What Does a First Base Coach Do?

You are watching a baseball game when the hitter smokes a ball to the gap in left-center field. The batter runs to first base and fakes like he is going to run to second base before stopping and retreating to first base. He then takes off his elbow guard and hands it to the first base coach. Is the first base coach only there to collect the hitter’s gear while they run the bases?

What Does A First Base Coach Do?

The first base coach has three main responsibilities:

  1. Let the baserunner know when to advance to second base on a hit.
  2. Assist the baserunner in picking the appropriate time to steal a base.
  3. Alert the baserunner when a pitcher attempts to retire them with a pickoff throw.

Now that you know what a first base coach does, let us take a deeper look into each of those responsibilities.

Main Responsibilities

When to Advance

The batter hits a line drive to right-center field but the right fielder was positioned close to the gap in right-center field. How does the batter know whether he should try to stretch the hit to a double and go for second base? That decision is for the first base coach to decide.

What are some of the factors the first base coach uses to decide whether to tell the runner to advance to second base?

  • Speed of the baserunner
  • Accuracy and strength of the outfielder’s arm
  • Position of the ball when the batter reaches first base

Speed of the Baserunner

This one may seem a bit obvious but this is one area often overlooked by a first base coach. For example, would you be more aggressive to send the slow-footed catcher or the center fielder who has amazing speed? Most people will say that you send the center fielder, but you may also send the catcher in certain conditions.

One reason why you may decide to send the baserunner that is not known for being fast is to surprise the defense. In our example, the defense may not be expecting the catcher to try for second base so the outfielders will be a bit more lackadaisical when trying to run down the ball and will not be in as big of a hurry to get the ball to second base.

The defense knows that you will most likely to be more aggressive in sending the speedy baserunner to second base so they will move quickly to get to the ball and will make sure they throw the ball to second base faster. However, this may also give you an advantage as they may rush the throw and be less accurate.

Accuracy and Strength of the Outfielder’s Arm

The first base coach must know each of the outfielder’s ability when throwing the ball. This is easy for college and Major League coaches as they have detailed scouting reports on each outfielder they can read before the game.

So how can a little league coach know the strength and accuracy of each outfielder’s arm before the game so they can make the right decision? By watching the opposing team take fielding practice. Most coaches have used the phrase, “You practice the way you play.” This is true to an extent.

If you are watching the opposing team take fielding practice and you notice that one of the outfielders is lollygagging when running to the ball and tossing a soft throw to the infield, this fielder may use the same effort during the game. On the flip side, if you see the outfielder who was lollygagging in practice hustling to the ball, you may want to be more careful to send the runner until you see how strong he throws the ball to the infield.

Position of the Ball in the Field

This is one of the most important factors in the decision-making process when a first base coach decides whether to tell the runner to advance to second base or remain at first base. While second base is centered on the infield, certain throws can be more difficult for the outfield and park dimensions can vary.

Which throw from the outfield is the most difficult for the fielder and takes the most time? That depends on whether the fielder is right-handed or left-handed. The most difficult throw is one where the fielder must make a turn before being able to throw the ball to the infield. This is because it takes more time and the fielder’s feet are moving prior to the throw.

A right-handed outfielder in right field has an easier throw to second base than if the same outfielder was in left field. A left-handed outfielder in left field also has an easier throw to second base than if the same outfielder was in right field.

The dimensions of the outfield fence also play a role in the decision for the first base coach when advancing a runner to second base. This is not as big of a factor in little league as most fences are the same distance from second base. However, some travel ball locations have fields with varying dimensions. A throw from right-center field that is 50 feet further than the throw from left-center field will take longer to reach second base and allows for more error with the accuracy of the throw.

Appropriate Time to Steal

Stealing a base is a true art form and not solely dependent on the speed of the baserunner. A good base stealer is someone who has taken the time to study their craft and has had good coaching along the way. You can help the baserunner become a good base stealer by knowing two things.

  • A pitcher’s delivery time to home plate
  • What pitch is expected in a certain count

Pitcher’s Delivery Time to Home Plate

While a baserunners speed and reaction time is important in stealing a base, the most important factor is how long it takes the pitcher to deliver the ball to home plate. The pitcher’s delivery time begins with his first motion toward home plate and ends when the catcher has the ball in his glove.

Now you know how important the pitcher’s delivery time is, but what is good delivery time for a stolen base? According to probaseballinsider.com, a baserunner will want the pitcher to be at least 1.35 seconds and usually over 1.40 seconds to home plate to allow for the maximum opportunity for a successful stolen base.

That is a very specific time frame so how can I know this information during a game? Most first base coaches at the college and professional level use a stopwatch to measure the pitcher’s delivery time. Investing in a good “old fashioned” stopwatch may be what your team needs to be more successful when stealing bases.

What Pitch is Expected in a Certain Count?

This is one area where the first base coach must pay close attention to the game especially when there is a baserunner. Most teams will try and throw more fastballs to keep your team from stealing a base as that pitch is the most effective.

When is the best time to steal a base? There are two answers to this question. The best time to try and attempt a stolen base is when the pitcher has two strikes on the batter. When a pitcher has an 0-2 or 1-2 count on a hitter, the next pitch is typically off-speed and many times not in the strike zone. This makes the catcher’s job more difficult to catch the ball and throw to second base.

Another good time to steal a base is when the pitcher must throw a strike or risk walking the hitter. If the hitter is facing a 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 3-0, 3-1 or 3-2 count, the pitcher will be more focused on throwing a strike and not on the baserunner. This will lead to longer delivery times to home plate and give the catcher less time to throw leading to less accuracy.

Alert the Baserunner to a Pickoff Attempt

You know as a first base coach that you need to tell the runner to get back to first base when the pitcher performs a pickoff move, but how can you know when the pitcher will attempt a pickoff move?

  • You can read clues from the pitcher
  • Steal the opposing team’s signals to the catcher or pitcher

Reading Clues From the Pitcher

This is one where the top level coaches excel in helping their team. Pitchers at all levels are prone to fall into a habit before a pitch which can lead to letting you know when the pitcher is throwing home or throwing to first base.

What kind of clues should you look for? For a right-handed pitcher, you want to watch the foot touching the pitching rubber. The pitcher must step back off the rubber to make a throw to first base. A left-handed pitcher will sometimes rock back towards third base with their upper body before throwing to first base.

Another good clue is seeing how often the pitcher looks at the runner before throwing the pitch to first base. If a pitcher always looks at the baserunner twice before throwing home, the runner can start after the second look and reach second base faster.

Stealing the Opposition’s Signs

Stealing signs in baseball has been prevalent since teams began using signs to relay the coach’s intentions. The opposing team will most likely use signs to let the catcher and pitcher know what pitch to throw and when to attempt a pickoff.

Some teams use numbers or hand signals. The most common hand signal the catcher gives the pitcher to attempt a pickoff move is making a fist with their hand and having their thumb extended outward. Some catchers will drop the glove between their legs to the ground.

Some teams also use verbal cues. Being alert to what the opposing coach says prior to a pickoff move could be your clue. Also, paying attention to the opposing coach’s signs to the catcher or pitcher may be your clue. Look for number or hand sign is constant before the pickoff attempt.

Other Responsibilities

The other responsibilities of a first base coach are largely dependent on the level of the team playing. The first base coach is typically an assistant coach and very rarely a position held by the head coach.

Major League Baseball

The first base coach at the Major League level will usually have at least one other position on the coaching staff and sometimes will have two different positions. These include:

  • Coaching base stealing techniques
  • Coaching base running techniques
  • Coaching the infielders
  • Coaching the outfielders

The first base coach is usually not involved with the team’s pitching staff.

College Level

The first base coach is almost always an assistant coach. College baseball teams have a very limited baseball coaching staff so assistant coaches typically coach multiple areas of the team. Some examples are:

  • Hitting coach
  • Coaching the infielders
  • Coaching the outfielders
  • Coaching base running techniques
  • Coaching base stealing techniques
  • Coaching the catcher

Sometimes the first base coach in college will also be the pitching coach, but this is the exception and not the rule.

High School and Little League Level

Some teams in high school and little league place one of their substitute players as the first base coach. Coaches who use this strategy may not fully understand how a first base coach can help their team score more runs which could lead to more wins. Now that you have a greater understanding of the responsibilities of the first base coach, you can ensure your team has an edge over opposing teams who use their substitutes as a first base coach.

Related Questions

Can the first base coach touch the runner?

It is a good rule of thumb for the first base coach to not touch the baserunner while the ball is in play. The ball is in play from the time the pitcher has the ball until one of the umpires signals time either visually or verbally. You can ask the umpire for time.

The rule regarding coach’s interference according to The Hardball Times on fangraphs.com is:

“7.09 It is interference by a batter or a runner when:

(h) In the judgment of the umpire, the base coach at third base, or first base, by touching or holding the runner, physically assists him in returning to or leaving third base or first base.

(i) With a runner on third base, the base coach leaves his box and acts in any manner to draw a throw by a fielder;”

Does the first base coach have to move when a fielder tries to field a ball in the coach’s box?

Yes, or the batter could be called out by the umpire due to the coach’s interference. A coach should always exhibit good sportsmanship and give the opposing team’s players plenty of room to catch a ball without interference.