To Do or Not to Do…That is the Question!
Believe this - many of the errors that outfielders actually make are not on balls in the air, but instead they are on balls on the ground. Why this happens is very simple - because outfield defense is thought of as second tier in its true value of team defense. Most of any type of its vocation, is centered on fly balls, not ground balls. What outfielders lack is the clear comprehension of and ability to field a ground ball and where to make a throw to once the ball has been fielded. Similar to a routine ground ball on infielder fields, an outfielder should strive to field every ground ball in the exact same fashion an infielder will field it. That is, with true infield style patterns and working hard to field the ball on big or long hops, while avoiding the tweener hop. The outfielder must make every effort to create the correct angle to the ground ball, similarly like they would in the pursuit of a fly ball. But, because most outfielders rarely work on ground ball defense, it is no wonder the defensive process of outfielders significantly falters when trying to make a play on a ground ball.
For any outfielder to become better defensively on grounds, they must work on ground ball techniques, be aware of the situation (score, inning, hitter, etc…), be responsive and visually aware of the type of ground ball and their movement toward the ball and most importantly where the baserunner is or baserunners are and where did each of these baserunners originate from. These considerations are critical and frankly will determine the proper and most efficient technique by which the ground ball should be fielded. Having stated this, I will make this statement…far too many outfielders field ground balls one handed in a "do or die" fashion!
The "do or die" style or technique of fielding the ball should be limited to only critical situations when the outfielder has NO CHOICE but to try and pick up the ball with as much controlled momentum as possible and attempt to throw out the potential winning or go ahead run late in the game. The problem with this type technique is that, it is really all you ever see young, amateur outfielders doing in a game. Hence, just another reason why outfielders make more defensive miscues on ground balls than fly balls.
When taking into consideration the "do or die" play, one just cannot arbitrarily decide this particular technique will be used. Prudent in-game judgment must be measured prior to attempting such a method. In fact, it is safe to say that the ability for most outfielders to pick up a ball clean and make a good, accurate throw will carry and velocity will be quite low. However, the infielder that works hard on fielding ground balls resembling an infielder will have better end results and minimize mistakes far less than the outfielder who insists on the "do or die" method.
A coach should not discourage the outfielder from the "do or die" technique at all, but what a coach can do is explain the number of problems that can occur if the "do or die" method fails.
Problems with "do or die":
1. Poor field conditions, outfield is rough, causing untrue hops
2. Error in visual judgment, outfielder breaks body down too late, the ball scoots under glove
3. Outfielder moves too quickly to the ball, struggles to get body set and controlled, glove is late to fielding position, ball bounds off glove
4. Outfielder moves too quickly to ball, body is out of control, feet get ahead of arm, throw is made, balls sails over cut off man, permitting trail runner to move up a base
5. Outfielder comes up throwing only to recognize after the throw there was no chance and the ball has been thrown to the wrong base (plate)
One of the best approaches to ensuring outfielders become better outfielders is to put them in the infield and let each take ground ball after ground ball using infield technique to field the ball. The best approach to ensuring outfielders understand the do and don’ts of the "do or die" is to make sure they are fully armed with how to field a routine ground ball.
Thanks for taking the time to read and if you have your own take and/or experiences with the "do or die" play in the outfield, I would love to hear from you.
Rick Johnston, Head Coach - The Baseball Zone
PS - We'll be working on "do or die"'s in each of our summer camps this year, so be sure to make it out to one near you...or come to more than one and cash in on the multiple camp savings we have in 2013!
Image courtesy of thestar.com
Indoor batting cages may seem on their face to be focused on one use, and that of course is digging your heels in and hitting off a pitching machine over and over and over with that juicy pitch coming right down the middle, belt high. However, there are so many more things that you can do with indoor batting cages besides taking batting practice to halp make your workouts more varied, and ultimately more productive.
Here are 6 basic ways you can get more out of your time in an indoor batting cage:
- Besides just stepping up to the plate and hacking away, the cage can be used for soft-toss, focused hitting drills or bunting practice. Or instead of standing in the same place all of the time, move up and back to simulate faster and slower pitches; or move left and right to simulate inside pitches and outside pitches. You will not get perfect BP pitches all of the time in games, so you better make sure you get some practice on variations in the cage.
