Team Defense 101

If you watch youth baseball as much as our family does, you see a lot of different approaches to defending runs on extra base hits. One common area to improve for most teams playing ball on fields smaller than 90′ bases is to establish a better relay system, or “cut off” system.

2017 ELITE playbook (2)

We’ve watched many “select” teams fail to control runners from scoring on plays similar to the above, because they all send their SS out to LF waiting for a throw. There are a good handful of obvious problems here:

  1. The play isn’t to get the batter out at 2B, it’s to defend the run scoring from 1B, yet the SS is not lined up to defend 3B or home
  2. The LF isn’t throwing the ball far if he is only throwing to the SS
  3. The SS then has to make a great throw to nab a runner at 3B or home, highly unlikely under the age of 15 or so
  4. If the throw from the LF misses the SS, the SS has to chase down the ball
  5. The P is not in the right spot – the P should be backing up home
  6. There is no reason for the 1B to defend first, the batter is getting a double at minimum

In the diagram above, the throw hits the SS while the runner from 1B is approaching 3B 9 out of 10 times. On teams without strong arms at SS, the runner usually is waved home and there is no play at home. Basically, a double to LF results in a run with a runner only at 1B.

Defending that run from scoring starts with establishing a defensive philosophy for your team. That philosophy should be: defend 2 bases ahead of the runner/batter on balls to the outfield.

2017 ELITE playbook

In the diagram above, we set up a double relay to control the base runners more effectively. Off the bat the C is watching the runner, the batter and the fielder to gauge where the throw should go. The LF can throw to 3B direct if there is a play there and his arm is strong enough, or he throws to the cut off. If he misses the SS, the 2B is there to back him up and hopefully prevent the runner from advancing a base.

If the ball is hit hard or misplayed by the LF, the LF can hit the 1st cut off (SS), who then is throwing towards home. At that point the C decides whether the ball should go “through” to the plate, or if the 1B should cut it off and throw (or hold) to another base for a play.

Defensively, the CF covers 2B, the P is backing up the C and the 1B is utilized as a secondary cut off – or the 2nd part of the double relay – instead of defending 1B where it is unlikely there is a play.

Keep in mind, for each throw to a “cut off” fielder the base runner will get about one second of free running time. On 70′ bases, that is enough to get about 1/3 of the way to the next base. Outfielders should be empowered to throw directly to a base, or to the 1B cut off if they can make strong throws. If your outfielder(s) does not possess a strong arm, the throw to the primary cut off (SS) may be required.

Does this defensive play always work? No, there are still variables that contribute to failing to maintain the base runner from 1B from scoring – like overthrows or mishandling throws, etc. However, it does work quite often in stopping the runner from scoring, or picking off a lazy base runner who assumes the throw will go to the SS and not to the base or to the 1B.

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