Baseball defensive strategy has more to it than where to position your infielders and outfielders. A coach knowing strategies for defensive situations is key to proper defense.
Positioning fielders may be the difference between an out and a RBI triple. Defending a bunt correctly may keep you out of a big inning.
Your coaching strategy for infield defense and anticipating your opponents offensive strategy may be the key to staying out of the big inning.
#1 Standard Infield Positioning – Infield Back
Against right handed batters, the infield will be in a “straight up” position. Middle infielders will play at a deeper position to give themselves time and range to get to the most plays possible and will more or less position themselves about halfway between their respected bases.
The “corners” ( first & third baseman) may take positions just behind or just in front of their respected bases based on a number of factors including advanced scouting, comfort, game situation, etc.
Against left handed batters, the infield will shift to the right with the first baseman playing the line and behind first base. How much the other infielders shift over will also depend on a number of factors that were just mentioned.
When to use: Nobody on or two out. Get the out at first base.
#2 Double-Play Depth
Play your middle infielders at regular depth but closer to second base. Also has the advantage of putting the infielders in a better spot to get to second on a steal.
#3 Infield Halfway
If there is a runner on third that you want to prevent from scoring, but don’t want to risk an easy ground ball hit with the infield in, you can play the infield halfway. The runner from third won’t be able to go on contact and the infielder will have a little more range to make a play and get the out while preventing the run.
When to use: Less than two outs with a runner on third.
#3 Bringing the Infield In
If the game winning run is on third base then the infield will all play in on the infield grass. This will give them the best chance to cut down the runner at home or at least hold the runner at third.
This strategy can also be used if the coach feels the game is tight, runs are few, and it is more important to stop the run from scoring than anything else. With the bases loaded or first and third, a coach may chose to just bring in the “corners” but keep the middle infielders back to keep the chance of a double play alive as well.
Variations of this strategy will always depend on game situations and sometimes even coach’s intuition.
The disadvantage is you don’t give yourself a lot of range for balls hit in the infield but you don’t really have a choice if you are in this situation.
When to use: Later innings, when tying or winning run is on third base with less than two outs.
#4 Corners In, Middle Back
With runners at first and third, this alignment will allow for a double play without conceding the run on a ball hit to the third baseman.
When to use: Runner on first and third with less than two out.
#5 Third Base In
You may want to move your third baseman in on weaker hitters, especially those that may bunt.
If the count gets to two strikes, you would then move the third baseman a little deeper.
When to use: Possible bunt, no runner on second, less than two strikes.
#6 Defending the Bunt
Typical defense against a bunt will include but will not be limited too bringing the corners in to play in front of the bases and on the infield grass. The middle infielders may play back and that will be based on the game situation.
If the batter is suspected of just being up to bunt or it is blatant that the only intent is to bunt then the middle infielders should also come in on the infield grass.
In a sacrifice bunting situation, one defensive strategy is to utilize the wheel play in attempt to throw out the lead runner on a bunt.
#7 Defending the Stolen Base
The straight steal is a pretty simple concept to plan to defend against. It is simply the catcher and the infielder applying the tag vs the base runner. On the other hand, when there is more than one base runner then the stolen base works as an offensive strategy that may take a little more thought to defend.
A very common tactic in youth baseball games is for an attempted steal of second base while there is also a runner occupying third base. There are several different strategies that can be used and some that involve so called “trick plays”.
I find that maybe the safest most effective thing that a defense can do against this is using the simple pump fake to possibly draw the runner off third for a pick off attempt. The pump fake can be used by the catcher who can pump fake a throw to second base or the catcher can quickly get the ball back to the pitcher who can use the pump fake to second base.
Another type of steal that can be problematic for a defense is the double steal of second base and third base. If the batter fakes a bunt attempt this will draw in the corners and at the same time could leave third base, second base, or even both bases undefended which presents a great opportunity for a double steal. The best way to defend this is to simply make sure all infielders are aware of their assignments for this situation to ensure all bases that are in jeopardy are defended.
#8 Playing Behind the Runner
With a big lead or with a runner on second, you may want the first baseman to play behind the runner instead of holding the runner on. This gives the first baseman more range.
The sign for this is the first baseman crossing his wrists to ask the coach whether or not to play behind the runner. The first baseman also needs to let the pitcher know they will not be there so to not attempt a pickoff.
#9 Playing With a 5 or More Run Lead
When playing with a big lead, the infield should take any easy out that is being handed to them by the offense and absolutely trade runs for outs. This concept is especially true late in games. For example, when a team is down to it’s final six outs and the lead is 5 or more, any ball hit to the pitcher should be going to first base with the exception of a force play at home.
Why? The shortest most uncomplicated plays will be to first base unless the pitcher has the chance for an easy force play at home. Remember, when a team is down by 5 or more runs, every out that is made by the defense will put that much more pressure on the offense.
#10 Backing Throws to the Pitcher
Backing the throw to the pitcher is a great habit to teach to young players particularly. Mostly, because the catchers at this age are not the most accurate yet. Backing the pitcher insures that no players on the bases advance from an inaccurate throw to the pitcher.
At the higher levels you should back up the pitcher in tight situations. Either way, it couldn’t hurt to do anytime there’s a runner at 3rd base.
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