- For catchers working on their defensive game, the pitching machine can be angled down to simulate pitches thrown in the dirt. By substituting a pitching machine for a live arm, you can easier dictate the speed, location and trajectory of how the pitch is arriving at the plate. Not to mention, you don't need to wear out anyone's arm this way either. In many ways, using indoor batting cages in this manner presents a number of advantages. The pitches can come quicker, allowing you to work on reaction speed and timing. (Check out former Ontario Terrier and current Central Arizona Freshman catcher, Zach Sardelitti, show us his own indoor batting cage drill progression)
- Alternately, angling the pitching machine up can allow catchers to work bouncing out of their stance to handle wild pitches or pitchouts. Again, using indoor batting cages to work on these skills take the human element out of the drill. The drills can move faster, and the ball can be placed more accurately and more consistently in an indoor batting cage.
- In similar fashion, indoor batting cages can also allow infielders, especially first baseman, to work on digging throws out of the dirt and blocking balls. Angle the pitching machine down even more, and all infielders can get in some work on in-between hops or hard-hit ground balls. Turn the machine up, and help infielders improve their ability to handle the high throw and bring it down for the tag, for instance.
- Expanding the fielding drill out, and depending on the space available inside the indoor batting cages, you can also introduce a second fielder and allow shortstops and second baseman to work on fielding and feeding the ball in a simulated double play situation. Or, take the speed the ball is coming out at down a few notches and work on charging weakly hit or bunted ground balls. Pitchers can also work on coming off the mound to field balls hit back to the box within indoor batting cages. (By the way, how neglected are PFP's???)
- We're not forgetting you outfielders! No matter how long the cage is, you can probably lower the speed down enough to get a lazy ball that you can take off one bounce and work on charging and throwing into the back of the cage, or similarly, if the cage has a high enough ceiling, loft it up as high as possible and work on catching a fly ball with proper footwork and transfer to a strong throwing position.
There you have it. Six quick and easy ways to do more than just hit perfect pitches in an indoor batting cage. So if you have access to one you now officially never have a legitimate excuse to say you couldn't get any defensive work in, for example, because there was no one to work out with. If you are hungry enough, and creative enough, and you have access to one, your possibilities are really endless with what you can do in an indoor batting cage.
If you have other uses that you've found useful, we'd love for you to share them with us!
We also hope you can join us for our upcoming clinic on the ever important, yet often neglected PFP's - Pitcher's Fielding Practice clinic. Just click the button below to learn more.
Mike McCarthy, Co-Founder - The Baseball Zone
Outfielding: To play deep or not to play deep?
Question number one, are more balls hit over an outfielders head or in front of them? Question number two, do outfielders generally play too deep or too shallow in the outfield? Well, the answer to the first question is more balls get hit in front of an outfielder. The answer to question two is most outfielders play too deep. Let’s examine these two questions and dive into how this mantra comes to be.
At younger ages kids generally lack physical strength and thus, batted balls are rarely hit over heads of outfielders. In fact, almost 80% of all hit balls in a game will not carry as far as the outfielder is positioned. Batted balls that do go over the head of an outfielder are usually fashioned by the bigger, more physical kid. But given this that may mean one maybe two of nine kids in the batting order will be that physical kid who might run into a ball and drive it over the head of the outfielder. That is a low percentage.
As far as depth goes, most outfielders play too deep because they are afraid of a ball being hit over their head and they lack confidence in going back on balls. Outfielders just do not have the confidence to go back on balls because they rarely or never work on it. If 80% of balls are hit in front of the outfielder then it would make more sense for them to play shallow, take away the line drive, Texas leaguer and little duck snorts that always seem to fall in and change the complexion of a game. When you see an outfielder playing in another area code or zip code, bring them in closer to the infield and if the ball is hit over their head, simply tip your hat to the hitter. It is all about the percentages.
Now that it has been determined a shallow outfield depth is more important than a deeper outfielder depth (for the most part, will depend on other factors) and will help take hits away from the opposition, the next key is finding a way to sell this depth to your outfielders. The first thing that must be accomplished is to train and teach outfielders how to trust themselves and learn to go back on balls. This can be done with various toss drills, fungoed balls and the usage of a pitching machine. These types of drills will help and assist, but the only true way is for each outfielder to spend countless hours during batting practice playing shallow and working on getting jumps and going back on balls. Nothing can truly replace game hit balls. Remember toss drills, fungoes and machines balls all help to build confidence but cannot replace a true hit ball in a game. Next time you see one of your outfielders playing too deep, bring them closer to the infield and play the percentages on batted balls.
Rick Johnston, Co-Founder - The Baseball Zone
PS - If you are in the Greater Toronto Area, you might want to check out our once-a-year Outfielding Clinic with me this October/November:
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