Runners on First and Third Defense

By admin •  Updated: 10/29/17 •  4 min read

How a baseball team handles a situation with runners at the corners and the runner at first taking off for second base could be the difference between winning and losing a game. Of course, there are a lot of things to consider. How many outs are there? What’s the score in the game? How important is the out at second base?

The defensive team has a decision to make and each player should know what to do based on the situation in the game. So let’s review some game situations and what might be the best move to make given the situation.

Less than Two Outs – Runner at First Attempts Steal

The offensive team most likely has a couple of main strategies for trying to get the runner at first base to second base. One is to get the runner at first to second to keep their team out of a double play situation. This also puts an additional runner in scoring position. And two, trying to get the runner at third base a chance to score on the throw to second base or on a wild throw.
Should the runner get thrown out, the offensive team would still be alive in the inning and would keep the runner at third base in a position to score.

So what should the defensive team do in this situation? Well, that depends on the game situation. For instance, if their team is ahead by two or more runs, and they have a catcher with the ability to throw the player out, the out is probably more important than the potential run should the runner on third break for home.

However, if the catcher’s odds of throwing the runner out at second are not that good, it may end up being better for the defensive team to come up with an alternative play. There are a couple of options that would work best. The catcher could come up throwing to second but instead of the shortstop covering the bag, they receive the ball in front of the bag with the intention of catching the runner at third either off the bag or breaking for home. The other option is for the catcher to turn and make a quick throw to third to keep the runner from scoring.

Two Outs – Runner at First Attempts Steal

In this example, let’s assume that the run at third is important. It will either tie the game or put the offensive team in the lead. Therefore, the goal for the defensive team is to stop the run from scoring, in any way they can. Obviously, getting the third out is the best way to do so. This makes throwing the runner out at second base a bit riskier.

The middle infielders play an important role if the throw goes through from the catcher to second base. Prior to the play, the second baseman and shortstop should have agreed on who will take the throw. In this example let’s say it’s the shortstop. The second baseman then needs to be their eyes and ears. They will keep their eye on the runner at third and if he takes off for home they will yell that he is going. Because that players run is critical, the shortstop will field the throw but instead of making the tag, will catch the ball and make the throw to home to get the runner.

Should the defensive team decide not to make the throw to second, the catcher should come up throwing, but instead of throwing to second, turn towards third and make a snap throw to try to catch the runner off the bag or hold the ball and look him back. The defensive team could also use a set play where the catcher appears to throw to second but instead, the throw is made to a middle infielder in front of the base so they can make the throw to the plate.

In either of these situations, it’s important for the third baseman to try and keep the runner close to the bag and also be ready in case a throw is made to them by either the catcher or the infielder. And both middle infielders should properly communicate with each other to make sure they know who is taking the throw and if the runner at third is breaking for home.

There are many other scenarios that could play out with runners at the corners and these are just a few.