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A Quick Guide On When to Slide in Baseball

In baseball, running the bases is a lot of fun. When you’ve crossed home plate and put another run on the board for your team, you know you’ve accomplished what you set out to do. But before you score, there is a lot to think about when it comes to running the bases. As a baserunner, you need to be aware of when to advance, when to hold up, and when to slide. This leads a lot of baserunners to wonder, when should you slide in baseball?

In baseball, baserunners should slide to avoid being tagged out by the defense. When there is a close play at a base, sliding will give the baserunner the best opportunity to avoid the tag and be safe. Baserunners should also slide to break up a double play.

Aerial view of a baserunner sliding feet first into home plate. The catcher is applying the tag and the umpire is signaling the runner is safe.

Sliding is such an important part of baseball that even some umpires go as far as to call you out if you do not slide during a close play.

When to Slide in Baseball

Being a baserunner is fun, but one of the most stressful parts about running the bases is knowing when to slide. Depending on where the ball is at, baserunners need to make a split-second decision on whether they’ll be sliding into the base or not.

Needing to make quick decisions on the base paths can be the difference between getting thrown out and being safe, so all base runners need to know exactly when they should be sliding. Let’s go over some specific scenarios in which a baserunner should be sliding in baseball.

Your Base Coach Signals for a Slide

The third base coach has his hands on his hips and is watching the pitcher

One thing all baserunners should be paying attention to is their base coach. Depending on where they are at on the bases, baserunners should be listening to either their first base coach or their third base coach.

While the runner is moving around the bases, the base coaches are watching the play and relaying information to the baserunner. This information is extremely valuable to the runner because, a majority of the time, the runner is unable to see what is happening on the field.

A great example would be a play where a baserunner is heading into third base, but the ball is being thrown in from right field. While the runner is busy advancing to third base, they are unable to see the throw because the play is happening directly behind them.

In these scenarios, it is the job of the base coach to let the baserunner know what is happening, which defensive player has the ball, and whether or not the runner needs to slide.

When a base coach thinks the play at a bag is going to be close, they will signal to the runner to slide. Some coaches may have different signals to let the baserunner know they need to slide, but a majority of coaches will simply yell “Down!” to signal to the runner that they need to slide.

Once the baserunner gets the signal from their coach, they know they need to slide if they want to have a chance at being called safe.

Close Play at the Base

Baserunner is sliding into second base to break up a double play while the fielder hops over the runner and throws to first base

Sometimes when running the bases, baserunners are able to easily tell whether or not there will be a close play at a base. When the player sees that the play will be close, they can make the decision for themselves that a slide is appropriate.

As a general rule, a runner should be sliding into a base whenever there is a close play. The one exception to this rule is when a batter is running to first base. When running to first base after hitting a ball, players should always run through the base.

When a player knows the defense will be trying to throw them out at the next base, that player knows it’s time to slide. The baserunner will want to slide into base because it gives them the best chance at being safe.

When there is no force at a bag and the defense wants to throw out a baserunner, the defensive player will need to tag the runner. The easiest way for an infielder to tag a runner out is to receive the ball and tag the runner around the waist.

By sliding, baserunners force the infielder to catch the ball, then move their glove towards the ground in an effort to tag the baserunner before the baserunner reaches the base. This extra half-second can be the difference between the runner being safe or out.

In addition to making the infielder move their glove towards the ground, the baserunner also has an advantage with sliding because it allows the baserunner to make it to the base in the fastest time possible while also stopping the baserunner from over-running the base.

If the baserunner were to accidentally over-run a base, the defensive player could tag them for an out. By sliding, the baserunner ensures they will be stopping on the base.

Although sliding is beneficial on a close play, it is almost never recommended to slide into first base after hitting a ball. Running to first base has its own set of rules, which is that players are allowed to run through the bag instead of needing to stop directly on the bag.

It’s always faster to run through a base than trying to stop directly on a base, so it’s recommended that all players run through first base on every play. Whenever there is a close play at first base, the baserunner has a better chance of beating the throw and being called safe by running through the base instead of by sliding.

This first-base rule only applies to batters running towards first base, it does not apply to runners who were previously on first base and are heading back towards first base.

You’re Unsure There Will be a Close Play

There will often be a clear indicator that a player needs to slide or not slide, but sometimes baserunners will be in a scenario where they are unsure if there is going to be a close play at a base.

Baserunners could be unsure about sliding for a number of reasons; maybe their base coach hasn’t yet indicated what they should do, maybe the baserunner wasn’t able to hear what their base coach said, or maybe the baserunner hears the fans cheering and thinks the defense is trying to tag them out. Either way, there can be numerous reasons why a baserunner is unsure if there will be a close play at the base they’re running towards.

Whenever players are unsure if there will be a close play at a base, or they think there will be a close play at a base, they should slide.

There is no penalty for unnecessarily sliding into a base so there is no downside for runners who decide to slide into a base without a close play.

In fact, if you were to watch MLB games then you would see players sliding into bases all the time, even when the ball is nowhere near them. MLB players do this because there is no penalty for sliding into a base and because they don’t want to accidentally be caught off-guard by a strong throw that beats them to the base.

