A good infielder minimizes distractions by preparing himself before every pitch. Infield play demands great fundamentals, instincts and concentration. Mental mistakes and fielding errors happen when players lack to pay attention and or don’t have the fundamental skill.
Let me walk you through many of the key aspects of becoming a gold glove defender.
The Mental Game
Work Through Your Mental Checklist:
- Always know the situation: The inning, score, number of outs, runners on base and more all affect the play. Being aware of these items allows the defender to maximize the play's potential and better help the team.
- Know the strength of your arm and how deep you can play. Positioning yourself out of a play is a surefire way to create an error or misplayed situation. Know your strengths but also your limits.
- Know the positioning of your outfielders and their range. Your responsibilities don't just end with what you're doing and where you're positioned. Having a working knowledge of where your teammates are located can be similarly helpful and will aid overall communication and ball priority.
- Be aware of the weather and playing conditions sun, wind, wet?
- Know who covers the bag on various situations: ball hit back to pitcher with or without runners on, bunt/relay plays, pick-off and first-and-third plays. What do I do when the ball isn't hit to me?
- Know the Pitch Before it is Thrown: Knowing the location and type of each pitch before it is thrown is paramount to increasing an infielder's range. An infielder who uses this information against the hitter will see dramatic improvement in his fielding range. Infielders can make an educated guess as to where the hitter will hit the ball based on the location and pitch type. This knowledge allows the infielder to move quicker to any ground ball. For example, if the shortstop expects an inside fastball on a right-handed hitter, he can subtly cheat toward his right - making sure not to tip the pitch off to the hitter by moving too quickly or too early.
- Know Your Pitcher: Understanding how the pitcher works on the mound will also help the infielder. For example, does he tend to miss away on fastballs? What pitch does he throw with the most accuracy? Where does he miss with off-speed pitches? How accurate is this particular pitcher? All of these questions factor into how the infielder readies himself before each pitch.
- Know Your Hitter: Knowing a hitter's tendencies is also worthwhile. As the game progresses, the infielder can usually pick out what pitches the batter hits the hardest and where. For example, is he a pull hitter? Does he only go the opposite way? Does he hit the ball into the ground and try to beat out the throw? Figuring out tendencies helps an infielder position himself better, increasing the likelihood he will get to the batted ball and make the play.
- Pre-Pitch Movement: Before every pitch, infielders should take one or two semi-crouched steps towards the hitter. The final step should land as the hitter swings at the pitch. This movement makes for quicker reactions to a batted ball. Moreover, such pitch-by-pitch attention maximizes the fielder's focus during the game.
- Note: Make sure not to lean too far forward onto your toes when you take your last step, as lateral movement will be less efficient.
- Ready Stance: The glove should be out, pointing towards the batter, as if about to field a ground ball (third basemen may want to be more crouched, with their glove on the ground, as their reaction time needs to be quicker). The key is to make the transition from waiting for the ball to fielding the ball as smooth as possible. This glove-out, creeping-towards-the-hitter position is conducive to consistent, quick and flowing play.
- First Movement: If the ball is hit to the infielder's right or left, his first step should be a cross-over step and not a jab step. The cross-over step is a quicker, more direct move towards the ball. This gives the infielder more time to set up properly for the ground ball.
Consistency is very important to being a great infielder. Getting to a proper fielding stance on each and every ground ball allows for the greatest consistency. A few key points on an infielder's stance:
- Feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart
- Back should be kept straight and players should bend at the waist
- Knees should be bent
- The player should be leaning slightly forward on the balls of their feet
- Hips should be square and feet parallel
- Players should keep their head down, watching the ball into the glove
- The glove should be out in front of the body on the ground
- The non-glove hand is open, pointing up and hovering at the base of the glove (this prevents a bad hop from hitting the player)
- Once the infielder receives the ground ball, he should step towards the bag with his back foot, plant and throw.
Read it to get the Right Hop
Proper footwork assures that an infielder will rarely get a bad hop. Even on a field in poor condition, an infielder can limit the number of bad hops he receives. Infielders should field every ground ball on either a long hop or a short hop. To do this, the approach to the ball is very important. Avoiding the in-between hop will limit the number of errors an infielder makes.
The Approach and proper Footwork to field Ground Balls
- Getting outside the ball: When a ball is hit directly to an infielder, his first move should be a shuffle or jab step to the right. This is called getting "outside the ball." With this tactic, the fielder can read the ground ball correctly and then field the ball on a long hop or a short hop. In addition, the fielder will maintain his flow to and through the ball, allowing for a smooth throw to first base.
- After the initial jab step, the infielder should move into the proper fielding position. Using short, quick, choppy steps, the fielder should move forward to the ball. The final steps will bring him to the proper fielding position with feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart, glove down and eyes on the ball.
