Mental Gems of Baseball - The Defensive Edge
This is the third entry of the "Mental Gems Series", a series that discusses various aspects of The Game where the mind is used to help defeat the opponent. Today's topic covers a few defensive mental gems....
The defense on a baseball diamond can have a significant edge over the offense prior to every pitch, but teams at all levels rarely take full advantage of this fact. There are three main nuggets of information that a defense needs to position each player and be mentally prepared such that the hitter is less likely to get on base. A team can take advantage of past information, stay on top of current information, and think one step ahead to minimize the hitter's chances of reaching the base-pads. Two of the three nuggets of info are rather simple to obtain, but the third takes a bit more legwork. Let's check 'em out...
1) Know The Next Pitch
EVERY defender on the field should know what pitch is coming next. Is it a deuce, low and away? A fastball up and in? It's easy for the infielders to see the catcher's signs, but how in the heck do I get the signs to outfielders? Well, the shortstop (SS) and second-baseman need to relay them to the outfielders. They simply need to put there throwing hands up against their lower back and flash an open fist for off-speed pitches and a closed fist for a fastball. Relaying the location is a bit much, but most outfielders should be able to see where the catcher is setting up. Keep in mind, however, that other teams may have bullpens in the outfield that could pick the signs and relay them back to the hitter, so be cautious (see the First Mental Gems Article about picking catchers signs). Your team may have to come up with a more creative approach to relaying signs (tapping gloves, kicking dirt, etc.) to the outfield if you think they are getting picked. Once the defense knows what pitch is being thrown, then they can shift appropriately. The shifts don't need to be extreme and they shouldn't happen too early - this will tip off the hitter. However, a subtle couple of steps towards the hole for a SS when a change-up is coming to a right-hander can be the difference between ending an inning and giving up a big one. Likewise, a RF shifting towards the line when a fastball is coming to a righty may turn a shot down the line into a single instead of a triple.
2) Know What To Do If It's Yours
You've probably heard this over and over if you ever played any ball, but it is still the Golden Rule of the diamond and can't be overlooked. Each defender has an edge if he knows how many outs, where the runners are on the bases, and what he's going to do if the ball comes to him. Furthermore, ball players need to know what they're going to do for ALL types of plays. For instance, a 3B needs to know what he's going to do if the ball is to his right, his left, a hot-potato right at him, or a slow-roller. Players must communicate prior to the play if there's a potential sharing of responsibility. For instance, is 2B or SS going to take the double play throw from the pitcher in the event of a come-backer?
3) Chart Hitters on Opposing Teams
As The Game becomes more competitive, charting opposing hitters becomes more important and worthwhile. It may not be appropriate for coaches of younger teams to chart hitters, but perhaps at the 13-14 level and up this comes into play (Check out an informative coaching site called QC Baseball to learn when its worthwhile to start charting hitters). This type of information is NOT difficult to track and can easily be done by one of the pitchers not throwing that day. We all know they're probably goofing around in the dugout anyway It could also be done on a simple scale by the scorekeeper for your team. The concept is very simple but powerful. All that really needs to be done is to keep track of where each opposing hitter hit each type of pitch for each of his at-bats. There are plenty of charting tools that exist to document this information - Click here here for an example from QC Baseball. The importance of this information lies in the statistics of each hitter over many at-bats. Yes, position players can shade a step or two when they know what pitch is being thrown, but this type of charting information allows the coach to place the defense into extreme shift defenses. This not only puts the defense in an optimal configuration based on statistics, but it also gets in the hitter's head. If a big lefty always pulls the ball and your team stacks the right side, he'll probably try to go the opposite field even when he shouldn't (i.e, a fastball in). And if he does pull it, just as your statistics said he would, then your defense has the best possible chance of making the play.
As always, let us know if you have any more inputs on this topic!
Touch 'em all,