What is the proper approach when taking a lead off 2nd base?

lead off second base

I like taking a simple approach. Take the largest lead where you know you can get back to the bag safely if the pitcher throws over. Usually, this is two steps and a dive. Too many young ballplayers are overly concerned about where the shortstop and 2nd baseman are playing. I see many players extending and shortening their lead based on what they see and instructions screamed from base coaches or the bench. I call it bouncing.

There are situations that warrant extended leads, but in general I like my players to take the same lead every time. Don’t worry about the fielders. The pitcher has the ball. He is the only player who can get you out. Adjusting your lead causes two very bad habits:

1. Taking your eye off the pitcher-Do not look back at the fielders when you are off the base.
2. Shifting your weight towards 2nd base- When you bounce back and forth depending upon the positioning of the fielders, you run the risk of shifting your weight back towards 2nd base. You are going to have a very difficult time scoring on a base hit or even advancing to third on a grounder if your weight is directed towards 2nd base. If I’m a pitcher and I see the runner at 2nd base shift their weight back towards the base, that is a great time for me to start my delivery.

Rather than trying to gain an advantage by bouncing, use a secondary lead to put yourself in a position to advance and score. When the pitcher commits to the plate, take two aggressive crow hops as your secondary lead. Then, react to the situation. This approach will put you in a good position to score on a base hit, advance on a hit ball or ball in the dirt, and you do not run the risk of being picked off.

How do you take leads off second base?

Pickoff Play Accuracy

Today, I attended the Cal Ripken Baseball Coaches Clinic with 300 Massachusetts coaches. The program was very well run, entertaining, and reaffirmed some beliefs I hold in regards to baseball fundamentals. Many topics were covered, but I’d like to discuss pick-off plays in this post.

Many pitchers and catchers will attempt to throw the ball low and to the bag on pick-off attempts. This seems logical. Pick-off plays are usually bang-bang plays and as such there is little margin for error. By throwing the ball right on the bag, the fielder does not need to take additional time to apply the tag. As an infielder myself, I have trouble handling pick-off throws around the bag that are thrown at my ankles.

There are two major problems:

1. Because the ball and runner are arriving at the same time and in the same place, there is a good chance that the ball can ricochet off the batters leg or helmet (if the runner is diving into the base).

2. If you aim low, there is a greater chance you will miss low.  This throw can skip into the outfield.

Both of these scenarios are much worse than the runner being safe on the pick-off attempt because they can result in the runner advancing a base.

My thoughts on this matter were echoed by Billy Ripken. Pitchers or catchers should aim for the infielder’s chest on pick-off throws. The ball will be easiest for the infielder to handle and a throw that goes off target will still likely be handled by the fielder rather than getting away.

Growing up playing with aluminum bats, bat selection rarely entered my mind. I would survey the bats provided by the team at the start of the season, swing the select few that were in the proper size/weight category, and pick one that felt best. That would be my bat for the season.

Now, I play in a wood bat league and am responsible for selecting and purchasing my bats.  The selection of wood bats out there is overwhelming. In addition to Louisville Slugger, Rawlings, and Mizuno there are hundreds of small bat companies all telling us why their wood is best and how their process is superior. Once you’ve picked your brand and wood type, you still have some work to do to select the model that fits you best.

Personally, I haven’t been able to figure it out. I’ve been playing in wood bat leagues for eight seasons and I still find myself uncertain about what bat I should be swinging. I am not brand loyal. I am most certainly not loyal to any bat model. All I do know is that I’m devastated when my bat breaks because not only does that mean I have to fork over another $40 for a bat but I need to begin the whole decision process again. For that isolated moment in time when I get jammed and break my bat, I feel like Roy Hobbs (and not in that game-winning homer kind of way).

Based on a recently conducted survey* among 102 amateur ballplayers, I may not be alone. 25% of players purchase multiple brands of bats. This statistic does not even address the number of players experimenting with various wood types and bat models.

Any advice from you wood ballplayers out there? How do I find a Wonderboy?

What does this mean for the wood bat industry? What strategies could some of the larger brands take to establish greater brand loyalty? Is this an opportunity for smaller brands to break through?

*The survey was conducted by the Grip N’ Rip Club to learn about baseball purchasing behaviors among amateur ballplayers.

cincireds*Cincinnati Reds Scout* Andy Swenson shares his Top 5 ways for youth ballplayers to improve their mental approach.  Watch, Learn, Listen, Absorb, and Practice.

Blogger Bio

Andy Swenson

Andy Swenson brings a very impressive baseball resume to BaseballThink. He has scouted for five major league teams including the Pirates, Astros, Brewers, Padres, and currently with the Reds.  Andy has also served in various coaching and management positions in Idaho collegiate and amateur baseball.  Currently, he is the owner/operator of the Swenson Baseball Company. The Swenson glove line is used by professional and amateur players across the country.

Top 5 ways for youth ballplayers to improve their mental approach.

1. Watch– When attending higher level games (high school, college, professional), watch the player at the position you play and observe his actions and demeanor on and off the field.  Before and after each pitch, watch his preparation, what he does after each pitch, and how he communicates to his teammates.

2. Learn Observation from players older than yourself is the best way to learn how to play the game, talk the game, and respect the game.  No player is bigger than the game of baseball.  It has been around way before you were here and it will be around long after you are gone.

3. Listen– Listen to baseball discussions amongst coaches, players, announcers, and even parents as experience is key to growing as a player on and off the diamond.  Some of the best baseball experiences in my lifetime were sitting around and listening to my late grandfather and his friends talk about the game and how they approached certain situations in their professional playing days.