- The fielder should always try to keep his feet moving to maintain his rhythm through the ball.
- On balls hit to the infielder's right, there are two ways to field a ground ball back-handed. The most effective way is to cross-over with the left foot, fielding the ball in front of that leg. Once the infielder fields the ball, he should plant his back leg and throw. One should only use this quick movement when it is impossible to field the ball out in front. The second, somewhat slower way, is to field the ball off the back foot. The fielder should plant his right leg and shift his weight from back to front, bringing his glove through on the ground. Once he fields the ball, he shuffles to first base and throws.
Note: Third base may not have a choice of which method to use if the ball is hit hard enough. Middle infielders may also find themselves using the second method, based on the speed of the ball. The objective is to get rid of the ball as quickly as possible with an accurate throw to first base.
- On balls hit to an infielder's left, the infielder should field the ball with his left foot forward and glove in front of his left foot.
- Throws from second base: Depending on the distance from first base, either square your shoulders to the base and make the throw or under-hand the ball. You may even flip the ball with your glove if you're charging in to field the ball and close enough to make a controlled, accurate flip.
- Throws from shortstop: Field the ball, square your shoulders to first base and make the throw. Depending on how much time the shortstop has or how fast he is running when he fields the ball, this could be an off-balance throw. No matter the situation, the key is to square your shoulders to first base and maintain control of your body when throwing the ball. Trying to make a spectacular play without setting your feet and torso will often result in an errant throw.
- Throws from third base: Square your shoulders to first base by shuffling your feet and make the throw.
- Depending on the speed of the ball, an infielder will use either two hands or his bare hand to field the slow roller. Use two hands if the ball is rolling with some speed. In either instance the same footwork is required. Once the fielder sees the slow roller off the bat, he should sprint (under control) in a straight line to the ball. Before reaching the ball, he should slow down, such that he has full control over his body when bending down to pick up the slow roller. Typically, the fielder takes two "breakdown" steps, which allow him to both slow down and make sure of the correct footwork. With his bare hand, the fielder should push the ball into the ground when picking it up. This helps with grip and minimizes running past the ball. The fielder steps with his left foot, fielding the ball on his right side. Once he has secured the ball, the fielder continues forward with his right foot and throws side-arm to the bag. This play requires quickness and maximum body control. The best fielders make this play look routine. They accomplish this by never losing control and by practicing this play every time they are on the baseball field.
Common Mechanical Errors of a Fielder
Because of the numerous mechanical aspects that comprise fielding a ground ball, it is one of the hardest skills to master in baseball. It could take players months or years to master this skill. Players, along with their coaches, must understand and practice proper fielding mechanics over and over to become an accomplished infielder.
Mechanical errors of fielding are common in players from youth leagues up to the big leagues. Identifying and correcting these errors are the two ingredients to becoming a great infielder.
This resource will cover a few of the common mechanical errors that infielders encounter when fielding. Through observation, coaches and players must first identify the problem(s) and the severity of the problem(s) in each player's fielding mechanics. Once these errors are identified, the coach and player must make necessary adjustments to eliminate these problems.
- "Stiff hands" refers to a player tensing up while fielding his position. Not being relaxed tightens up the fielder's muscles, makes his movements jerky and causes him to misplay the ball. As much information as there is on fielding, players can tend to over-think and not let their play flow. Reinforcing good fielding habits through practice is important, but the mental game is often overlooked. Imagining positive results works wonders on improving fielding skills. This builds confidence and allows a player to relax and let his hours of practice do the work for him.
- The player may also be "stabbing" at the ball with his glove. He should let the ball come to him and field it out in front in a smooth motion. Fielding practice with a flat glove or with bare hands helps to reinforce this relaxed feeling. This develops "soft hands" when receiving the ball.
- Remember that errors are part of the game. No matter how good a fielder is, he will make errors. The best fielders are those who can put the error behind them and be ready for the next ball hit their way. Positive body language is key to reinforcing a strong mental game.
- Handcuffing interferes with smooth fielding and often leads to errors. This occurs when the ball gets too close to the fielder before it hits the glove. An infielder gets "handcuffed" for three different reasons:
1. He tries to field the ball on an "in-between" hop: The infielder should field the ball being "proactive" not "reactive." The ball should be fielded on a long hop or a short hop. This greatly decreases the instance of a bad hop or "in-between" hop.
2. He pounds his glove before receiving the ball: This is an unnecessary complication to fielding the ball. Often, the fielder will pound his glove late, which causes him to rush to get his glove down. The fielder should always field the ball from the ground up. This pounding of the glove also forces him to start high.
