Base Running 4: Tips for leading off first base, second base, and secondary leads

Proper mechanics and pro tips for leading off first base and second base, as well as some tips to improve your secondary lead.

These are important skills to master, as they will help you avoid getting picked off while leading off first base.  Improving your lead off will also better your chances of stealing successfully, and most importantly, help you to score more runs.

Taking leads has many different varieties and ways to get to your end lead.  It needs to be comfortable to you.  However, there are some consistent rules of thumb for good lead-offs.

How to Take a Lead Off First Base

How to take a lead from 1st base, how to take a lead from 2nd base, secondary leads

Kevin Russo takes a lead from first base. Image by Frank Lauri, 2011.

1. Eyes on the Pitcher.  Always keep your eyes on the pitcher (or wherever the baseball is) when you are off of the bag.  Even if you are just one foot off the bag, keep your eyes on the baseball.

2. Don’t Cross Your Feet.  When stepping out to your desired length, don’t cross your feet.  At any time the pitcher could try to pick you off and if you are crossing your legs when he is throwing over you are not in a very good position to get back into the bag.

3. Strategy.   Some players like to take their leads and take one step closer to the pitcher, this gives off an optical illusion that you are closer to the bag than you really are.

Others like to take their leads and take one step away from the pitcher.  This is so when they dive back into the bag, they will make contact with the back corner.

This makes the tag a little more difficult for the first baseman, but this angle makes it look like you are a little further away from the bag than you really are.

4. Consistency.  Your leads should be the same every time so you don’t tip off when you are about to steal.

You should be able to get to the same lead every time without looking back at the bag to see how far you are away.  Get your lead the same way every time.

5. Distance. Your ideal lead is somewhere between 9 and 12 feet away from the bag.

How to Take a Lead from 2nd Base

There are two types of leads you take at second base:

  1. The first is with less than 2 outs, or looking to steal third base.
  2. The next is with 2 outs or, you are not worrying to much about moving up to third base, you are committing to scoring on a single to the outfield.

Lead #1:  Less than 2 outs, or Looking to Steal 3rd

With less than 2 outs or if you are trying to steal 3rd you want it to be a straight line between 2nd and 3rd.

Don’t get outside the baseline.  The quickest path between 2nd and 3rd is in between the bases.  If you move out away from the baseline (back toward shortstop) you are creating a longer distance to third base.

You want to get 10-15 feet off the second base bag.  This depends on how comfortable you feel off the bag, and how quickly you can get back to second.

  • The initial distance in your leads from 2nd should be based on whether you can get back to the bag on a pick from the pitcher, regardless of where the middle infielders are playing.
  • As the middle infielders get further away, you can take another step, but as they get closer move back to the spot where you know you can get back to 2nd safely.  From that spot you can confidently hold your ground, until he moves back into a fielding position.

Keep your eyes on the pitcher

  • It is a good habit to always look at whoever has the baseball.  As long as you know where the baseball is, you should never be surprised.
  • As you get to your desired lead, listen to your third base coach, he will help you with the middle infielders and how close they are to you.
  • Before you take your lead, you should have an idea who is holding you on.  If it is the shortstop, you are using the eyes of the 3rd base coach to help you out.  If it’s the 2nd baseman, you are still using the 3rd base coach’s eyes but you are also using your peripheral vision to aid in getting back to the bag.

Once the pitcher starts to pitch the ball, we start our secondary lead, expecting a single hit to the outfield where we have to score.

Lead #2: Two outs

 With 2 outs we are not worried as much about just moving up to third base, we are going to be a little more aggressive about trying to score and we want to give ourselves the best opportunity.

Initial lead

With 2 outs usually the middle infielders are not holding us on, or if they are it is not to close, they don’t want to create holes in the defensive positioning.

  • We want to have a 12-15 foot lead initially toward 3rd base.  From there take about 3-5 steps back (toward the shortstop) so the baseline is in front of you.
  •  This angle we create by moving back 3-5 steps will help our running path to home plate be shorter and straighter.  We want to set an angle coming around third so the distance we run is as short as possible.  Moving back a few feet will do this.
  •  Also, by setting this angle before we start running we will be closer to top speed the whole way to home plate rather than losing a little speed trying to bow out and set an angle around third base.

Secondary Leads

A secondary lead is the movement you make toward the next base once the pitcher has committed to pitch the ball home.

Our objective is to create some momentum and cut down the distance to the next base in case of a batted ball or a pitch that gets away from the catcher.

  • Shuffle Steps.  Once the pitcher starts his movement home, your lead starts to turn into a secondary lead by taking 2 shuffle steps toward the next base.
  • Balance.  As you take your shuffle steps, keep your feet close to the ground and keep your center of gravity over your toes in case you need to change direction quickly.
  • Weight Distribution.  As the pitch gets into the strike zone you should have your weight about 70/30 to your right foot, and your momentum should be stopped.   From this position you can continue easily to the next base; or if the catcher tries to pick you off, you are in a good position to get back to the bag.
  • Step Back.  Once the catcher secures the ball, take at least one hard step back to the bag.  This hard step will stop any thoughts of catcher trying to pick you off and will give you good habits to prevent any base running mistakes.

More on taking leads and running bases: