Have you ever watched a baseball game and wondered what exactly is the job of that coach standing beside third base? That coach is known as the third base coach and he has many responsibilities and tasks to accomplish during a game.
What Does a Third Base Coach Do?
The 2 main responsibilities of the third base coach are to:
- Relay signals sent by the manager from the dugout to the hitter and baserunners, and
- Tell the baserunners if they should stop at second base and third base or to continue running home.
Now that you know what the third base coach does, let’s discuss those duties in a little more detail.
The main responsibility of the third base coach is to relay signals from the dugout to the hitter and baserunners. On a Major League Baseball team, these signals typically come from the manager. However, in college and little league, there is often no designated person for this position, in which case the head coach himself will be the third base coach.
You may be wondering, what exactly are they communicating to each other?
Types of Signals
During an at-bat, the third base coach will receive a signal from the manager or decide for himself whether the hitter should:
- take a pitch,
- or bunt,
and whether the baserunner should:
- steal a base,
- hit and run,
- or run and hit.
In a hit and run, the batter swings at the pitch regardless of location while the runner tries to steal a base.
In a run and hit, the batter only swings at a pitch he can hit while the runner tries to steal a base.
The signals from the manager to the third base coach is different than the third base coach’s signals to the hitter and baserunner. This is to prevent the opposing team from understanding their signs and adjusting to the play called by the offense.
Sometimes, all the signals are fake and only used as a decoy to the opposing team.
Deciding on When to Advance a Baserunner
The other major responsibility of the third base coach is to decide when to send the runner from second base to third base or from third base to home. There are 3 main factors that a third base coach must consider when making this decision and he must do it in a split second. If the third base coach makes the wrong decision, the runner could be out, and that decision could cost the team a critical run during the game. Let’s look at those 3 factors now.
1. Baserunner’s Speed
The first factor the third base coach must consider when making the decision to advance the baserunner is the speed of his baserunner. A baserunner with below-average speed could take up to a full second longer to reach the next base. That second could be critical in determining whether the baserunner is safe or out. A baserunner with above-average speed will put more pressure on the defense to make a perfect throw and have a better chance of advancing to the next base.
2. Fielder’s Skill Level
The next factor the third base coach must consider when making the decision to advance the baserunner is the arm strength of the fielder who will make the throw. An outfielder with an outstanding arm who is also very accurate with his throw will lessen the chance of the baserunner successfully advancing to the next base. On the contrary, an outfielder with a less than average arm or below average accuracy will increase the chances of the baserunner successfully advancing to the next base.
3. Ball & Player Position
The final factor the third base coach must consider when making the decision to advance a baserunner is the position of the ball in relation to the baserunner and the fielder. For example, a baserunner is on second base when the ball is hit to left field. If the ball is in the outfielder’s glove before the runner touches third base to head home, the chance of the baserunner successfully scoring a run at home is low.
If the outfielder does not have the ball in his glove when the runner touches third base, the baserunner has a much greater chance of scoring a run.
A general rule of thumb for a third base coach trying to advance a baserunner with average speed is the following:
- Send the runner if the ball has not yet reached the outfielder’s glove,
- Do not send the runner if the ball has reached the outfielder’s glove.
A third base coach’s secondary roles depend heavily on what level the team/league is in. Generally, there are more specialized positions at higher levels and less specialized positions at lower levels.
Major League Baseball Level
At the highest level, a Major League Baseball team’s third base coach will serve other positions on the team such as:
- coaching the infielders,
- coaching the outfielders,
- coaching base running, and
- coaching base stealing techniques.
However, rarely will they be involved with coaching the pitching staff.
The third base coach of a college baseball team may also be the head coach or one of two assistant coaches on the coaching staff. Some college teams have the hitter get the signals straight from the head coach in the dugout to limit the third base coach’s responsibilities to only managing the baserunner. If the third base coach of a college team is one of the assistant coaches, they will also have the responsibility of helping either the hitting or the pitching staff.
Little League Level
In Little League, the third base coach is typically the coach with the most experience and knowledge about baseball. This coach will help in all aspects of the team and could be involved with the hitting, the fielding, and the pitching staff. In many cases, this is also the head coach of the baseball team.
What Makes a Great Third Base Coach?
There’s a LOT to what makes a great third base coach including:
- knowing when to be aggressive and when not to be aggressive,
- being aware of the situation and all possible outcomes of play,
- knowing the skill level of all the players on the field, both on offense and defense,
- being able to think and react quickly
- And much more…
If you’d like a more in-depth understanding of what makes a great third base coach, check out my article on “What Makes a Great Third Base Coach?”
What’s the Difference Between a Third Base Coach and a First Base Coach?
The main difference between a third base coach and a third base coach is WHO they’re coaching in the play and WHEN they’re coaching them.
This was really well explained by Ken Gamble over at Active.com:
The first base coach is responsible for the baserunner from the time they hit the ball until they reach first base and until they leave first headed for second. That’s all. Until they actually make contact with the ball the batter is the responsibility of the third base coach who is giving the signals. And once they leave first base, whether they are stealing or moving with the next batter’s hit, they again become the responsibility of the third base coach.– Ken Gamble – source
If you’d like to know more about what first base coaches do, check out my other article on “What Does a First Base Coach Do?”.