Some baseball team defenses will be fairly standard and universally accepted in how they are deployed. Yes, there could be slight variations or deviations to each defense based on abilities or lack of abilities of defensive players. For example, if one player is more fleet a foot than another, or one has better arm strength or one player lacks lateral movement, then having a contingent plan in the deployment is always acceptable.
However, when deploying a particular defense, such as an aggressive bunt defence or a particular first and third play, an array of variables must be considered before entertaining the defensive scheme for your team. Situations always vary from game to game and indeed, from inning to inning, hitter to hitter and frankly pitch to pitch or count to count. Consider this then, there are numerous ways a defensive situation can change, but largely it will be based on the following influencing factors.
- The score: If your team is ahead by two or more runs, there is no need to be concerned (or overly concerned) with trying to make an out at the plate. Instead, be more concerned with trying to retire the hitter to prevent possible multiple run innings. Remember, as outs in the inning become more of a premium, less runs will occur. If the defensive team is ahead by a run, tied or behind in the score book, try and get an out at a lead base.
- Stage or inning of game: In the early innings, the big thing is to prevent the opposition from having a multiple run inning. This can be a back breaker early making it feel like your team is in quicksand and potentially very tough to get out of. In the latter innings or late innings, if the score is close or your team is trailing by a run or two, try and prevent the opposition from tacking on a run here and there. Those are killer runs and do nothing but slowly let the air out of the tire.
- Home or Visit: When your team is the home team, remember, you get last at bat. Not that this is a guarantee of scoring, but just having the knowledge of this helps. If your team is visiting, then defensive choices and deployment do change. At this point you know that any wrong decisions in defensive strategy could cost your team the game. Sometimes there will be little choice and taking chances is part of coaching. But in doing so, these chances must be well thought out and prudent.
- Type of offense your team is: If your team is a power laden team that lacks speed and creativity, then he who lives by the sword will die by the sword. Play for the big inning at the plate and play to PREVENT the big inning in the field. Making the simple outs and allowing the odd single run here and there can be made up in a single swing of the bat. Conversely, if your team is a creative, small ball team that is aggressive on the bases, then you might want to try and prevent that type of game from the other team. If the other team goes off and has a great day with a few multiple run innings, then it just wasn't your day, but if you let them chip away with single runs here and there, the score may slowly but surely get away from you without the capability of getting back in it.
- Your starting pitcher: If your starter is a stud and is having one of his typical days, then you can be a little more aggressive in the field as he is likely to get out of the jam on his own, and even if it doesn't work out that way in one inning, he could get right back on the dominating horse the next one. On the other hand, if your starter is not a shut down guy you can play your defence to allow the odd run here and there but focus on preventing the big inning(s), i.e. get the easier, sure outs when they present themselves and keep the game in hand.
- Your bullpen: Geez, you have bodies in the pen, but are they bodies of quality? If your bullpen has quality, it is simple…go to the quality and fresh arms when you need to as you never want to lose a game with a tired or ineffective starter. Thus, it allows you to be a little more aggressive in the field knowing if it isn't your starter's day and he's in trouble early you can replace him with quality. However if you know your bullpen is suspect and you need to prolong the starter's day as long as you can, you'll need to think about deploying the defence and making the plays with the goal of avoiding the high score, high pitch count innings.
Obviously, there are be an infinite number of variables that will signal a specific baseball team defense deployment, but these are 6 of the most common factors you will need to consider. Understanding principles or rules of thumb like these when it comes to team defence will certainly have positive effects on outcomes of games. Play the odds, look at the big picture and make the decision that put your team in the best position for success.
Let me know if you have any questions about these and/or if you have any other major factors to consider, I would love for you to share them with our readers.
Rick Johnston, Head Instructor - The Baseball Zone
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