As an example, check out the quick clip below where Zack Greinke slides into third base. You can see that he would have easily been safe if he had not slid because the throw was cut off, but Greinke was unsure if there would be a close play at third base so he slid anyways.

To Break Up a Double Play

Batters do not like getting out, but the one thing they dislike even more is hitting into a double play. As a baserunner, you can help your team by attempting to break up a double play with a slide.

To break up a double play, a baserunner will perform a legal slide into the base while also positioning themselves so they are headed towards the infielder who is fielding a throw at that same base. When done correctly, the infielder will not be able to throw out another runner.

Although there can be other scenarios where baserunners break up a double play by sliding, the overwhelming number of double plays that get broken up occur at second base. Baserunners attempt to break up the double play by sliding into second base, but also by in the direction of the infielder who is receiving the throw at second base.

When done correctly, the infielder will not be able to make a throw to first base or they will not be able to make an accurate throw to first base.

Because of the intentional contact that happens when a player tries to break up a double play, there is always the possibility of a heated discussion occurring between the baserunner and the defensive player. But good players know that breaking up a double play is just part of the game and they do not take it personally.

Check out the clip below for a great example of a baserunner successfully breaking up a double play.

Stealing a Base

For fast runners, stealing bases can be one of the most fun things to do as a baserunner. However, stealing bases is hard work because a lot of stolen bases end up as a close play.

There is no force-out play on a steal attempt so the defense will need to tag the runner to get an out. The infielder needs to first catch the ball and then move their glove towards the ground to tag the runner out before they reach the base. When the baserunner slides, they give themselves the best chance of avoiding the tag and making it safely to the base.

Because stolen bases end up being a close play a majority of the time, baserunners should slide when they steal. Baserunners should assume the catcher is always ready to throw them out on a steal attempt and sliding will give the baserunner the best chance of making it safely into the base.

To see some examples of this, check out the video below where the Royals got seven stolen bases in one game. You’ll notice that on the first and last stolen base in this video, the catcher does not make a throw, but the baserunner still slides into the base.

Pitcher Throws a Pickoff

In baseball, the higher the level of competition, the more pickoff moves you’ll see. And not only will you see more pickoff moves, you’ll also see better pickoff moves.

When a pitcher tries to pick off a baserunner, it’s usually ideal to slide back into the base. Sometimes the pitcher’s pickoff move is easy to read and a baserunner can make it back to base safely without sliding, but sliding back into the base on a pickoff move gives the baserunner the best opportunity to get back to base safely and avoid the tag.

The better the pitcher’s pickoff move, the less time a baserunner has to get back to the base. When facing a pitcher with a good pickoff move, baserunners should slide back to the base.

Catcher Throws a Pickoff

In addition to pitchers making a pickoff attempt, catchers are also able to make a pickoff attempt after the ball has been pitched. Usually, a catcher is making a pickoff attempt because they believe the baserunner is too far off of the base or isn’t paying attention.

Sometimes baserunners are able to easily read a catcher and can make it back to the base without sliding, but in general, a pickoff throw by the catcher will be a close play at the bag. Because the play will be close, baserunners should be sliding back into the bag to avoid being tagged out.

Can You Slide into First Base?

If you ask different people on whether or not you should slide into first base, you’ll get varying answers. Some people have heard there’s a rule stating you can’t slide into first base while others believe baserunners are able to.

As a general rule, baserunners are able to slide into first base. Most baseball leagues do not have a rule against sliding into first base, but the majority of players frown upon sliding into first base because it is slower than running through the base.

Although most players know to always run through first base because it is the fastest way to the base, there are some situations where sliding into first base is beneficial. Mainly, when the first baseman has to leave the bag to make the catch from the infielder.

When a first baseman has to leave the bag to make the catch, they will need to tag the runner in order to complete the out. Smart baserunners are able to read the situation and, when they see that first baseman come off the bag to make the catch, they slide into first base to avoid being tagged out.

Below is a great example of a scenario in which sliding into first base was beneficial for the baserunner.

When Should You Slide Head First?

Baseball player in blue uniform is sliding head first into a base

There are multiple ways a baserunner can slide when advancing to the next base. The most popular ways to slide are the feet-first slide and the head-first slide, but how do you know when you should slide headfirst?

In general, players should slide headfirst to have more maneuverability to avoid tags. When sliding headfirst, players can more easily adjust their bodies with their hands to try to avoid getting tagged out.

Sliding head-first has more injury risks associated with it over a feet-first slide, but some players slide head-first because they prefer it over sliding feet-first.

When running the bases, all players have their own preference to sliding feet first or head first and, unless the coach has a rule against headfirst slides, it’s generally up to the player to determine which way they want to slide. Although there are a handful of scenarios in which all players should be sliding headfirst.

As a general rule, all players should slide head-first when a pitcher makes a pick-off attempt or a catcher makes a pick-off attempt. In both of these scenarios, baserunners do not have enough speed to slide feet-first towards the base so sliding head-first is their best option.

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Steve Nelson

I'm the owner of Baseball Training World. I live in Denver, Colorado and I enjoy playing baseball in an adult baseball team in the surrounding area. Read more about Steve Nelson.

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