To hit home runs, you need power.
To nose a guy out at home, you need arm strength.
To be a great baserunner, you have to be fast…you have to be focused.
Baserunning is often overlooked in baseball. It’s by far the game’s most neglected skill; one that is rarely prioritized and hardly ever developed. It may also be the easiest skill in the game to develop because, contrary to common thought, it doesn’t require the God-given gift of speed to be really good at. It takes an acute attention to detail, which every player, regardless of how fast or slow they are, can have with the highest level of focus on some very small things.
In every sense, baserunning is a skill that can be developed in the same manner as a hitter’s swing or pitcher’s delivery. But the challenge isn’t nearly as much teaching the skill as it is simply getting players to buy in to getting better at getting around the bases in the same way they would to become a great hitter or fielder. Just like the game’s other skills, to truly get better at baserunning, that similar time, energy, and focus is required.
Great baserunning begins with great effort. It takes absolutely no athletic ability whatsoever to run hard. Effort is a decision, a choice that reflects an attitude of a player and the culture of a team . Players can truly show their genuine love for the game by the effort in which they play it. And above all else, that decision to run as hard as possible puts an added pressure on the defense to take care of the baseball, forcing them to catch it cleanly and throw it accurately to have any chance at recording an out.
Baserunning continues with a concentrated attention to detail. Those details include something as simple as touching the correct part of the base when getting down the line (hitting the front part of the bag) or hustling out a double (the inside corner); creating the turn around the base early enough and wide enough to accelerate through one base in a straight line for the next; timing out the secondary lead to land on the balls of the feet - when players are at their quickest - in order to get a great jump on contact; knowing where the defense is playing so the runner will know a ball off the bat will get down for a hit before it actually gets down; reading how outfielders go after a ball and taking the extra base on those who are moving away from the play or not set up in a good position to throw; running with your head up, in order to read the baserunner in front of you, or to pick up a coach who is going to send you or stop you.
The final piece of the baserunning puzzle is found in anticipation. Good players react. Great players anticipate. Those who anticipate are able to slow the game down and are seemingly never caught by surprise. When players consciously think about something happening before it happens, they are well prepared to make it happen. In the same respect that an infielder is ready to make a play when he is expecting the ball to be hit his way, a baserunner is more apt to get a great jump for a stolen base, an early read on a pitch in the dirt, or an extra base when he expects to do so beforehand.
Effort, attention to detail, and anticipation- three vital keys to becoming a great baserunner - are all completely independent of athletic ability. They are mental skills and conscious decisions that enhance whatever physical skills a player may have. If Mike Napoli of the Texas Rangers lined up to run the 60-yard dash, chances are he would record a below average time for Major League players. If you polled Major League players and coaches where Napoli would rank as a baserunner, chances are they would recognize him as one of the best in the game. He is one of the best because his focus on the bases is at the highest level. He has taken pride with 100% buy-in to develop a skill that for most is an afterthought.
Fast doesn’t make you a great baserunner; fast just makes you fast. Sometimes the fastest baserunners are the worst baserunners, because they rely on their speed to overcome a lack in their attention to the aforementioned details and are fast enough to do so. Being great on the bases is far more about decisions and details than it is your actual running speed. Not everyone can run the bases fast, but everyone can run the bases well.