Base Running with No Outs

What is my point?

With no outs a base runner should tag up on a fly ball if he is on second or third base.  If he is on first base, he needs to make a decision based on the distance of the fly ball.

Why does it matter?

The goal of a base runner is to preserve outs while taking advantage of opportunities to reach the next base. These rules provide a framework helping a runner make better decisions.

Do Your Homework Before a Pitch is Thrown

Check the Defense
Base runners must identify the location of each defensive player before taking their lead.  This information helps make decisions once a ball is put in play.

Step Back on a Line Drive
Line drives are the most difficult ball to read.  They are the biggest cause of “doubling off” runners.  “Doubled off” is when a batter flies out to a fielder and the fielded ball beats the runner back to the base the runner occupies.

Many coaches will say that a player should “Freeze” on a line drive, but that doesn’t give the runner the best opportunity to preserve outs.   There are some examples where a player who freezes will be out when a player who steps back will be safe.  That example is for another time.

Now that we have a general understanding, it is time to discuss the first rule.  Put your helmets on!

Rule Number 1
With no outs, players should “Tag up” at second and third base if a ball is hit in the air.    There are some exceptions based on the location of the fly ball and what base you occupy.

Let’s Look at Some of the Most Common Examples.

Situation 1: Runner is on first base and no one is out.  Fly ball is hit in fair territory.

Base runner: The base runner should get off as far as he can and still be able to get back to first base should the ball be caught.  Remember, we said that the runner should automatically tag up at second and third base, not first base.

Why? The runner should not tag up because he could be forced out if the ball drops.  That is not possible on second or third base since there is no force.

Situation 2: Man on second base and no outs.  Fly ball is hit anywhere on the field fair or foul.

Base runner: “Tag up” and choose to stay or advance to the next base after a catch is made.

Why? With zero outs, a runner’s priority is to preserve the out.  It is better for the runner to remain at the occupied base then it is for the runner to move too far off the base and become “Doubled off.”  By tagging, the runner gives his team 2 additional outs to score.

Situation 3: Man on third base with no outs.  Fly ball hit at least 200 feet away. (200’ is a generic number I am using to describe a distance where the base runner can beat a throw home)

Base runner: Base runner should tag up.

Why? The likelihood is that the ball will be caught.  The fielder will also be in a location where the runner can beat the throw to home plate.  If the runner tags up, he will have a high probability of making it home unless he trips or slips.  Even if the fielder drops the ball, the runner will still beat the throw home.

Situation 4: Man on third base.  Fly ball is hit in the short outfield where either an infielder or outfielder has a chance to catch a ball.

Base runner: Since the fly ball is now close enough to throw the base runner out, the runner should no longer tag, and instead get off the base.  The runner needs to be close enough to get back to third base if the ball is caught.

Why? By going part way, the runner is able to get back to third base if the ball is caught.  He will also be able to score should the ball be dropped.  Remember that the ball is not deep enough for the runner to tag up.

First and Third base coaches

The runner should not pay any attention to the third base coach.  It is the job of the runner to make decisions. Remember that in a big league game, a player probably won’t be able to hear so the decision is on them.

Baseball IQ

I believe that a player’s understanding of baseball lies largely with how they run the bases.  Speed is secondary to understanding the value of your out.  Down the road we will look to see how the score of the game helps determine decisions on the base paths.

Viewers Job

It is now your turn to watch the base runners when there are no outs and a fly ball is hit.  If you see a runner tag up then you know he has played correctly.  If you see the runner lead off the base then you have identified a player who has made a mental mistake.   Watch some games and see how you do!

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31 Comments on “Base Running with No Outs”

  1. Jim P says:

    Re: runner on first. C’mon, how often is a fly ball dropped? Or do you mean that there is a chance that the outfielder won’t get to it? If the former, then you’re giving up a free base (and taking the DP out of the equation) 5% or 10% of the time, in return for a 0.1% chance of a drop that is quick enough to allow the fielder a chance to recover and throw the runner out.

    On the other hand, I can see not tagging so the batter doesn’t overtake you on the basepaths accidentally.

    • Jim I am not really following you here. When there is only a man on 1st base and a fly ball is hit, the runner should get off of 1st base as far as he can while still being able to beat a throw back to 1st should the outfielder catch the ball. Batters can see the runner in front of them so that isn’t really as much of a concern.

      Finally, with zero outs, it is about preserving the out which allows the offense 2 more chances.

