A few weeks ago we went over the responsibilities of coaching 1st. Now it’s time to take a look at what needs to happen when you’re stationed at 3rd.
Being an effective 3rd base coach takes the right attitude, an aptitude for the strategy of the game and keen attention to detail.
In a series of articles on the subject, CBS Sports interviewed some of the MLB’s third base coaching legends, San Francisco Giants coach Tim Flannery, Manager for the Seattle Mariners Don Wakamatsu and Chicago White Sox 3rd base coach Jeff Cox. Throughout this piece we’ll be including their takeaways.
Duties of the Job
• Handle the offensive game
• Provide signs to the batter and base runners
• Manage the lead off for the runner on 2nd
• Run on anything is your call
• Remind your runners how many outs are on the board
• Tell runners about special situations like when the infield fly rule is in play
• When infield fly is in play, you need to watch for the umpire’s hand signal as the call can be silent.
Commandments of Coaching Third
Do Your Homework
Jeff Cox once wrote, "Prepare, prepare, prepare. If you know you're high strung, slow down, let the play develop, you've always got more time than you think… he finished by added, “know the speed of the infield."
Mitigate the situations you can’t account for with knowledge. Knowing the arm strength of their outfielders is crucial to determining if you can send a runner. When scouting reports aren’t available, watch the team during warm ups. Get a feel for their range then account for adrenaline and competitive nature in real-time situations.
You also need to know the depth a fielder plays to help you determine whether their range is going to adequately cover your hitting gaps.
Remember to mark off the depth of the backstop so you can direct your runners on passed ball and wild pitch opportunities.
Knowing this information allows you to prepare batters capable of placing the ball while helping you determine which runners you’ll be able to send based on their speed and the range estimates of the opposition on defense.
You are responsible for the batters. To give the right signs, watch your players during batting practice. You know the capabilities of the people on your team. Observe how the ball’s movement changes for them on away fields. What’s the bounce from the outfield wall? Are there pockets in the corners for the ball? Do the field dimensions hinder a throw in certain situations?
How thick is the grass is will affect the roll so feel it. Check your lines. Get to know the space you’re in.
Adjust the strengths of your lineup to expose the weaknesses in their defense.
If they have a lefty in the outfield how does that affect their positioning for the thrown to short for example? If a guy has to take an extra step or turn to get into position these are moments a base coach can take advantage of.
Find Your Wheels
What is your team’s current condition? Who’s hurt? How fast can each player run? Who has the lung capacity for the full trip around the bags? Use these facts to assess every on-base situation.
Let the Score Guide You
Coaching baseball is a lot like playing blackjack. You know the odds are against the batter so you take precautions to ensure success. In cards, you probably know that holding on a 17 is the safe bet, that you never hit when the dealer has a higher card total and you split a pair when possible. These same theories apply to base running situations. If your team is ahead in outs, take the risk. Hit the 17, especially if the fielders have been struggling in the area where the ball is headed. It’s like watching the shoot and knowing how many face cards you’ve seen recently.
If you have a runner with speed that is on base ahead of your slower guys, take those risks and make something happen. When you have two players of equal strengths, sync their movements and use that to throw the fielders off. Like splitting the pair, or calling for a sacrifice, you’re banking on one player becoming the throw away hand, the guaranteed out. They are the distraction to ensure the other player helps you get the run.
Know Your Place
Making yourself visible is essential to the duties of third base coach. The coach’s box is large but it should not contain you longer than it takes the pitcher to release the ball. You have the freedom to move the length of the foul line during play. Exercise your freedom, with abandon but be attentive of your surroundings. You can’t interfere with a play.
Make Yourself A Target
This is something we talked about in being a good cutoff man. The same theory holds true for a base coach. Get big. If the player can’t clearly see your direction, they will be left to make their own decisions. No matter how loudmouthed a person you may be, sometimes you cannot be heard above the din of the crowd. Other times, strategically speaking, you don’t want to be.
If your players can’t see you and the action is behind them they will be forced to make those determinations with not nearly enough information to make a good decision. Your communication needs to be clear, not loud. By making your actions large and repeating them, you are ensuring that they see your direction.
Be Animated and Loud
The crowd is loud and if the fielders are doing their part to help each other out, they’ll be yelling too. Your voice needs to stand out in the crowd for the runners but you also need to be sure they see what you mean so there’s no room for miscommunication.
Pace Your Signs
Don’t give anything away. Teams are always looking for an advantage. If they can figure out your plans, they will. If you create and keep a tempo for every move you make it is harder for them to catch changes based on your rhythm.
Calculate The Risks
All the information you need to play the game is locked in your mind. Situations and how to physically react to them are instantaneous if you’ve played for any length of time. Your muscles know what to do. If you’ve run the paths enough you know the same is true of the base runners you’re coaching. When they don’t need you, let them work it out for themselves. Telling them where to go on every play can do more harm than good. They need to rely on their own instincts and they need to feel you having their back.
Flannery says, “Any time that the player has the same view as the third base coach that’s not the third-base coach’s call. That’s their decision.” By instilling confidence in your runners to execute the plays you’ve practiced you’re giving the team more opportunities. Extra, educated, eyes are always an asset. If a player can take care of a situation themselves, you can be freed up to handle the situations for players that have their back to the ball.
Create Your Own Opportunities
Making opportunities is about more than getting the runners across the plate. Pay attention to the opposition. If you have a fast runner that’s making the pitcher nervous stealing, keep him on the bases an extra few plays, see if you can throw the pitcher off their rhythm, stress them into tossing a pitch away.
Failure Is A Given
Aggressive base running means risk. With every risk there is the potential of failure. If there weren’t it would be called a sure thing. Coaches, fans and players should keep this in mind and act accordingly. Criticism does nothing to improve future situations. In fact, it often serves only to plant the seeds of doubt.
Get your players wanting the pressure situations, encourage them and they will want to show you they are ready to perform. Prepare for the scenarios in practice until they become routine and expected positive outcomes. Review the signs until the players start rolling their eyes at you. They’ll silently thank you in real time situations.
Approach every situation knowing you are likely to have some decisions that bite. Tim Flannery told CBS, “If somebody says at the end of the year, ‘Well, you didn’t get anybody thrown out,’ you’re not a very good third-base coach. They can hire a school crossing guard to do that.”
Recklessness Comes at a Price
Send a guy in the wrong situation and you are risking more than the score. Collisions at the plate make for great TV but they also are a breeding ground for injuries to both sides. Sending a player into a tough spot when it isn’t necessary is irresponsible. Your first priority is a healthy player no matter whose jersey s/he’s wearing.
Be Aggressive In Moderation
Aggression without recklessness is a delicate, but necessary balance in the coaching position. The most effective coaches are smart and confident. Some might even say they’re a little cocky. What they should never be is someone who second-guess their work. Ever.
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen told CBS Sports, "As soon as you start second guessing yourself, if you're a third-base coach, you can't be a third-base coach.”
3rd base is a crucial position for development into a head coach or manager position. They are the catchers of the coaching staff so accept the responsibility for the mistakes, keep the situations calm and prove your instincts if you’d like your future to include “upper management”.
Let your passion for the game come through in your coaching. If you are timid or you find your intensity waning then it may be time for you to reevaluate the best role for you to help your team.
Wakamatsu says, “Third-base coaches really have to enjoy it. They live for it. If they don't love what they are doing, it affects their judgment. You have to be intense but most of the time you have to have the calmness that allows you to make right decisions. If you can't process what's going on, you can get paralyzed out there."