October 1, 2020

How a Smart Baserunner Can Exploit the Basepath Rules

Is Paul Goldschmidt baseball's smartest baserunner?

How a Smart Baserunner Can Exploit the Basepath Rules

In the game of baseball, as in all major sports, coaches instruct their players to take what the defense gives them. Conversely, it would be a good idea for defensive players to take what the offense gives them. Let’s look at the following play.

The Cardinals and Pirates played two games on Sept. 18 at PNC. Because the nightcap was a makeup game of Aug. 12 scheduled for St. Louis, the Cardinals were the home team and batted last.

In the bottom of the sixth, the Redbirds had runners on second and third and one out when Tyler O’Neill hit a ground ball to Pirates’ third baseman Ke’ Bryan Hayes. Paul Goldschmidt, the runner on third, broke for the plate. Instead of remaining in foul territory in his sprint to the plate as most runners do, he moved over into fair territory and got in the throwing lane of Hayes to catcher Jacob Stallings.

Hayes’ throw got by Stallings and Goldschmidt scored easily to make the score 3-2 in a game the Cardinals won, 7-2. Hayes was charged with an error.

The question is, did Goldschmidt run out of the baseline? Did he interfere with Stallings?

Ruleball Comments

Goldschmidt made a wise and legal running play. Rule 5.09 (b) (1) reads, “Any runner is out when he runs more than three-feet away from his base path to avoid being tagged unless his action is to avoid interference with a fielder fielding a batted ball. A runner’s base path is established when the tag attempt occurs and is a straight line from the runner to the base he is attempting to reach safely…” (The OBR uses the word basepath for baseline).

Simply said, “The only time a runner has a restricted baseline is when he is avoiding a tag.” Goldschmidt was not avoiding a tag and by rule was within his rights to travel from third to home in fair territory.

Goldschmidt forced the Pirates to take what the offense gave them (the third base line side of the plate) but they (Hayes and Stallings) did not adjust. Most teams, out of habit and tradition, would not make the adjustment.

Goldschmidt legally dictated the position of Stallings moving to the third base side of the plate which he failed to do. You can’t blame Stallings because it was probably the only time he ever had to deal with a runner staring him in the eye as he approached the plate.

There is no doubt that Goldschmidt’s intentions were to disrupt the throwing lane between Hayes and Stallings. Goldschmidt had a good read where Hayes fielded the ball- not far from third base. By taking the path to the plate the way he did, he put a great deal of pressure on Hayes.

Goldschmidt’s actions would be illegal if in his approach to the plate he deviated from his running lane and targeted the catcher. The way the play is umpired, he did not do this, and his actions were legal. In my spring training presentations over the years, I have used several examples where runners have successfully taken this unconventional route to the plate and disrupted the throw.

As stated, unless a runner is avoiding a tag, he has no baseline. Therefore, the runner on first base can take advantage of a liberal running lane when running from first to second on the 3-6-3 or 3-3-6. The runner running from first to second can run at the target (glove) of the fielder receiving the throw without violating any baseline restriction. By doing that, the runner makes the throw from the first baseman more difficult and legally obstructs the vision of the fielder receiving the throw.

A smart runner can induce a pick-off throw at first base and head to second in the direction of the target of the fielder who is receiving the throw.

It has been my experience that most teams do not practice the third to home throw, or the first to second throw with a runner in a position to the disrupt the throw. The chances for success, especially third to home are high.


Rich Marazzi

Rules consultant:  Blue Jays, Brewers, Cardinals, D’backs, Dodgers, Orioles, Padres, Phillies, Pirates, Rangers, Rays, Reds, Red Sox, Royals, Tigers, Twins, Yankees, the Sinclair Regional Sports Networks, ESPN, YES, and White Sox TV


Stan Dyer

I see what you are saying, but I think you are overthinking it. In the hypothetical case you mention, intent is not clear since the runner did not see the ball thrown, and veer into its path. If the runner were looking back in an attempt to gauge where he wanted to be to affect the throw, that would indicate purposeful intention. Nothing else he is doing is illegal, and we have to use that when making such judgment calls.

Dave Johnson

My view is that because the runner deviated from his direct path with the clear intent of getting in the way of the play, that’s intent to interfere. Now several of the things he may end up doing to interfere are perfectly legal: he may (and did) cause F5 to make a poor throw – legal; he may cause F2 to not see or mis-judge the throw – legal; he may cause F2 to take a different position to receive the throw which may make it harder to put a tag on the runner – legal; or, he may interfere with the thrown ball – illegal.
Also, I don’t think it’s at all necessary to see the thrown ball to know exactly where it is and how to get hit or not get hit by it; the runner can easily read the fielder to see where the ball is. Once (as U1) I was coming across the diamond to 3B, and F5’s positioning, eyes and body language told me the very off-line throw was about to hit me in the back on the left shoulder; in fact my shoulder literally started to tingle or buzz so I took a quick side-step to the right and the ball passed a foot to my left at shoulder level, exactly past the spot that had been buzzing… my semi-conscious brain calculated exactly where the ball was going to hit me solely by looking at F5. and sent my conscious brain a clear warning to move. I don’t think I’m special, any “baseball guy” whether player, coach or umpire can look at a fielder and know with almost complete certainty where the ball is.

Dave Johnson

pause the video just as the :02 second starts; Hayes has just made the throw, and the lane between Hayes and Stallings is clear at the moment the throw is made
now let’s imagine that the throw is actually on-line to Stallings and not over Goldschmidt’s head; as the video continues to the end of the :02 and into the :03 second, we see Goldschmidt continue to veer into the throwing lane.
if the throw had been on-line and hit Goldschmidt because he veered into the path of the throw *after* the ball was thrown, can we call Goldschmidt for interference because he “intentionally interferes with a thrown ball” (6.01(a)(10))?

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