      Morgan

  2. Muse Seymour says:

    I have watched a couple of Cub games on WGN over the last week and Bob Brenly (Cubs Colour Analyst and former Diamondbacks World Series Manager) has been preaching this exact thing over the air. Talking about runner responsibility, especially on second base. The importance of checking where the entire defense is set up and reading the ball properly before making a decision. He has never mentioned the third base coach. If you go back on mlb.tv and watch the Cubs game from June 7th in Pittsburgh there is a prime example. With runners on 1st and 2nd and no one out Marlon Byrd was caught on a fly ball to right between 2nd and 3rd. Terrible base running mistake. Wisely he got himself caught in a rundown, which should have allowed Alfonso Soriano to take 2nd. However, Soriano never moved off of first and the Cubs were left with 2 out and a runner of first instead of 1st and 2nd with 1 out or 2nd with two out. Terrible play.

    If there is one thing I have noticed a trend of in baseball since the mid-90’s when the home run became all the rage it’s that base running and baseball intellect have taken a back seat. To watch professional players make some of these mistakes is criminal. Mistakes that if I made when I played high school and college would have had me benched and I’m guessing if a 10 year vet is making this mistake now, he’s always been making it. There is a lack of fundamentals all around in baseball, not just with base running, but in the field as well, ie. knowing which base to cover, throwing to the cut off man or proper base. I recently read an article by I believe Jerry Cransick of ESPN on the same issues in baseball today. It’s kind of sad.

    • Muse there is a lot of truth to what you are saying. It really is the organizations responsibility to enforce these rules. Most organizations don’t talk about this at all in a team setting.

      Morgan

  3. Mark L. says:

    I’ve always been a supporter of testing the arms of outfielders known for weak or inaccurate throws.

    Heck, on a ball to the track, I’d even see if some of my speedier players can score from second.

    • Mark you are right. What is most important is that the runner understand the situation they are in when there are zero outs. It isn’t about being overly aggressive. It is about being smart with decisions.

      Morgan

  4. Drew says:

    You rarely see guys tagging on 2nd & moving to third anymore unless its warning track deep. They dont seem to know the outs and the fielders hardly get tested much, even weak throwers like Pierre, Damon, Podsednik I dont see get tested all that much.

    • Muse Seymour says:

      The problem with running from 2nd to 3rd on players such as Pierre, Damon, and Podsednik is that they play in left which is a much shorter throw, but I agree with you moving from 2nd to 3rd with no one out is a relatively rare occurrence on a fly ball anymore. You still see it on ground balls to the right side, but no on fly outs too much.

    • Drew that is a complete function of a manager or organization that doesn’t encourage it. It is that simple.

      Morgan

  5. nolan says:

    Thanks for the tips Morgan! Good job on being very clear on what should be done in what situations. I enjoyed reading this.

  6. Brian McMahon says:

    Great info, Morgan. One question: if you don’t tag from first base because of the force play, then do you also not tag from second if there is a man on first (and therefore you also have a force play involved)?

    • No Brian. Second base is different because a runner is in scoring position at 2nd base. In the situation you mentioned, there would be an infield fly rule if a infielder has a shot of catching the ball. If the fly ball is too short to tag, but places the runner in danger of being forced out on a dropped fly, then the runner must move off of second base. I didn’t really want to get into that in this first article because that is more advanced.

      Morgan

      • Brian McMahon says:

        Ok, gotcha. I’m looking forward to seeing more situations in future articles.

        One other note, more to other commenters than to you. I’m always skeptical of statements like “they don’t learn the basics anymore,” because I’m old enough to remember watching games in the ’70s, when commentators would say the same exact thing. I think every generation THINKS that the fundamentals were done better by the generation before.

        • Brian I hear what you are saying. I can only comment on experiences that I have had in baseball so it would be silly for me to comment on fundamentals back in the 70’s. Great point.

          Morgan

  7. John says:

    Unless I’m missing something, isn’t there another exception for the runner on 2nd if 1st is also occupied? In this case it seems like there should also be a force out possibility so that the runner would need to check the distance of the fly ball just like the runner on 1st. I assume a similar rule for 3rd should also be applicable.

    Or is there another aspect I’m not considering and the runner should tag up anyway?

    • John you are right. I left that out of this article because I wanted to lay a foundation of understanding. The rule that needs to be emphasized is that the runner must tag. There are cases where they will have to alter that, but I didn’t get into them yet.

      Morgan

  8. Ashitaka says:

    Nice article. I’m shocked to hear that the runners should ignore the 3B coach though, that goes against basically everything I’ve heard announcers and coaches and commentators say in the past.

    There was a big one during the Astros game tonight. Runners on 1B and 2B with one out, pitcher was up and showing bunt. With the pitch, the 2B runner take a huge secondary lead. The pitch is way high, so the pitcher (batting) doesn’t try to make contact. Quintero catches it, jumps up, and throws the runner out at 2B. Guy didn’t even try to go sliding back in for some reason. Pitcher then has to swing with two outs and strikes out, inning over. Though…maybe the rules are different since there was an out, and since it was the pitcher bunting (so there was essentially no chance for a flyball of any kind).

