By: Sam Piraro, San Jose State Univ. - Retired
Most baseball people, especially those who are involved at the upper levels, understand the importance and significance of the Double Play. Being able to secure two outs, on one play, is essential to winning baseball. I explained to the teams that I coached, that the Double Play was equivalent to a "Defensive Home Run." So, in practice, we treated those drills with as much importance as batting practice and baserunning.
PREPARING FOR THE DOUBLE PLAY
Our defensive philosophy centered around keeping the Double Play a viable option. This meant that our outfielders were trained to throw to the proper base as well as executing the cutoff system properly. This included a combination of direct (Verbal) and indirect (Pointing) communication. Keeping a runner off second base was paramount.
Our pitchers worked extremely hard in practice sessions developing the "Double Play" pitch. This included flat ground, catch play and bullpen work. Specifically, this pitch revolves around pristine location. The pitch was primarily a fastball on the outer part of the plate, knee high and with some late movement. That was the desired execution. This tactic was utilized in our Intra Squads and scrimmages. Our hitters benefited as well, as they learned how to "see the ball up" in double play situations. To say the least, we invested a tremendous amount of time in this dynamic fundamental.
ALIGNMENT IN THE MIDDLE
From day one of our practices, we were always vigilant in explaining our theories of "Double Play Position" for the shortstop and second baseman. We reviewed the variables for every scenario according to score of the game, game situations and hitter's tendencies.
Our first goal was to teach the proper "cheating" adjustments that would put the middle infielders in the best position to execute the Double Play. We used a formula that was predicated on taking three steps toward home plate and three steps toward second base. These adjustments were off their "normal" alignment with nobody on first base. Please realize, this was just a baseline for the defenders to establish a comfort ability and consistency in their positioning. Some of the fielders might have utilized four steps, or in some cases, two steps from their normal position. This cheating alignment allowed them to accomplish the following defensive tactics:
As I mentioned earlier, the score of the game as well as what inning we were in, would often adjust the positioning of the middle infield. If the Double Play was not a priority, and the steal of second was not a primary concern, we had the fielders defend the field in their normal positioning.
FEEDS AND TURNS
In my opinion, there are two examples in which a batter/ runner is moving at his fastest to first base:
We used 4.3 seconds or less as our objective to successfully convert the Double Play. In practice, we often timed the infielders as they made their plays to first base. We usually had runners attacking first base at full speed to create as much pressure as possible.
Before we discuss the types of exchanges between the middle infielders, let me be crystal clear in what our priorities were in a Double Play scenario.
FEEDS FROM SHORTSTOP TO SECOND BASE
Over the years we have consistently taught four feeds from the shortstop to the second baseman. We emphasize that the throws be chest high and slightly to the glove side of the second baseman. The pace of the feed is in direct relationship to the distance between the middle infielders. We want the ball distributor to provide good vision for the pivot man.
1. Routine Groundball directly to shortstop:
2. Groundball to the right of the shortstop (Including backhand):
3. Groundball to the left of the shortstop (Momentum going to second base):
4. Groundball to the left of the shortstop and behind second base:
The second baseman (Pivot man) always uses his left foot to be on the base when receiving the feed. We teach a direct line target (Not a rounding approach) for receiving the throw. Like we mentioned previously, we want a window to be created by the pivot's man glove and throwing hand. Once the feed has been identified and timed up, the second baseman steps to the ball with his right foot and initiates the pivot to first base. We want the second baseman to the inside of the baseline, while cutting the angle and distance down using proper footwork.
FEEDS FROM SECOND BASEMAN TO THE SHORTSTOP
Once again, we will explain four types of feeds that can be used by the middle infielders as they execute the Double Play. All the guidelines and parameters that the shortstop worked with, apply to the second baseman as well.
1. Routine Groundball directly to the second baseman:
2. Slowly hit Groundball directly to second baseman:
3. Groundball hit to the right of the second baseman (Momentum going to the bag):
4. Groundball hit to the left of the second baseman (Sharply hit):
The shortstop is always prepared to use his right foot to be in contact with the back of the base. Like the second baseman on his pivot, chopping his steps is critical in coming under control to establish both reaction to the feed and timing for the pivot. The shortstop provides a "window" target and steps to the ball with his left foot. Once the ball is secured, the shortstop now drops his arm into a high three-quarter arm slot and aligns his body in the direction of first base. He wants to avoid having his momentum push him in the direction of right field.
In baseball, there are many ways and techniques to do things. Proper fundamentals are essential to playing good, winning baseball. The fundamentals should be emphasized and practiced daily whenever possible.
Turning the Double Play in my opinion is a trademark of a successful team. I truly believe it is the job of every coach to make this a priority for his team. Getting two outs on one play is very comparable to a "Defensive Home Run". It should be treated and celebrated exactly that way!