While Few Will Be Basestealers, All Will Be Baserunners
By Darren Fenster
In February of 2019, I reported to Fort Myers for my first Spring Training in a new role as our Minor League Outfield and Baserunning Coordinator. In that role, I am essentially the lead voice- with a lot of input from a lot of people- for our organization with regard to how we will approach developing outfielders and baserunners. As players began trickling into JetBlue Park, many came up to me, excited about getting better on the bases… just not in the sense they truly needed to improve.
“Fens, I really want to get more bags this year,” a number of them proclaimed.
What I quickly realized was that most players associate baserunning only as basestealing, which is just one of the many elements of the overall skill. Furthermore, the stolen base is a dying play at the Major League level, with only six players in the entire game finishing 2019 with more that 30 bags for the year, which works out to a little more than one per week. Gone are the days of guys like Rickey Henderson and Vince Coleman stealing over 100 bases in a single season.
So, with our focus on developing the skills needed to help our club win in Boston, it doesn’t make sense to spend a ton of our time working on something in the Minor Leagues when it will only be a tiny part of our success in the Big Leagues. That goes for any part of the game, and in this case, basestealing. But for as few who will become true basestealers in the Major Leagues, every single position player we have WILL be a baserunner, and if they take the same pride in the developing the skill required to running the bases as they do their skills of hitting or fielding, they will have a chance to impact games with their legs, and they don’t even have to be fast in order to do so.
Our development on the bases is geared towards players understanding the importance of 90’. Every 90’ is that much closer to scoring a run; a run that may be the difference in a win or a loss; a win or loss that may have us celebrating a championship or languishing in bitter defeat. Baserunning is far more about details and decisions than it is about being fast or slow or even being out or safe.
Above all, baserunning begins with effort, and effort is a decision that is completely independent of talent. It takes no athletic ability whatsoever to give effort. The fastest guy in the world and the fattest guy in the world can both run equally as HARD. “Running for the possible” is the mindset and approach that all baserunners should have. Sure single? Round first base for a possible double. Sure double? Give yourself a chance for the possible triple. Ground into a sure out? There’s no such thing; run for the possible infield hit. Effort forces errors and changes the entire complexion of playing defense.
Baserunning is a skill, in the same exact respect that hitting, fielding, and pitching are all skills. And there is a very specific, detailed technique that comes with running the bases well. Those details include the route from home to first, the correct part of the base to touch, taking a primary lead, timing out the secondary lead, and what to look for while running. When thinking in such a focused manner on those little things, big things on the bases are sure to follow.
Baserunning is a separator skill that is a true indicator of players who are able to successfully separate the game. The second the ball is put in play, the mind has to transform from hitter to baserunner immediately with a 100% commitment and focus on running the bases. That commitment starts with effort, especially in those instances when we didn’t have a good at bat but still found a way on base. Mentally engaged baserunners are dangerous baserunners who know the situation of the game and anticipate all that may happen that will impact their decisions on the bases.
Impact baserunners are both smart and aggressive. Great baserunning teams make intelligent decisions, taking chances based on the game’s variables combined with their reads off the bat and of the defense to challenge the other team to make a play to prevent the extra base. They are aggressive, with effort as their foundation, to work to get to 2nd where they can score on a single or to reach third where they are in position to score on an out, error, wild pitch, or infield hit among others. With that aggressiveness, players must understand that it’s OK to make outs on the bases. There is a risk versus reward aspect to running the bases. Safe teams who don’t make outs on the bases aren’t giving themselves to get extra bases and, in turn, prevent themselves a chance to score more runs. With risks come outs, but with risks also come runs.
There are free bases all over the field, and it’s just a matter of players being made aware of where exactly to look for them. Whether it be anticipating a dirt ball, advancing as a backside runner on a high throw from an outfielder, or reading an outfielder who isn’t in a great position to make a play, there is a competitive edge on the bases that comes from simply watching the game with the eyes. When players realize that being a great baserunner goes beyond their speed and their coaches consciously spend time practicing all of the skill’s minute details, combined they will create a weapon in their club’s arsenal that other teams will soon fear.
Darren Fenster is currently the Minor League Outfield and Baserunning Coordinator for the Boston Red Sox. Previously, Fenster was the Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.