Coaching Strategies for the Outfield
#1 Standard Outfield Positioning
Against right handed batters, the standard outfield positioning is commonly called “straight up” positioning. The entire outfield plays about mid-depth with the center fielder positioned directly behind the second base bag and the left & right fielders maybe about 10-15 ft off the foul line depending on the skill level of the outfielder or even that outfielder’s personal preference. As the game goes on ( and the season) adjustments to standard positioning can be made based on the hitters. Against left handed batters, outfielders usually shift to the right and how far they shift over can be determined by the batter. Again, adjustments can be made after seeing a pattern by the batter. An outfield may play a more “straight up” defense if a left handed batter is an opposite field slap hitter.
#2 Winning Run on Third
In the bottom of the last inning, if the winning run is on third base with less than two outs, then the outfield will play shallow depth in an attempt to throw the runner out at the plate. Outfielders won’t have to worry about balls getting over their head because a deep fly ball will end in certain defeat if it is caught or not. Outfielders may want to think about purposely letting foul balls fall to the ground in this case especially if it is a foul ball deep enough to make a play at the plate difficult.
#3 Keeping Force Plays Intact
It is important for outfielders to attempt to hold runners to a single base and not allow runners to advance on throwing errors. It is also important for an outfielder and the defense to recognize when to give up a base or a run to keep other runners from advancing. For example, with a runner on second, the batter hits a base hit to right field. The right fielder must be able to recognize quickly if there is really a chance to throw the runner out at home because if you don’t record the out at home then most likely the base hit turns into the runner standing on second base with an extra base that the failed attempt at home has just provided. This concept becomes especially important when protecting a lead. For example, if the team has a 5 run lead late in the game, doesn’t it make more sense to trade a couple of runs for a chance to record some easy force outs or even turn a crucial double play? I have personally seen 5+ run leads late in games blown at the younger level due to teams not understanding this concept. Something a team should keep in mind is just because a runner is going home doesn’t mean that is where the ball should or has to go.
#4 Understanding Team Strengths & Weaknesses
Understanding and being honest about a team’s strengths and weaknesses can be very important to how successful the outfield unit will be. For example, if there aren’t strong arms in the outfield then maybe trying to throw out runners at the plate without the cutoff man is not realistic. On the flip side, if the right fielder has an absolute cannon then maybe on occasion it wouldn’t be a bad idea to make a throw behind a greedy runner who just came way off first base after a base hit. I managed a very fast center fielder who would sometimes sneak into the infield to attempt a pickoff from the pitcher on an unsuspecting baserunner. What can and can’t be done by the outfield unit will be determined by their skill level.
The play of the outfield can win or lose games and can win or lose championships. However, beyond wins and losses there is something much more gratifying at the younger level. Watching a novice player, who couldn’t make a single catch at the first practice, make that first catch in a game is one of the greatest moments that a baseball coach can have. Practicing the proper fundamentals and running challenging drills will make that moment a reality!