Practice the practice of knowing your teammates' throwing abilities
An area of the game all players and coaches strive to see improvement is one’s ability to throw and throw the ball with easy, effortless actions that has both great ball carry and life. If all players could throw like this the defensive part of the game would certainly be that much easier. Not to mention, the ease with which pitchers could light up the radar gun with elevated velocities that would leave heads shaking.
Like all of us who are so keen on the game, we have had our eyes and ears glued to the past few weeks of October baseball where one pitch, one play, one swing, one missed sign or even one poorly thrown relay or cut off throw has had massive repercussions on the game. That’s right, one little fundamental play, after 162 plus games affects whether a team moves on to the next round or packs up their baggage and heads home for yet another off season of "what if’s"?
So much of baseball depends on one’s ability to throw a baseball. Think about a typical practice with the amount of long toss that is thrown for players to build arm strength. Then, teams will go into defensive modes and implement some system work. One of the systems that they work on and should be worked on in a regular basis is tandem relays and cut offs. Now, when teams work these, the tactical and strategic actions, movements and communication is put into play and it is usually done and scripted from a manual or book to go along with the experience of the coach in setting up the system. So, if one were to look at tandem relays, as a simple example, with the middle infielders going out, one of them acts as the front man while the other is the trailer and they move to a distance in the outfield where they can receive a throw from an outfielder, usually to the front man and the ball is either relayed to a base (usually third base) or the plate. The ball can also be re-directed to second base, in a back door fashion, trying to achieve an out on the hitter who made a wide turn at second base and was held up by the third base coach. The ball can also be held or cut and simply be run into the infield by one of the middle infielders. Now this is great and sounds very simple in its practicum. The same can be said on throws to the plate as far as cut off responsibilities to coverage, ball flight, ball carry, ball alignment and potential play on lead or trail runner. There are standard rules that apply to both tandem relays and cut offs.
Now here is where a problem arises. Players spend literally hours and hours over the season of playing long catch...yes to develop arm strength. In addition, time is spent (although usually not hours and hours) on setting up defensive systems for tandem relays and cut offs, YET, I would say that very little time is actually spent on the practice of knowing each teammates' throwing abilities. Yes, it is easy to see in long catch who can throw well and who doesn’t throw as well, but remember, each player is throwing the ball from a pre-set position and under no distress that they might otherwise have in a game. That’s right, in a game, they don’t throw the same way from the outfield as they would otherwise do while playing long catch. Their actions in a game are much different and not as relaxed...in other words, they are not under the microscope when it comes to making a good throw.
With this said, this is what I would suggest to get to know your teammates' throwing abilities:
- First, all outfielders should go to certain areas in the outfield and make throws to actually see how far they can throw. They should measure off and find certain landmarks to identify their own capabilities.
- In addition, cut off defenders when balls are thrown to the plate, should recognize the actual length of the throw to help themselves determine if the ball should be cut, cut and re-directed or relayed.
- Moreover, middle infielders should go to their tandem relay positions and assume a spot in the outfield and then make throws to see what their length of throw is going to be.
- Then, when it is all said and done, set these throws up and use a stopwatch to determine how long it takes to fashion one or two throws.
A great drill to do for this is to use this thought processing for your long toss like so:Set up players at defensive positions and PLACE balls in areas of the outfield and have outfielders make throws to gauge their throwing distance. This will allow cut off defenders to learn to practice the practice of reading and getting to know teammates' arm strengths. This can be easily done while simulating runners tagging up and trying to advance or score. Simulated multiple runner situations could be set up so that if balls are caught beyond an outfielder’s threshold or landmark, they should know they have to throw the ball to second base for example as they have no play on the lead baserunner.
I really feel that we need to spend more time with all players to really get a better handle on knowing each other’s arm strength, but not in a controlled environment, like long toss. Now, to complete the drill, ensure that your cut off defenders in the infield or middle infielders who relay defenders on extra base hits in the outfield, can learn to set up, read throws and receive throws efficiently.
Hope helps and good luck with teaching the art of the practice of practicing knowing your teammates throwing abilities
Rick Johnston, Head Instructor - The Baseball Zone