4. Absorb– Be a sponge to all things related to the game as it will only make you a better player as your skills expand and you get stronger as an individual player.  Not everything you hear will be correct as it relates to the game, but as you grow older you will be able to discern what is correct and what is not while making a decision for yourself based on what you believe in and have been taught.

5. Practice– Perform proper mechanics as often and intensely as you can for short durations of time.  Long practices with poor mechanics will only hammer the bad tendencies into a player’s arsenal and that is detrimental to the development of you as a player.  The phrase ‘Practice Makes Perfect’ is only true if the practice is with sound/solid/proper mechanics, otherwise practice with bad mechanics will only make perfect outcomes for the opposing teams as wins will be theirs and not yours.

check swing

Did he go? The answer is simple. “No he did not” OR “Yes he did.” Never was there such a simple answer for such a complicated situation.

For such a difficult call, we players don’t have much sympathy for the umpire in this situation. The call is usually followed by remarks like, “You’ve got to be kidding me” OR “That’s terrible” OR (some things I choose not to mention in this blog).

Judging if a batters swings or does not swing is more of an art than a science. It is probably one of the toughest calls an umpire has to make. There are equally tough calls like determining if a lefty balks when crossing the invisible 45 degree line or determining if a ball was trapped or caught in the air. The difference is that check swings occur much more frequently. When it comes to determining if a batter offers at a pitch, all sorts of ambiguity enters the equation.

check swing argument

How does an umpire make this call? I’ve heard: “It is a swing if the batter’s wrists break.” I’ve heard: “It is a swing if the bat crosses an invisible plane that extends across the front of home plate.” Do we really expect our umpires to see these things? There must be a better way.

I took it upon myself to settle this argument, and checked the official major league baseball rules out of my local public library.  Surprisingly, there is no mention of a “check swing” anywhere in the official rules of baseball.  Rule 2.0 states that  “A STRIKE is a legal pitch when so called by the umpire, which is struck at by the batter and is missed.”  That’s what our umpires are working with. Did the batter strike at the ball or did he not strike at the ball? It’s a judgment call. And, it’s an even tougher judgment call for umpires standing behind the mound.

So…the next time an umpire in your game remarks “No he did not” when you think he should have yelled “Yes he did,” maybe you should respond with “Tough one to see” or “Your guess is as good as mine.”

BC Catcher

Catcher Tony Sanchez taking the signal from the Boston College bench

I have noticed a trend of coaches relaying pitch signals to catchers. I’ve seen it at many high school games. And, I’ve seen it at almost all college games I’ve attended. While watching a Boston College game this season, I noticed BC catcher Tony Sanchez wearing something on his forearm resembling a quarterback wrist coach. Sanchez receives the sign from the bench, consults the paper taped to his arm, and then relays the sign to the pitcher. The system works for being competitive in a given game, but I wonder what sort of an effect this has on the catcher over the long term.

One of the major responsibilities of the catcher is to call the game. Know the pitcher’s strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies. Know the scouting report on the opposing hitters. Take that knowledge and orchestrate a perfect combination of pitches and locations over the course of the game that will keep the hitters off balance. This is no easy task, and one of the reasons why the catching position is the 2nd toughest on the diamond. I can see how college coaches would want to take control of this responsibility. Winning is king and their livelihood might be on the line. But…high school? Are we taking too much away from these kids?

Clemson catcher

Allowing high school catchers to call the games could accomplish three things:

1. Keep them in the game. When you’re calling a game, you constantly have to be thinking and on your toes. When you are relaying signs, you could fall into a less focused mode.

2. Teach them to think for themselves. Do we want to be sending these kids out into the real world with this notion of taking orders and being fed all the answers? I know…it’s deep. Think about it.

3. Prepare them for the next level. Maybe if catchers were allowed to call the game at the high school level they would be better catchers at the college and professional levels.

What do you think about this trend? Is it good for baseball? Is it good for the kids? Does it have anything to do with the shortage of good catchers in major league baseball? I would love to hear from some current or former high school/college catchers on this.


You are the runner on 3rd base. The infield is drawn in. How do you give yourself the best chance to score? You will score on a hit, a sacrifice, and possibly on a passed ball/wild pitch. Another way to score that run is by breaking for home once you see the ball hit on the ground. This is commonly known as “the contact play.”

What I like about the contact play is that it puts pressure on the defense. Even with the infield playing in, breaking on contact will force the defense to make three successful plays: 1. The infielder must field the ball cleanly. 2. The infielder must make an accurate throw to the catcher and 3. The catcher must receive the ball and tag you OUT.

Keys To Executing The Contact Play
1. The third base coach should communicate the play to the runner at third base and any other runners on the bases. This is key. If there are runners on 2nd and 3rd, the runner on 2nd will be able to get a better jump if he knows the runner in front of him will be breaking for home on contact.

2. The runner on third should take as much of a lead as he can at third base and get a good secondary walking lead.

3. The runner on third should break for home the instant he sees the ball hit into the ground.

It Could Get Busted
The most common way that the contact play gets busted is when the ball is grounded back to the pitcher. In this case, it’s the runner’s job to get in a rundown long enough to allow the batter to get to 2nd base. Of course, the batter’s gotta be bustin’ down the line to make this happen as well.

Pick Your Spots
Like any baseball play, there are no hard fast rules. You need to consider the situation. How much of a risk are you willing to take given the score and timing of the game? How fast is the runner at third? How strong are the infielders? Etc.

In general, there are two situations when it makes more sense to put on the contact play:

1 OUT–With 1 out, there will be less chances to score that run so you might want to be more aggressive.

RUNNERS ON 2ND AND 3RD–Even if the play gets busted, you will still have a runner in scoring position for the next batter.

What sort of success has your team had with the contact play?