The Rundown on Rundowns

The above picture was a thought I shared on twitter some time ago.  I have the same thought every time I watch The Sandlot.  Don’t get me wrong.  I LOVE the movie.  It’s one of my favorite movies and I could watch it everyday.  What’s not to love?  It’s a movie about some kids having fun playing baseball and getting their ball back that went into “that neighbor’s yard.”  As a baseball fan, if you don’t love that movie you might want to check your pulse.  Let me put my baseball love aside for my coaching side.  As a coach I cringe every time Benny gets in a rundown.  His aggressive baserunning puts himself in trouble multiple times in the movie and he’s giving the defense an out, however, the defense doesn’t take advantage of it.  You see it occasionally in professional baseball also and in my mind these situations aren’t given enough attention to detail.

The attention to detail required to successfully get an out in a rundown can be found in the following rundown rules:

  1. Get the out in as few throws as possible
  2. Get the runner to commit to going to one base 
  3. Keep the ball in your throwing hand until going for a tag
  4. Step to the ball when receiving

Let’s take a closer look at each rule.

1. Get the out in as few throws as possible

This one is pretty self explanatory.  The more throws we make as a defense the more chances we have to make an error.  The longer the runner remains in the rundown the more they dictate the action to us and not the other way around.

2. Get the runner to commit to going to one base 

This rule speaks to us, the defense, being the aggressor in the rundown.  If we can dictate which direction the runner goes we take control of the situation.  We get the runner to commit to a base by sprinting at the runner which will cause them to turn and sprint at the opposite base.  This eliminates one of the bases so now we know where the runner is going.  

3. Keep the ball in your throwing hand until going for a tag

This rule serves multiple purposes.  By keeping the ball in our throwing hand we’re able to be in a position to deliver the ball to our teammate for a tag, it also allows our teammate to see the ball so there aren’t any surprises.  An important step in this rule is to create throwing lane around the runner to our teammate.  This means stepping just to the side of the baseline so we can deliver the ball to our teammate without the runner obstructing our throw.  We should preferably step to our arm side of the baseline.  Doing so means we don’t have to step as far outside of the baseline as we do if we create a throwing lane on our glove side.  Keep the ball in our barehand until we either make a throw or we go to make a tag.  When going to make a tag place your hand with the ball in your glove for ball security.

4. Step to the ball when receiving  

When our teammate makes the runner commit to the base we’re covering we need to cut down the distance between us and the runner.  To do this we should creep toward the runner while showing our hands to our teammate for a target.  When our teammate releases the ball to us we need to aggressively step to the ball AS we receive it, think of going to get the throw.  This puts more pressure on the baserunner because it acts like a head start for us.  When we do this and the runner has time to change direction the other way, they now must see the throw going in front of them, stop, change directions, and then get to top speed in the other direction.  By the time they do all that they should be tagged out if we aggressively step to the ball when receiving.

When these rules performed properly the runner should be out in one throw, two at most.  There are few things to keep in mind within the rules to increase your chances of success.  The first, is the communication between defensive teammates.  We need to make sure, as the teammate receiving the ball, we communicate when we’d like the ball from our teammate.  In this position, as the receiver, you know your own abilities but also exactly how much space you’ll need to receive but also step to the ball aggressively.  By using a verbal cue such as a, “Ball” or “Now,” we can let our teammate know it’s time to give us the ball because we have the out.  

The second, is our throw needs to be a firm dart throw, without arm fakes, to our teammate when running at them.  A dart throw will allow our teammate to see the ball, it’s more accurate, and most importantly it won’t handcuff our teammate the way a full arm action will.  Eliminate arm fakes when you’re running at your teammate/runner. Arm fakes tend to not only fake out the runner but also your teammate a lot of times.

Finally, once you get rid of the ball get out of the baseline so the runner doesn’t get awarded the next base by having contact with the defensive players.  Once you get out of the baseline continue to the base so you can be in a position to receive a subsequent throw should the rundown require multiple throws.  

Rundown Drill Progression

For each of the following drill progressions you’ll need to split the players evenly at throw down bases.  Each line should have not many more than 3 players at each throw down.  The bases should be 90 ft apart.  The set up should be as shown in IMAGE A.  The number of lines will depend on the number of players.  Each pair of throw downs will need 1 baseball and each player should have their glove.

IMAGE A: Rundown Drill set up

Progression 1

This progression is like a dry run of a rundown.  The first player in line will establish a throwing lane on an imaginary runner and run at 75% speed with the ball out of the glove toward the throw down across from them.  On their teammate’s verbal cue, whatever your team may use, they’ll deliver a firm dart throw to their teammate who’s cutting down the distance to the imaginary runner.  The receiving teammate will aggressively step to the ball to receive.  The teammate that just delivered the ball will continue to run straight and now simulate the baserunner.  The receiving teammate will place a tag on their teammate and will begin the drill back to the other line. 

Progression 2

This next progression is slightly more game-like.  Before you start make sure your lines at the throwdowns are even.  This progression will be performed at game speed.  The player in front of the line that starts with the ball will be the first baserunner.  The progression starts when that first player in line flips the ball to their teammate behind them.  This teammate will establish their throwing lane while sprinting at the runner.  The runner will only run in one direction in this progression, even if it means running into an out.  The teammate receiving the ball will tag the runner and then they become the runner when they flip the ball to the next player behind them.  

Progression 3

Make sure your lines are even.  This final progression is the most game-like.  It is the same as Progression 2 with the only difference is that the runner will now try to stay in the rundown as long as they can.  The player that tags the runner will become the new baserunner and the drill begins when they toss the ball to one of the players waiting in line at the throwdowns.  Depending on the length of the rundowns you may need to pause and even out your lines.

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