Don’t worry outfielders, I have not forgotten you!
As previously tapped into, I have blogged on Pet Peeves about coaches, players in general and most recently, infielders. It is time to move on to the players that patrol the outfield; the players that have to cover the most range; the players that people often disregard; the players for many reasons that get left out in practice as far as their development goes.
Sure, outfielding looks easy...just stand in a spot and when the ball is hit in the air, run and catch it. Simple...ah, I don’t think so! Actually it is much harder to play than meets the eye. Now having said that, yes outfielders, you do inspire many Pet Peeves. In fact, I came up with more Pet Peeves with you guys than I did with infielders. Geez, it must be all that dead time outfielders spend just standing in one spot? Hmmm, that alone sounds like a Pet Peeve in itself!
1. Wearing sunglasses on your hat...yep, that is definitely what they are meant for. They do look stylish and cool for them on you head, but I was always under the impression they are used to help block out the sun and make the catch. Then again, maybe making the catch is much more overrated compared to how one looks...after all, to make it to the next level, for sure, looks are much more important than making plays! This does sound old and continues to be a constant. You could make a simple rule, that is, either wear the sunglasses right or don’t wear them at all!
2. Calling off a camped infielder on a pop up, medium depth, in between fly ball...how many times have we seen this happen? The ball is called early and in time by a ranging infielder, who clearly displays both visual and verbal communication, but then is called off by an ever charging and out of control outfielder, who thinks he must call off the infielder and take priority. Hey, did the infielder show early visual communication? Did the infielder clearly make the verbal call on time and multiple times? Then why are you calling him off? What is worse is the outfielder dropping the ball or trying to make a diving catch because of poor attention to communication. Hey outfielders, if you are going to call off a camped infielder, you had better make the catch!
3. Poor throwing habits between innings...it is safe to say that outfielders probably do the worst job of throwing between innings. Next time you are at a game, an amateur game, watch what they do. Wow, that’s all I can say, wow! They pitch to each other; throw every pitch they can think of from all different arm angles; they make loopy, lazy throws. Do you think they have ever thought that making good, on line throws actually help them build arm strength? I don’t think so. Coaches you want a great remedy to this, without any type of penalty? Here is what you do...have the two corner outfielders play catch and the centerfielder play catch with the player near the foul line. Now each outfielder is forced to make long throws. Trust me, it works.
4. Not sprinting to and from position...hey guys, this looks pathetically brutal and frankly is disrespecting the game. Sprint, 18 times to and from your position. Don’t sprint? It’s easy...don’t play!
5. Over throwing the cut off defender to show off your arm...ok, ok, so you think you have a good arm. Great, good to hear! So, do you really want to show off the arm? Do you want to keep baserunners from taking an extra base? Do you want to be a part of true team defense and defensive systems? Then hit your cut off man! Throw it through the cut off man, not over his head. Here is a great tip...don’t throw to a base or the plate through the head of the cut off man, throw it to their knee caps. Why? Simple, if the throw through a cut off man is thrown through his head and the throw is high, it will sail and there will be zero chance for the ball to be cut, however, if the ball is thrown to the knee caps of the cut off man and throw is high, guess what, now it is chest high. That ball can be cut, cut and continued or cut and re-directed. You have a good arm, then use the arm in a manner that is accepted not unaccepted.
6. Why do you insist on the do or die all the time?...watch how many times you see an outfielder make a play on a base hit, by fielding the ball in a do or die position, only to have the ball bobbled or misplayed? It happens all the time. Outfielders, the do or die play happens so infrequently, yet for some wild reason, the head says the ball needs to be fielded that way. Wrong! Once the base hit gets past an infielder, the outfielder is now the infielder...and as a result guys, how should the ball be fielded? That’s right, like an infielder or in other words, infield style. Learn how to do this, but better yet, learn when the do or die must actually occur.
7. Failing to move to a back up position on a batted ball, throw or play...boy or boy, does this happen a lot! For some reason, outfielders struggle to move to a back up position, especially weak side outfielders...that is, the weak side outfielder, furthest away from the play barely moves. One of the best compliments a coach can ever get from another coach is just that...”your weak side guys really know what to do away from the ball”. That should be the goal of every coach, to teach each player what to do away from the ball. Hey outfielders, one last tip...if you have not moved on the hit, throw or play; you are in the wrong spot.
8. So, you like to play deep do you?...Why do outfielders play so deep? The answer is simple, they are afraid of a ball being hit over their head. So, what is the solution for that? First, every outfielder must learn to go back on a ball. They must learn to fashion the proper footwork on drop steps and taking angles on batted balls. Outfielders often fail to realize that more batted balls will fall in front than will actually go over their head. Outfielders, you want to become better...learn to go back on balls and coaches, force them to play shallower and then teach them the confidence to go back on balls.
9. When you assume...well you know what happens...What am I saying here? Well, once again, watch how often when a ball is hit in the air toward an area that two outfielders are able to catch, what happens to one of them. They assume, they give up, they decide to shut it down and think the other defender will make the play. No way. They both need to move aggressively toward the ball and never assume the other outfielder will make the play. The assumption should be “I will make the catch” never assuming “he” (the other outfielder), will make the catch. Coaches, watch the eyes and head of the passive outfielder, usually their first visual is not to the ball but to the opposite outfielder, then you will see a timid approach to the ball. Don’t let this happen.
