Don't just be a body out there.....
During a game, both the first baseman and third baseman have numerous responsibilities. None more important than being in the right place at the right time for a throw going to the plate. More often than not, corner infielders simply do not get to the proper cut off position and then, if they do, they do not know what to do when the ball comes in from the outfield. In this segment, I will break down some of the basic components of cut off positioning and responsibilities for the corner infielders. Please note with these rules, that the throw may not necessarily go to the plate - it may be cut off, cut off and relayed to the plate (although an out will rarely happen) or cut and redirected to another base for an attempted out on a trail runner.
Rule 1. Recognize you are the cut off defender in the infield.
On batted balls to the outfield, with a runner on second base, the first baseman will be the cut off man to the plate when the ball is hit to right field and center field.
On batted balls to left field the third baseman will be the cut off man to the plate.
There are two occasions when the there will be a need to switch off cut off responsibilities. On each of these switches, either the third baseman or first baseman is out of position and the opposite corner infielder must recognize and immediately switch off coverage and assume the others responsibility. This is probably the most difficult visual read and not often practiced.
Occasion number one, occurs when a ball is hit into the 5/6 hole, forcing the third baseman to go deep or dive to his left. He will be in no position to assume the role of cut off defender in the infield. Thus, the first baseman must switch off and sprint from his position and take the role of primary cut off defender for a throw coming in from the left fielder.
The second occasion is just the opposite, that is, when a ball is hit to the 3/4 hole, forcing the first baseman to go deep or dive to his right. He will be in no position to get back to the cut off location, thus, the third baseman must recognize this and similarly sprint to the cut off position on the right side of the infield in preparation for a throw coming in from the right fielder.
Rule 2. Set up in a direct line.
A good infielder always knows where he is on the field, no matter the situation. In this situation, each of the corner infielders must know exactly where to position themselves for the incoming throw from the outfielder. Often, you will hear catcher’s line up off defenders with verbal communication such as “right one, left one, good, etc...” This is a type of overall verbal communication, but, in my opinion, not the best method. Put yourself in the catcher’s shoes who is now trying to gauge the situation while at the same time line up a corner infielder. Now, think about the amount of verbal information that must be sent and processed in a short period of time? It could be a lot to take in. Moreover, a catcher giving mixed verbal messages only serves to cause mass confusion, as to the set-up location. Catchers should just be concerned with their own job, which is the incoming runner and the ball and leave the positioning of the corner infielders to themselves. In other words, the corner infielders should be their own set of eyes and peek a few times as they are setting up to the plate to ensure they are getting to the location they need to get to. As bad as this sounds, I will often tell the corner infielders not to trust the catcher, but trust their own instincts.
Rule 3. Corner infielder visual responsibility.
Multi tasking is a must for any infielder, especially for corner defenders when assuming cut off roles. As the corner infielder breaks toward the cut off position, he should not only be peeking to ensure he is in the most direct line to the plate, with no catcher’s verbal assistance, he also must visually watch the runners touch either first or third base. This is a major failure with many corner defenders, as they become creatures of habit and rarely take a quick peek to ensure the runner has touched the base. Make sure you change habit and ensure the visual look has been given as the runner nears the base. It is also imperative the SS or 2B, who must cycle to either 3B or 2B, also watch the runner to ensure the base is touched.
Rule 4. Set up at the proper depth on the inner diamond.
In teaching the cut off position, often a standard depth is set and corner infielders stay at that depth. This is not the best way to view the cut off position. The first thing each corner infielder needs to be aware of is the arm strength of the outfielder. Of course stronger armed outfielders would mean a position closer to the plate while a weaker throwing outfielder would mean a position closer to the outfielder. The next consideration for positioning is the depth of the outfielder and where the ball is being fielded. If the outfielder is shallow, then naturally, the cut off position is closer to the catcher. If the outfielder is deeper, then the position is closer to the outfield. But, it should always be on the inner diamond. The next consideration is whether the outfielder fields or catches the ball flat footed or with momentum. Flat footed outfielders making plays, means the cut off defender must move to a position closer to the outfielder. An outfielder with momentum would allow the cut off defender to move closer to the plate. When an outfielder miscues, errs on, or bobbles a ball, it should force the corner infielder to move toward him, to ensure the throw coming in is shorter. At this point there is no play on the lead runner, thus the ball may come into the cut off defender or thrown to second base.
