In establishing the primary lead at third base, the baserunner should almost follow and mirror image the technical elements he would otherwise do at first base, with the exception of the final athletic position. Since the baserunner is only 90 feet from scoring, the movement into the primary lead should be quite conservative, using slow, controlled movements, ensuring never to get picked off.
There is really no reason for a baserunner to be in a hurry to establish his primary lead off. Instead, the baserunner should just simply learn to relax, staying fairly upright, while observing the pitcher, as he steps out the primary lead off. Because the baserunner is never held at the base, there is no need to be bent over, like the final position at first base, but instead, much more erect and relaxed. The primary lead off should be established as the pitcher is observing his signs from the catcher.
The golden rule for the lead at third is to ensure it is taken at least one step into foul territory. There really is no reason for the baserunner to take a primary lead off two or three steps into foul territory. The obvious reason the lead off is taken in foul territory is to eliminate any possibility of getting hit by a batted ball to the infield side of the foul line. This of course would result in the baserunner being called out.
Establishing an arbitrary distance off third base is recommended. This will ensuire the risk factor of getting picked off, usually, back door by the catcher is remote. The arbitrary distance may change from baserunner to baserunner and situation to situation. Now the true key to this distance is actually working diligently at finding the safe distance each player should get off. This takes time and practice. If both of these are not implemented, baserunners will have difficulty getting good jumps on ground balls to the infield and passed balls or wild pitches getting by the catcher.
When a baserunner occupies third base with less than two out, there is the strong likelihood the pitcher will deliver the ball to the plate from the stretch position. If the stretch position is observed, the baserunner must now be conscious of a potential pick off timing play with the third baseman. This type of timing play would mirror image that of a left handed pitchers pickoff move to first base. However, at higher levels, very rarely does the defense execute a pick off at third base with the pitcher, it would come from the catcher. Now, once the pitcher has made a definite commitment to deliver the ball to the plate, the baserunner can proceed into his walking lead.
If the pitcher begins his delivery from the full wind up, the baserunner should be conscious of the pitcher who steps back with the pivot foot as his first movement. Ordinarily when the pitcher goes from the full wind up, he will step off the rubber with the glove hand foot, while the throwing side foot remains connected to the rubber.
However, occasionally a pitcher will try to deceive the baserunner by stepping back with the pivot or throwing arm foot, then quickly turn and throw to the third baseman who is breaking toward the base. Thus the baseunner should only begin to create the secondary walking lead once he fully observes the pitcher going to the plate with the ball.
These are just a few things to think about once you reach third base. With limited practice time, especially in youth sports, this is an area that rarely, if ever, gets covered. However by implementing wiser choices on your primary lead at 3rd base you can reduce your chances of making an unnecessary baserunning out while at the same time increasing your chances of scoring. Less risk with higher upside sounds like a good investment, doesn’t it?
Coaches, if you have any other ideas on tactics at getting a lead at third base, I’d love to read your comments below.
Rick Johnston, Head Coach & Instructor