    • Ash- The 3rd base coach is there to tell the runner if they should score or hold up at 3rd base only. Base runners should always know where the ball is and should never rely on the coach to make a decision for them.

      We will get to that second case you mentioned later.

      Morgan

  9. PaulP says:

    If a line drive is hit to the 1st baseman with a runner on first, usually there is no way to get back in time. I think some coaches go with freeze because your natural instinct on a struck ball is to step towards the next base.

    Also, I’ve seen fast runners tag at 3rd when a middle infielder is going back on a pop-up and even score on such a play because the infielder’s momentum away from the infield makes the throw home more difficult.

  10. aj says:

    Article seems a bit preachy and pompous to me. Yet another self-proclaimed baseball expert who thinks he knows better than the professionals. Runners don’t often tag from 2nd on a medium-depth fly ball because why risk getting thrown out at third, and instead of 1 out with a runner in scoring position you now have 2 outs and no runners? Unless the runner at 2nd is uncommonly fast, the potential reward is not worth the risk. If you play it safe, you still have 2 chances to score on any base hit to the outfield.

    • AJ you are exactly right and you wrote that perfectly. With a man on second, the runner is in scoring position. So the advantage of getting to 3rd base vs the probability that the runner gets thrown out from that medium-depth fly ball is too high to risk. Well done.

      Morgan

  11. Razzlegator says:

    I saw(on TV) Ben Zobrist score from second on a tag. The ball was all the way to the wall in dead center at the New Yankee Stadium. The fielder caught it crashing into the wall so his momentum was in the wrong direction and Zorilla had no problem scoring from second. I don’t remember the number of outs though. Supposedly the Yankee broadcasters were ragging Zobrist for not going halfway on what looked to be a ball that wouldn’t be caught. Turns out Zobrist must have had some good coaching somewhere. Since we got him in a trade with the Astros (for Aubrey Huff) my guess would be he got it from the same place you did Morgan.

    • Razz- I would have to know the outs. All of the base running “rules” I learned were prior to professional baseball. The player who understands these rules the best, gives himself the best opportunity to advance. My guess is that Zorilla knew what he was doing. But again, I didn’t see the play.

      Morgan

  12. lisa gray says:

    aren’t these rules taught in hs/college?

    aren’t these rules/fundamentals worked on repeatedly in the minors, especially the low minors?

    do Organizations ignore bad baserunning if the hitter is a power hitter?

    don’t coaches go over this stuff and practice this stuff in spring training?

  13. Dave says:

    Awesome, Morgan! I especially love these posts as they illustrate all the subtle and complex mechanics behind baseball. I really wish commentators would spend more time talking about these things as they occur in the game, rather than almost exclusively focusing on player biographies, stats, and extra-game stuff.

    Love your honesty, humility, and passion for the game of baseball too. It’s a real inspiration. Cheers!

    • Dave that is really nice of you to say. It makes me feel good that fans of baseball want to learn more about the game. Baseball is boring to watch unless you start learning how to anticipate what is going to happen. It is like breaking a code. My goal is to teach because I love baseball and I would love for readers and viewers to have fun with it.

      Morgan

  14. ScottM says:

    I have been going over this subject with my 9 year old this past week, who recently left a base twice running full out with a ball hit into the air in the outfield and was caught. I really thought he knew about this but when I asked him if he really knew the “tag on the fly” rule he acted like he had no clue. Now he has been playing since wee ball and is in 9U kid pitch now. I assumed all kids at this age knew this. Then I started thinking that before 9U most outfielders do not catch the fly balls so even though we teach our kids at an early age about this, we need to teach this basic subject again when it begins to matter more. So before the kids knew about the rule but they also knew the balls were hardly ever caught so they were probably thinking, “what a stupid rule” all the way up until the balls start to stay in the gloves.

  15. Marc Schneider says:

    It seems to me that there aren’t many chances for a runner to advance from first to second on a fly ball, unless the outfielder has to make a difficult catch or the ball is very deep and the runner is fast. I have always assumed that you normally go halfway if you are on first so you can get to second or third if the ball is not caught.

    As for moving from second to third with no outs, there is a significant advantage to being on third with one out so you should probably be more aggressive. But, as noted, you are already in scoring position so you have to be pretty sure you will make it.

    To me, baserunning is something any player should be good at, regardless of whether he is fast or not.

    I coached my daughter’s ( who is 14) softball team last year and almost all the girls had no idea about being doubled off on a fly ball. Of course, it is true that most fly balls at that level are not caught.


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