Rule 5. Keep runners in front of site lines.
Often a mistake a corner infielder makes (and shortstops, when cutting to third base) is in their depths on the inner diamond and allowing themselves to get out too close to the outfielder. Obviously knowing arm strengths, reading momentum or no momentum are critical points, but another tip is to think about keeping the runner in front of your sight lines. When this occurs, it is much easier to make decisions as to cut or not to cut and moreover, to allow the cut off defender to move up to the ball if it lacks life. This is especially critical for a third baseman when acting as the cut off defender from left field. Not knowing where the runner is, could affect how the ball is cut off and if the ball should be cut.
Rule 6. To cut or not to cut…
Cutting the ball off or not cutting the ball off can be broken down into simple terms if corner infielders put some thought into the ability to read throws. Here is how simple it is:
Throws that lack life... CUT OFF
Throws that will bounce before they get to the cut off defender...CUT OFF
Throws that have arc and not over the head of the cut off defender...CUT OFF
Throws that are an arm’s length left or right of the cut off defender...CUT OFF
Throws that come through from the knees to chest of the cut off defender...LEAVE, unless instructed to cut and or re-direct to trail base by catcher
Basically, if the lead runner will score with no chance for a play at plate...CUT OFF ball and look to redirect to trail base for possible play
There will be numerous situations when a corner infielder will cut off the ball without receiving any type of verbal communication from the catcher. This will usually happen when the corner infielder clearly recognizes there will be no play on the lead runner. Don’t wait for the catcher to direct the verbal, just cut the ball and prepare to observe trail runners and possibly look for an exit strategy on a trailing runner.
Rule 7. Verbal Communication System.
Of course, enhancing any cut off system is a verbal communication system. Each corner infielder must be clear on the system and totally understand the usage of it. Most verbal systems employ a number system rather than a grouping of words. A simple verbal system such as the following can be employed and utilized by the catcher.
Cut=cut the ball, there is no play at the plate. Observe trail runners for possible back door play at a base
Two, two, two=cut the ball and re-direct to second base
Three, three, three=cut the ball and re-direct to third base
Four, four, four=cut the ball and re-direct to the plate.
Nothing said=the throw is on line, we have a play at the plate, let it go
Rule 8. Transition on the catch and throw.
When preparing to receive the throw from an outfielder and given the corner infielder is in the correct cut off position, they must position themselves squared up to the outfielder with arms held over-head, giving the outfielder a little more visual sightline to throw to the plate. Once the ball has come out of the hand of the outfielder and the throw is on the way to the plate, the cut off defender must learn to get to the proper side of the ball. That is, getting outside the ball so that the glove side is toward the plate if a re-direction is needed. If the ball needs to be re-directed to the plate and the cut off defender catches the ball square, time is lost in the transition of the re-direction throw. Conversely, if the ball is to be intercepted, the corner infielder must quickly transition the feet and now catch the ball glove side toward the trail base for a possible re-direction throw on the trail runner. The key to any re-direction throw is quickness, as these throws are much shorter and arm strength will not supercede quickness.
Rule 9. Eating the ball
Not literally of course! What this means is simply any time a corner infielder cuts the ball off either due to a poor throw or is directed by the catcher, the ball may need to be eaten. In this case,there is no play at the plate nor is there a play on a trail runner. We just want to keep the ball on the inner diamond and get it back to the pitcher for the next hitter. Make sure in this situation, attention is paid to runners and possible forward progress. At this time, time can be called if necessary to get the house back under control.
Corner infielders have done their job if they are able to execute these rules in cut off situations. Time must be spent at clearly understanding the components of cut off assignments and responsibilities. DON’T JUST BE A BODY ON THE INNER DIAMOND, BE A BASEBALL PLAYER TAKING CHARGE OF THE SITUATION!