Recently I was watching an MLB game and I was blown away at the lack of attention to detail displayed by the 1B while “holding” a runner at first. The pitcher was clearly doing his part to control the running game. He mixed up his hold times and showed a couple different moves over to first. All pretty standard stuff a pitcher would do with a threat to run at first. For as hard as the pitcher was trying to control the run game his 1B was making his efforts all for nothing.
This 1B was right handed and he was in an athletic stance with his feet almost squared with the 1st to 2nd baseline. You might be thinking, “so what?”, that’s a fairly normal position to be in for a right handed 1B and I’d agree with you. The problem is that his right foot was a good foot to foot and a half off of the bag! So now, in this position he does not only have to reach for the back corner of the bag, where the runner will be diving back, he must cover an additional foot to a foot and a half to do so.
If I’m the base runner in this situation I know that no matter what the pitcher does to control the run game is not a threat. So the “A” move that the pitcher used to try to pick the runner off becomes ineffective. Which gives the runner confidence knowing that all of the holds and different pickoffs from the pitcher aren’t a threat. Now he almost has a one way lead going towards 2B.
So what does the proper positioning look like?
Left Handed 1B
Let’s start with our lefties. Lefties have a huge advantage over at 1B in many areas including holding runners. To use the traditional setup, place your right foot on the 2B side of the inside corner of the base. The left foot will be placed on the foul line. Your feet will be in the correct position if you’re squared to the pitcher as illustrated in IMAGE A. Setting up this way provides a big target for your pitcher to throw over while still allowing you to apply a tag to the runner diving to the back corner of the base.
Right Handed 1B
The righties have a different setup which will be more closed off to the pitcher due to having to reach across their body to apply the tag. If we square up to the pitcher, the righty will not be able to reach the back corner of the bag where the runner will be diving. The righties will setup with their right foot next to the inside corner of 1B. The foot will be angled so that the toes are basically pointing to CF. Opening the toes this way will help open the right side of the body to the bag when going to apply a tag. The left foot of the righty will be placed just inside of the second base side of 1B extended. This setup will place the first baseman almost squared to the 1B to 2B baseline as illustrated in IMAGE B.
On Pitcher’s Delivery Home
As the pitcher delivers home, it’s our job to get off the base and prepare to become a fielder. The exact number of shuffles will differ depending on the player but the more important aspect of shuffling off the bag is the timing of our landing. I look at the shuffle off the same as our prep step. We need to land right around the time of contact whether that is after one shuffle or two shuffles. We just need to land ON TIME so we’re ready to react to a batted ball.
As a lefty we’re going to step with our right to square ourselves to home then replace (shuffle) our feet going to the right away from the foul line. This will place us just in front of the baseline. On the catcher receiving the ball we’ll retreat back to the base with our eyes on the catcher and giving a target with the glove ready for a snap throw.
As a righty we’re going to bring our left foot under our body (back toward the right), square to home with the right, and then shuffle to the right away from the foul line. By bringing our left foot under our body first, we put ourselves closer to the baseline as we retreat to the base on the catcher receiving the ball. If we square up to home with our right before dropping our left, we could be 3 feet in front of the baseline on a snap throw from the catcher.
I’ve said it before, first base is more than just a position where you put a big bat. Teams that don’t have a good defensive first baseman will not have a good defensive infield. They effect more sides of the game than they get credit for as evident in what I saw in that MLB game. Take pride in the role first baseman play on defense. Every. Last. Detail.