3. His glove is too close to his body: Instead, he should receive the ball out in front of him.
The middle infield can play a huge factor in the overall success of the team. The more the middle infielders communicate with each other, the more effective the duo will be. Turning double plays not only requires effective communication but proper footwork and techniques as well. The following information contains the main keys for the positioning, footwork and feeds for double plays for both the shortstop and the second baseman:
- In a double-play situation, both the shortstop and second baseman should move in two-to-three steps and over towards the bag two-to-four steps. This cuts down on the distance needed to cover second base.
How to approach the Bag
There are several factors involved in turning a double play at second base, and all are equally important. In order to successfully turn a double play, the middle infielder must take the proper approach to the base. Here's how:
- Get to the bag as quickly as possible, placing the left foot on the bag.
- Set a good target for the thrower with both hands out and thumbs together, nearly touching.
- Bend at the knees in a good, athletic position while facing the thrower.
- Relax your hands, keeping them soft to receive the ball. Do not reach for the ball; it will come to you. Always anticipate a bad throw. Don't start moving until the throw is in the air.
Second Baseman Turn Double Play
There are several ways to complete the turn at second base. Below are two good, general examples that one can use to complete a double play:
- Straddle the bag: Used mostly on close plays at second base or with a fast runner at the plate. The second baseman gets to the bag and straddles the base between his feet. As he catches the ball, he quickly resets his feet in the same location and makes the throw to first base. When using this turn, the second baseman should be prepared to jump over the sliding runner.
- Across the bag: This is a common way to teach the turn at second base. As the ball is hit, the second baseman gets to the bag quickly and places his left foot on the bag. As the throw comes in from third base or the shortstop, the second baseman steps to the ball with his right foot. If the throw is at his chest, the second baseman comes across the bag. If the throw is to his right, the player's right foot steps toward the ball and plants before he throws to first. If the throw is to the second baseman's left, he should step to the ball and across the bag with his right foot. This approach allows the player to avoid the runner sliding into second base.
Double Play Turn - Shortstop
Once the ball is on its way, the shortstop begins moving.
- Throw from second baseman: The shortstop drags or steps with his right foot across the outside corner of the bag, clears enough room between him and the runner, plants and throws.
- Throw from first base: If the shortstop receives the throw from the first baseman inside the baseline, the shortstop tags the inside of the bag with his left foot, plants with his right foot and throws. If it comes from outside the line, drag with the right foot. It is helpful to yell "Inside!" or "Outside!" to let the first baseman know where to throw the ball.
- Shortstop takes it himself: If the shortstop fields the ball close enough to second base, it may be more efficient to turn the double play himself. To do this, he simply steps with his left foot on the bag mid-throw, making sure to alert his second baseman of his solo intention. The shortstop's left foot will hit the bag just before releasing the ball, which is much quicker than swiping the right foot across the bag and then throwing.
- Avoiding the runner: The shortstop should clear enough room between him and the bag, so the runner cannot reach him. After swiping the bag with the right foot, the shortstop can move far from the bag or stay close, depending on the proximity of the runner.
Double Play Feed to Second Base
Shortstop - There are several possible ways to throw to second base:
- Under-hand: It is important to be firm with this throw to second base. The shortstop should get enough behind the throw, such that the ball moves on a line to the second baseman's chest. The key is to follow-through on your throw. The shortstop should only use this throw when close enough to the bag or when moving towards the bag to field a ground ball.
- Over-hand: The throw should always be on a line to the second baseman's chest. Use this throw when fielding a ball that is too far away to under-hand on a line, or on any ball that takes you away from second base. Two ways exist to make this throw:
- Drop to a knee: Field the ball with the left foot slightly pointing to the bag. Drop to your right knee and make the throw to the second baseman. Do not stand up and throw.
- Step back: Field the ball normally. Step back with your left foot and throw to second base. This can be a side-arm throw, as well.
Second Base - There are three possible ways to throw to second base:
- Under-hand: Use this throw when moving towards the bag or when close to the bag. Field the ball and under-hand it to the bag, with your left leg stepping forward, following your throw and your left arm swinging up behind you. Maintain a stiff wrist, and do not let the ball spin off the fingers. Throw to the front half of the bag at the shortstop's chest, so the shortstop can come through the bag.
- Over-hand: This is the most difficult throw for a second baseman. Always make sure of one out. Field the ball and rotate onto the balls of your feet, bringing your left knee down to the ground and pointing your torso to second base. Throw over-hand to the shortstop's chest, leading him slightly.
- Side flip: This is a quick flip to the shortstop, used when an under-hand throw would be too slow or when the ball is fielded in the baseline. Field the ball, and with your palm facing down, release the ball at the end of a lateral arm motion.
