The Secondary Lead in Baseball Explained (With Examples)


Baserunner Playing Baseball

Casual fans of baseball are familiar with the concept of base runners getting a lead when they are on first, second, or third base. But did you also know there is more to the leadoff than just the initial few steps off the bag? The primary lead is an important piece of base running, but the secondary lead is just as important.

What is a secondary lead in baseball? The secondary lead in baseball is the additional steps a base runner gets during the delivery of a pitch. The purpose of a secondary lead is to get closer to the next base while creating momentum for when the base runner needs to advance.

The idea of a secondary lead may be easy to understand, but perform it incorrectly and you may be the cause of an unnecessary out for your team.

Begin With Your Primary Lead

The secondary lead is not possible without the primary lead. Once you are a base runner, begin by taking your primary lead, which is typically a short distance of around 10 feet from the bag (although this can differ by the base runner as well as differ by the pitcher on the mound).

The Secondary Lead Happens During the Pitch Delivery

The time to begin your secondary lead is while the pitcher is delivering the ball to the plate. Keep in mind that timing is important here. If you begin your secondary lead too soon then the pitcher will see you taking off too soon from the base and attempt a pickoff throw. If you’re too far away from the base then you will be an easy out for the opposing team.

On the other hand, if you wait too long to take the secondary lead then you won’t even have the chance to get your secondary lead. Without a secondary lead, you will not be in a very good position to advance to the next base.

A good secondary lead will allow you to either advance to the next base on a ball that gets past the catcher or advance to the next base more easily when the hitter makes contact.

Both of these scenarios are possible because the secondary lead allows you to be closer to the next base while providing you with that extra momentum towards the base.

A lot of times, the secondary lead is an overlooked part of base running. Base runners tend to get comfortable on the base path and their secondary lead can get a little lazy. Don’t let this be you!

Think about all the times where there have been close plays at a base – what would have happened if the base runner’s secondary lead was just a step better? You’ve earned your spot on the base path so make sure you do what it takes to keep it.

Now that we understand the importance behind the secondary lead and when to begin our secondary lead, let’s take a look at some of the different ways to actually perform this movement.

Using the Shuffle Secondary Lead

The shuffle secondary lead is the most common way to perform the secondary lead. Once the pitcher commits to delivering the ball to the plate, you begin your secondary lead by staying low and taking two shuffle steps towards the next base.

When performing this move, make sure you time your secondary lead so your right foot is hitting the ground as the baseball is entering the strike zone.

The timing of this is important as this movement will allow you to assess the situation and react very quickly.

If the batter makes contact with the ball, then you’re already a few feet closer to the next base and the momentum from your secondary will help you reach the next base quicker. If the batter does not make contact, then you can use the weight on your right leg to turn yourself around and quickly head back to the base.

Using the Walking Secondary Lead

The walking secondary lead is a more uncommon approach taking a secondary lead. The reason this is uncommon is that the walking secondary lead is performed when a pitcher is delivering the ball from the windup.

As described more in-depth in my article about why pitchers pitch from the stretch, the pitcher’s windup motion takes more time than pitching from the stretch.

Because the pitcher is going from the windup, the base runner has more time to take their secondary lead. So base runners are able to perform their secondary lead by walking 3-4 steps towards the next base.

When taking a walking secondary lead, you still want to make sure the pitcher is committing to delivering the pitch. Once you have taken your primary lead, watch for the pitcher’s stride foot to move first (the left foot for right-handed pitchers).

Once the pitcher’s stride foot has moved, he has committed to delivering the pitch and you can begin your walking secondary lead. For the walking secondary lead, a good 3 to 4 steps will suffice.

When taking a walking secondary lead you want to make sure your right foot is coming down as the pitch is in the strike zone. As with the shuffle secondary lead, when you time this correctly this will give you an advantage by allowing you to both read the result of the pitch as well as react to the play. The end result is that you’re ready for anything!

Example of a Secondary Lead

For a great, quick example of how to perform a secondary lead, check out this video from Baseball Canada.

Tips for Your Secondary Lead

Be aggressive in Your Secondary Lead

Always maintain an aggressive mindset during your secondary. This also goes for those base runners who are not the lead runner. It’s easy to get lazy with the secondary lead if you’re the base runner on first and there are other runners ahead of you.

Some catchers will take advantage of non-lead runners getting lazy with their secondary lead and will attempt to throw out that runner after a pitch. This can be an effective way for the defense to get a quick out so be aware!

Get Back to the Base Quickly After a Pitch

Some runners are very good about being aggressive with their secondary lead, but the part they struggle with is standing around after the pitch has been completed.

If you stand around too much after the pitch has been made and you’ve also made an aggressive secondary lead, the defense will catch on pretty quickly and will be tempted to throw behind you for an easy out. Don’t let this be you!

Stay in the Athletic Position During Your Secondary Lead

Sounds simple, but if you watch base runners you’ll start to notice that some base runners don’t take their secondary lead too seriously. The athletic position allows you to be the most responsive base runner to whatever is happening on the field.

Think about it, if you take a secondary lead and you’re finishing the lead by standing upright then what could happen?

One scenario is that the catcher can catch you off-balance and throw behind you to try to get you out. Scenario number two is that the ball is hit, but you don’t get a good enough reaction time after the hit and you end up getting thrown out by one step.

There could be numerous other scenarios, but the point is that the athletic position allows you to have a better reaction to what’s happening on the field so take full advantage of this while performing a secondary lead.

Timing is Important in Your Secondary Lead

This simple tip can’t be stressed enough – timing is a crucial factor when perfecting your secondary lead.

Starting your secondary too soon can lead to a pickoff attempt by the pitcher. Not getting your right foot down when the ball crosses the strike zone will lead to you being off-balance and unable to react in an efficient way. And not getting back to the base after the catcher receives the ball could lead to the catcher attempting to throw you out. So be aware while on the bases and focus on your timing!

Steve Nelson

I'm the owner of Baseball Training World. I live in Denver, Colorado and I enjoy playing baseball on two different adult baseball teams in the surrounding area.

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