Is the Traditional Hit-and-Run Obsolete?
By: Jeff Blankenship-December 8, 2006
Here is the classic scenario: The runner at first takes his lead and breaks to second on the pitch, making sure to look in on his third step. The batter swings at the pitch to protect the runner and hopefully put the ball in play. A ground ball to the opposite side of the infield would be optimal because that fielder should be covering the bag. The traditional Hit-and-Run is a beautiful site when it works and the coach looks like a genius.
However, if you have just followed the conventional thought process of the hit-and-run, the Wando defense thanks you. That is because you just a) hit into a double play or b) gave us a chance to throw your runner out at second. I say this because we change our coverage at second base depending on the pitch: fastball away to a right-handed batter, shortstop has the bag. Breaking ball to right-handed batter, second baseman will cover. If our pitcher did not hit his spot then those who are trying to drive the ball into a specific area also have to adjust, which often results in a swing and miss.
So why not change the rules your team applies to the hit-and-run? You can start with just trying to hit the ball hard on the ground. This simplifies things for the batter because he does not have to guide the ball to a specific area and this also promotes a more aggressive swing in the process. In addition, try having the runner read the middle-infielders and their movements instead of automatically looking in on the pitch and slowing down while doing so. Do you always hit-and-run in the traditional counts?
In our first year at Wando, our coaching staff wanted to establish an aggressive mentality for our team while we were on offense. We wanted to put pressure on our opposition by being more aggressive at the plate and assertive on the base paths. The hit-and-run play was our first focus for accomplishing this goal. We established certain ârulesâ that our players had to know when the hit-and-run signal was given.
Assume the pitcher is right-handed:
1. The runner should have his normal lead with a steal mentality. He cannot depend on the batter to protect him. A bad jump turns the steal attempt into a âfalse start.â
2. When the runner detects the ball has been hit, by noise or visualization, he looks to the third base coach only. The coach will be giving directional signals or instructions to the runner.
3. The batter should be sitting âdead red,â or on fastballs only. The batter is geared up to swing at any fastball near the zone with their best swing. This has provided us with maximum results because our batters are more focused on hitting one pitch.
4. If the fastball is extremely out of zone either high or outside, then the batter swings late but tries not to hit the baseball. Never swing at a ball in the dirt.
5. We take any breaking pitch that comes in with less than two strikes. This eliminates our hitters swinging at a pitcherâs pitch and if our runner cannot steal second on a breaking ball then they do not need to be on the base paths in the first place.
This approach has resulted in notable results for our squad. We stole 58 bags on 68 attempts. Not an overwhelming statistic but of course this number does not reflect the amount of times we put runners in motion and drove a fastball into the outfield. We also only had two players who run a sub-seven 60-yard sprint.
Just like any philosophy or thought process in baseball, nothing is perfect. This approach has been shut down on two occasions by teams with tremendous arms behind the plate. We were 1-for-3 in two games against John Murrian at Stratford and 2-for-4 in three games against Logan Bland at Bishop England. But we also had Lonnie Ferguson, a catcher/designated hitter, who ran a 7.5/60 with five stolen bases on the year.
Now when you hear our coaching staff remind our players to âknow the rules,â that may be a key that something is on. But we have ârulesâ for balls in the dirt, bunts, straight steals and different pitch counts. These are things we go over in the off-season and practice every week. As a result of this philosophy, we feel like our hitters have developed a better overall approach as the season progressed. We attribute this in part to the pitch recognition they have developed because of our hit-and-run theories and being able to take this with them into every plate appearance.
About the author: Jeff Blankenship (pictured above) is entering his second year at the helm of the Wando baseball program. In his first season he guided the Warriors to a #1 ranking for the majority of the spring. Blankenship, a Charlotte native, played college ball at the College of Charleston.