Applying the Tag
On some occasions with a runner on first, the out may be made at first base prior to the ball being delivered to second. In such cases, the force out at second base is no longer in order, requiring Commonly referred to as the "hot corner," third base is one of the most exciting and demanding positions on the field. The third baseman needs to have the ability to recognize game situations and adapt as the game changes. In this position, it is important that the player stays alert and focused the entire game. The following information contains the main keys for positioning, footwork, receiving and fielding for third basemen:
Third Base Positioning
- Regular: The third baseman should play about six steps behind the bag and three steps off the line. This, however, is an estimate and should change depending on various factors such as the speed of the hitter, hitter tendencies or the strength of the third baseman's arm. For example, the third baseman will typically play even with the bag for the leadoff hitter, since this is a hitter that could try to bunt for a base hit. The more tuned into the game the infielder is, the better prepared he will be for a ball hit his way.
- Double Play Depth: In a double-play situation, the third baseman should be three-to-four steps behind the bag and two-to-three steps off the line (subject to change based on various factors).
- Corners up/Infield in: Play even with the bag or just beyond the edge of the grass and two-to-three steps off the line. This allows the third baseman to throw home or look the runner back to third base and throw to first base.
- Bunts: In a bunt coverage play, the third baseman should start on the lip of the grass, creeping forward a few steps as the pitcher sets. As the pitcher begins his motion, the third baseman then charges the batter, yelling "Bunt!" If the batter does not square to bunt, then the third baseman should run into foul territory to avoid being hit from such a close distance.
Double Play - Feeds to Second Base
- Once the third baseman fields the ground ball, he should turn to second base, stay low (do not stand up) and throw overhand at the second baseman's chest. On a dive to his left, the third baseman should throw from his knees to second base but only if he can make a controlled throw to second.
Balls Hit to Left Field
- The third baseman should be aggressive and go for any playable ball hit to his left that he can. On this play, the third baseman has priority over the shortstop because he can get to the ball quicker than the shortstop.
- Although the coach will usually signal for a bunt coverage play, infielders should always be aware of bunt situations. Depending on the situation, the third baseman or pitcher may need to cover third base after the bunt.
a tag of the runner to get the out.
The first baseman handles the ball more than anyone else on the infield, aside from the pitcher and the catcher. Because of this, it is important that your first baseman has a sound working knowledge of their position and the specific techniques that it entails. The following information contains the main keys for positioning, footwork, receiving and fielding for first basemen:
First Base Positioning
- Regular: The first baseman should play as far back as he can but still be able to get to the bag before his infielders throw to first base on a ground ball. He can play about five-to-seven steps behind the bag and three steps off the line. This step number varies according to different factors such as hitter tendency, speed of the runner, etc.
- Double Play: The first baseman is holding the runner on for this play.
- Bunt: Even with the bag and creeping towards the hitter. When the pitcher starts his motion, charge towards the hitter.
- Be ready before each pitch. Once the ball is hit, sprint to the bag. Do not look at the ground ball while running. Set your feet at each corner of the bag, with your right foot on the right corner and your left foot on the left corner of the bag. Have a slight bend in your knees. Point your chest to the ground ball with your glove out.
- With the ball on the way, stretch out as far as possible to catch the ball. Do not stretch before the ball is on its way. Use either corner of the bag to stretch for a ball. If the throw is to the non-glove hand side, use a cross-over step to reach the throw. Use the middle of the bag for a good throw. Never stretch with your foot on top of the bag. Come off the bag to catch an errant throw.
Catching the Ball
- Anticipate the bad throw.
- Use one hand to catch the ball, except when blocking the ball.
- On balls in the dirt, field from the ground up. Use soft hands and "give" with the glove towards you.
- With a runner on second base, block balls in the dirt. Come off the base on an errant throw.
- On a high, lob throw, you may need to slide your foot to the back of the bag to catch the ball.
- On a throw down the line, let the runner tag himself out. "Give" with your arm to avoid injury.
- Call off the catcher and pitcher on pop-ups to the infield. The third baseman, shortstop and second baseman have priority over you.
- On a swinging third strike in the dirt, give a good target for the catcher to throw down the line. Set up on the inside part of the bag if the catcher picks the ball up inside the first base line; set up outside if he picks up the ball outside the line.
- On foul ball pop-ups, work from the fence back.
Holding the Runner on
- For both righties and lefties, put your right foot just inside the bag, bend your knees and give a low target square to the pitcher.
- Apply a firm tag on every pick-off attempt.
- Let the catcher know if the runner goes.
- Release from the bag once the pitcher goes home (can no longer pick-off). To do so, take a cross-over step and two shuffles in line with the bag. End up in a ready position with your glove out.
Fielding the Ball
- Field the ball from the ground up.
- Do not overcharge the ball. Wait for the good hop or block the ball down, if necessary.
- Throws to the pitcher should be early. This gives him enough time to catch the ball and find the bag with ease.
On a double play, do not throw across the runner. Create a clear throwing lane, throw hard to the shortstop's head and run back to the bag.
If you field the ball close to the bag, tag the bag first and then throw to second base. Make sure to alert the shortstop to "Tag!" the runner.