Why Are MLB Players So Bad at Baserunning?

Ex-players and coaches agree that today's big-leaguers are terrible on the basepaths

ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 03: Kyle Seager #15 of the Seattle Mariners is caught in a rundown between Anthony Rendon #6 and Jose Suarez #54 of the Los Angeles Angels after stealing third base in the fifth inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 03, 2021 in Anaheim, California.
Kyle Seager of the Seattle Mariners is caught in a rundown
Katharine Lotze/Getty Images

There’s been a lot of talk this season about how dominant pitching has been in Major League Baseball, but there’s another fundamental of the game that’s been lacking lately. As a new piece by ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian points out, big-leaguers have become embarrassingly bad at baserunning.

“Baserunning is terrible today,” Astros manager Dusty Baker told Kurkjian. “The two things we need the most work on is outfielders throwing and baserunning. Baserunning is just horrible.”

There have been boneheaded baserunning mistakes for as long as baseball has been around, but there’s definitely been an uptick in recent years, and as Buck Showalter — who spent 20 years as a manager, helming the Yankees, Diamondbacks, Rangers and Orioles — pointed out, part of that is due to the lack of stigma surrounding bad baserunning.

“Baserunning, oh my gosh, I wouldn’t know where to start,” he said. “I do a couple of Yankee games a month [as a broadcaster for YES Network]. I see two or three baserunning mistakes [per game]. Baserunning is the ultimate team play. If you don’t run the bases well, you are selfish. We have lost the shame of the strikeout in the game. We are losing the shame of bad baserunning.”

Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer told ESPN that analytics and the heavy emphasis placed on things like exit velocity and launch angle have made good baserunning a rarity.

“It’s the three outcomes: walks, strikeouts and home runs,” he said. “Guys don’t get on base as much. They’re not used to running the bases. And they don’t think it’s important. But it is. They figure they can make up for it with home runs.”

So what’s to be done? Today’s MLB players may be a lost cause for the most part when it comes to running the bases; in order to correct the problem, changes will have to be made at the Little League and high-school levels.

“It has to start at the youth level,” Princeton baseball coach Scott Bradley said. “When I was a kid, we played a game called ‘Running Bases.’ ‘Pickle.’ Those are baserunning games. I don’t even know if they exist anymore. Kids are getting better these days with all the coaching they get. And that’s great. But it’s all about them improving their swing. It’s about their private pitching coaches.”

You can read Kurkjian’s full article here.

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