On and Off Base

A semi-pro coach weighs in on running the bases.

My recent article in which I called out two areas of concern in Albert Pujols' running game generated a lot of interest. Predictably, some readers agreed while at least one other attempted email psychoanalysis of the author. Check the "Reader Mail" area of www.thestlcardinals.com as well as our excellent message board if you're interested in a cross-section of the comments.


One email, however, was especially noteworthy. It came from Gary Galvach, manager of the Woodbridge Cardinals summer semi-pro baseball team. These Cardinals are a member of the New Brunswick Men's Open Baseball League. Perhaps the most famous former Woodbridge player is Bobby Brownlie, who is currently pitching for the Iowa Cubs (Triple-A).


My original article noted two fundamental areas of concern: Pujols turning to look at the play behind him while running between second and third and running through stop signs put up by his third base coach.


Coming at this from the perspective of one who teaches, Galvach addressed each, sharing his "thoughts and beliefs" built through 14 years of coaching.


On making the decision to take an extra base: "When a runner has a chance or thought to go from first to third on a batted ball or even a triple on a ball he has hit, he has to make the decision to attempt third before he hits second base."


Where the ball is hit affects where to look: "Left field line, left center, and right center - he has a good view of the ball handling without having to turn his head much at all, so he can evaluate the distance of the throws, and/or relays necessary to beat him."


The judgment call: "The ball down the right field line is the one he has trouble seeing so he can go two ways. One is to pick up the third base coach and the other is to make his evaluation early just after he makes his turn from first base. The relay from the right field line all the way to third base is of course the farthest distance, so after enough experience, a runner can do it."


The coach isn't flawless: "Remember, it's an estimation and there's never a guarantee. The coach has to make this same estimation plus. In addition to that, the coach has to factor in the runner's location and progress. It's a very difficult thing to do for a coach."


Teach the players to make the call themselves: "Some of our philosophy is to guide the runners at the young age and hope that they will learn to gauge it on their own as they go into the higher level."


Moving on to the issue of signs at third base: "Your complaint of a runner going through a stop sign is legit. The third base coach's job is to wave or stop runners to home plate."


But, the runner could still proceed: "However, the instant the runner gets the stop sign from the coach, he should immediately find the handling of the ball to verify if it in fact is relayed in without error. You see, in the event of a bobbled ball, because the coach has to give a signal usually just before the ball meets the outfielder, if it gets mishandled, it would take too much time and confusion to restart the runner towards home and that's where the runner's instinct can take over."


Take a chance, but face the consequences: "If a runner goes through a stop sign, he better be safe. It is possible for a coach's judgment to be off and the runner recognizing it, goes in to score on his own. Taking some calculated gambles and being out can and will happen."


Better to be aggressive: "I know some guys that never make a baserunning
mistake because they never ever take a chance. Trust me. Those guys drive a
coach crazy. What one has to remember is this. If a baserunning gamble with
two outs is 50-50, that's a .500 or 50% chance you'll score. If the hitter on
deck is batting over .500, then I'll stay at third and let him hit me in."


Bottom line on Albert: "Sure, Pujols makes some mistakes on the bases, but I think overall, he does run them pretty good."


Gary and I also had a discussion about ranking criteria for third base coaches, which to-date seems subjective. He is less high on Jose Oquendo's work than I am. We also share a desire to locate hard data on related statistics such as the percentage of time throws home from the outfield that are off the mark. If any reader has data sources for either of these areas, please let me know.


Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net


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