10. Why drift and coast to the ball...Outfielders love to time the catch more than they like to sprint to a spot. They lack confidence in going back on balls or lack confidence getting to a spot and setting up. Or they just simply like to style the catch. To become a great outfielder, it takes time, effort and discipline. Moreover, it takes many failures of taking their eyes off the ball and running to the spot where the catch can be fashioned. When they (outfielders) drift, the wind will take the ball further from the point of where they think the catch should be made. Eliminate drifting and create the trust to become an exceptional outfielder not an outfielder that gets the label of not being able to go and get the ball.
11. Not playing the count, hitter or pitcher...this one I love. How many times have you seen the entire outfield shift to the pull side of a hitter and then shift back to the next hitter? Good lord, this happens all the time. “Lefty”...oh boy, the shift goes toward right field. “Righty”...the shift goes the other way, toward left field. Hey outfielders, why? You must learn to play off the count, in other words, when the count favours the hitter, play a little to the pull side; when the count favours the pitcher, shift a little to the opposite side of the hitter. If you don’t know the hitter, learn to play off your pitcher. Never just arbitrarily shift for the sake of the hitter. Due diligence is needed prior to any decision on position. Furthermore, learn to read the swings of hitter...are they early, late on time. These are factors that will help determine position. One last thing, play the batting order. Pitchers learn to pitch to the order; the defense must do the same as far as positioning.
12. Not wanting to lay out for the catch...for some reason, mostly fear, outfielders will shy away from laying to try and make a catch. Now I am not saying that they should always lay out for balls, as the score board is the primary contention on the lay out, but, there are many times when the outfielder just pulls up short. Hey, don’t be afraid to attempt this (again, the situation must dictate) and especially when you to come in on a ball that has some height to it. Those types of hits if they are not caught will simply stick, like a golfer hitting his pitching wedge to the green. You want to gain confidence and inspire your team, get after one of these hits and you never know, you just may have turned a corner defensively.
13. First step is always a false step...how many times do we see this, the outfielder breaks back a step or two on the swing and hit, only to misread the ball and turn an easy out into a flare base hit. That drives coaches batty and really gets under their skin. If you have not worked at reading balls off the bat and eliminating the false step, it is time to start. You don’t start, you will quickly find yourself in the dog house, picking splinters out of your backside.
14. But coach, I like to hit, defence is my secondary position...wow, I like to hit. Well guess what, every position player should love to hit, but every position player had better LEARN to play defence or their hitting (and playing) days will fast come to an end. So, you want to make your defence secondary, do you? No problem, I just hope you have thunder and lightning in that bat of yours because without wanting to work on defence and only having some spotty rain showers in the bat isn’t going to get you very far in the game. Secondary, eh? Well good luck son!
15. Hanging on to the ball in the outfield...until I am told where to throw the ball. Hey outfielders, you had better know what to do with the ball before it is hit to you. In other words, with all that down time, do think it might be possible to think ahead? Or, how about the outfielder who hangs on to the ball because the cut off man is not in the spot where he should be? Outfielders, think and think ahead, never hang on the ball in the outfield. Get the ball to a middle infielder if you don’t know what to do. Get the ball to the middle of the field at the very least, please don’t hang on to it and let baserunners take liberties.
16. Ready position never achieved...that’s right, next time you watch an amateur game, just watch and see what outfielders do, better yet, see what they don’t do. As the pitch is thrown, there will be very little prep step movements occurring, they will stand out in the open tundra of the outfield and basically not move. Then, when the ball is hit, they are always late on their first few steps or as baseball coaches say, “they just get bad jumps”.
17. Back pedaling to try and make a catch...and do you want to know why? They don’t want to work on their defence one iota. Once an outfielder gets into that dreaded back peddling mode, there is no chance for recovery and the next thing you see is the ball flying over their head and the hitter standing on third base with a triple. Come on outfielders, you must learn to go back on a ball or as stated in other pet peeves your playing time will be reduced significantly and the game will pass you on.
18. Running with the glove extended...the last time I saw Usain Bolt run, I saw the arms pumping back and forth until he crossed the finish line then the arms (or an arm) rose in victory. So, if sprinters run this way, why would an outfielder run with his glove hand extended? Well, they don’t! The extension of the glove should occur on the last few steps only and not anytime earlier.
19. Panicking on a misplayed ball...Have we ever seen this...the ball is misplayed, the outfielder then picks it up and heaves the thing as far and as high as possible to make up for the mistake. What is the best course of action? Pick it up and make a great throw, one that is accurate and on line to minimize any further compounding mistake.
20. Looking at the glove when the flyball is dropped...for sure, it is the fault of the glove...there must be a hole in it...need I say more?!
21. Dropping it...at higher levels...come on, guys.
Well, I guess it does go without saying outfielders really do inspire numerous Pet Peeves that will drive coaches batty. It is safe to say, with so much downtime out there, it is a no wonder these Pet Peeves occur. If you have some more, I would love to hear them. Good luck with trying to conquer these with your outfielders.
Rick Johnston, Head Instructor - The Baseball Zone