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