunner up one base and into scoring position.
- Has the potential to position two baserunners on base, with the lead baserunner only being 90 feet from scoring.
- A high payoff and best case scenario, the hitter hits ball to the gap, past the outfielders, the baserunner on first base scores and the hitter ends up on second base.
- In some cases, hitters that are not swinging well, or simply are in constant take mode, will now be forced to swing the bat, which could assist them in getting jump started and rejuvenated once again with the bat.
- It has the potential to jump start the offense and start a rally.
- When executed with precision, the Hit and Run could take the rally and turn one play into an opportunity to create a multiple run inning.
- When executing the Hit and Run, the defensive alignment could often release early from their double play depth as they move to cover second base, which creates a hole on either the right or left side of the infield.
- The defensive team could field the ball, but either makes the play (throw) to the wrong base, such as the lead base, and the throw is late, permitting both the lead baserunner and hitter to reach base successfully.
- Because the infielders are often caught moving to cover second base, a batted ball may be hit in the opposite direction, causing them to try and make a fielding play in a manner they are not used to making. This could then follow with poor fielding and throwing actions which may leave the window open for an error.
Having said this, once again, sound and prudent judgement needs to be warranted when it comes to using the Hit and Run as part of one’s offensive strategy. Please keep in mind both the pro’s and con’s when weighing out the risk versus reward in this potentially high stakes play.
Rick Johnston, Head Instructor - The Baseball Zone
Potential downsides of the Hit & Run:
In my last post I went over some of the elements essential to a successful Hit & Run. But I also warned that it may be a bit overused and not quite as successful as we might think it is or want it to be.
Now, let’s look at the why the hit and run is not always a good offensive tactic.
- Obviously, getting the right count is critical. That is, a count that favours the fastball or the count where the pitcher needs to come in with a good strike and a good hitters pitch. Well let's say the count dictates this, say 1-1...and boom, here comes the pitch - it is out of the zone. How often have you seen this happen at any level of baseball, let alone minor baseball? Now the hitter swings out of the zone, foul ball. The count now favours pitcher 1-2. Next pitch, swing and miss, strike three. We just took the bat out of the hitter's hands by having the hitter swing at the bad pitch.
- Hitter hits the ball on the screws and scuds a low line drive to an infielder, ball caught, throw back to first base, double play...that is one pitch, two outs!
- Defensive team decides to pitch out, the slower baserunner (remember that a hit and run is best done with a slower, yet smart baserunner) is thrown out by five feet. Then the hitter at the plate on the next pitch hits a single, double or whatever. Opportunity lost.
- The hitter at the plate may not have been the best candidate for the hit and run and swings and misses... and once again, the slower baserunner is thrown out.
- The hitter at the plate had a brain cramp and failed to swing the bat, didn’t see the sign or was just oblivious to the coach. Result - slower baserunner thrown out.
- The baserunner occupying first base, similar to the hitter in point 5, has a brain cramp or didn’t see the sign and fails to break on the pitch. The hitter hits a ground ball right at a middle infielder who would have been releasing to cover second base on the pitch. Result - inning ending double play.
- Hitter hits the ball in air and the baserunner gets decoyed by the middle infielder as ball is popped up. Result - baserunner slides into second base, ball is caught, thrown back to first base, inning ending double play.
- Third base coach on a whim decides to try and execute the hit and run, when the player mix is poor. The hitter at the plate has a long, slow swing, who frequently strikes out. Result - swing and miss, slow baserunner is thrown out.
- Hitter at plate is very good hitter with plus power and contact, yet now must possibly swing out of his zone and chases a pitch. Result - lost at bat for a potential power hitter.
- Hitter not clearly understanding the true execution of the play tries to hit the ball behind the baserunner on a pitch that will just no allow it to occur. Result - weak pop up for out.
Now, there are no plays in baseball that are guaranteed for success. There is an element of risk with every play, despite its best intentions. However, thorough knowledge of your team's strengths and weaknesses will help you make better decisions on when to call a hit and run and maximize the chances of a successful one!
In my next blog I will talk about the hit and run counts, batted ball areas, safe areas, type of batted balls and overall expectations of the hit and run.
I'd also love to read your comments and any other Con's you can think of with respect to the HIT and RUN!
Rick Johnston, Head Instructor - The Baseball Zone
How the Hit and Run works
The hit and run is an offensive tactic designed for the sole purpose of staying out of the double play, rather than trying to advance a baserunner up two bases to third base which it is often thought to be used for. It is designed for the situations when a slower baserunner occupies first base and a hitter that has the ability to hit the ball on the ground is at bat.
As mentioned, it is often thought that the hit and run is to be used to move a baserunner up two bases, from 1st to 3rd, but the percentages of this actually occurring are quite low. The hit and run can have a very good percentage of success given the right player mix.
This mix, first and foremost, must be with the right hitter. The hitter needs to be one who makes consistent contact, especially ground ball contact. The hitter, who is a high strike out type, fly ball type, has power or a long swing, is generally not one that should be directed to attempt the hit and run. The objective of the hitter is to hit the ball, or at least swing at and attempt to hit any ball, other than a ball in the dirt and put the ball in play and on the ground. At no time does the hitter have an option as to swing or not swing unless the ball is in the dirt. The secondary goal of the hitter is to hit the ball on the ground where the ball is pitched. It is also often thought that the hitter should try and hit "behind" the runner, in other words, hit the ball to the right side of the infield. However, much sounder advice is to make sure the hitter hits the ball where it is pitched. Hitting behind the baserunner for most hitters is very difficult and takes outstanding strike zone discipline and even better bat control.
Now the baserunner, for the most part, will be a below average runner, yet intelligent, alert and "headsy". Upon, taking a hit and run lead - that is, a lead off first base that will not permit the baserunner getting picked off - the runner will break for 2nd base when 100% sure the ball is on the way to the plate. As the baserunner takes off for 2nd base, he must glance in over his left shoulder to find the ball (as he is doing in the picture). At this point, if the hitter has hit the ball in the air, the baserunner must pick up the ball visually and should stop, possibly beginning to retreat to 1st base if the ball will have a chance to be caught. If so, return to the base. If the ball is struck in a way that it is a line drive to the infield, that is, a low line drive, the baserunner should keep going, with the hope that the batted ball/line drive will get through the infield. There is no reason to stop and try and get back, as the baserunner will be doubled off anyways. If the ball is not caught, the baserunner should determine, with the aid of the 3rd base coach, if 3rd base is a possibility. Most batted balls hit to right field that get through should permit the baserunner to move up two bases. Batted balls hit to the front side of the baserunner, that is, to left field, may not permit two base advancement.
If the baserunner hears the ball hit, but for some reason loses sight of the batted ball or area of the batted ball, they must immediately shift their sightlines to the 3rd base coach, rather than looking somewhere into the air for the ball. The 3rd base coach should be ready to help out the baserunner by providing him with the status of the ball. Additionally, the baserunner can never get decoyed by a middle infielder. Middle infielders will decoy either verbally with a “two, two, two” or visually, by simulating a double play feed or some type of footwork as the ball is in flight. It is critical the baserunner picks up the 3rd base coach when a loss of ball occurs.
On my next blog, I will write about the pros and cons of the Hit and Run and why this offensive tactic is not always the best way to achieve baserunner advancement.