There are many intricate aspects of baseball that are taught on a daily basis by coaches all over the world. Unfortunately, the one aspect of outfield play that may be overlooked at times is proper positioning.
By playing the percentages and understanding tendencies of normal hitters, outfielders can increase their chances of a putout or an assist.
Our team objective from a defensive standpoint is to defend 80 percent of the field per batter. The following information will provide insight into how the outfield should optimally position itself to coordinate with the total team defensive concept.
There is actual rhyme and reason to where outfielders play during the course of a game. However, in many instances an amateur outfielder would not be able to answer where or why. Here is the answer:
Why Positioning is Important
Hitters are taught to drive the ball "Gap to Gap", "Back up the Middle", and "To the Opposite Field". The advent of aluminum bats has forced pitchers to command the outer half of the plate and to utilize off-speed versus the fastball in many instances. All of the above gives subtle hints as to where we want our defense to play.
It can be argued that 80 percent of all balls put "In Fair Play" will be hit between the Shortstop and 2nd base holes anywhere from home plate all the way to the walls.
Because of this hitting tendency we want our outfielders to start in the gaps. The left fielder will serve as the example:
Playing in the Gaps
If we have a Right Handed Hitter at the plate, the Left Fielder should line himself up in a straight line with the 1st Base Bag and the 2nd Base Bag. He should then take 5 steps to his right.
This position is known as "Straight Up" to a Right Handed Hitter. If the Left Fielder wants to play the Right Handed hitter with an "Opposite" shift, then he SHOULD NOT take the 5 steps to his right.
He should just stay in line with the 1st and 2nd base bags. The converse would be if a Left Handed hitter was at the plate. The Left Fielder would be considered "Straight Up" if he stays in line with the 1st and 2nd base bags. If he takes five steps to his right, he is then in an "Opposite" shift to a lefty.
Looking at Right Field
This rationale is exactly the same in Right Field with the adjustment happening to the Right Fielders "Left" side. He should start his alignment being in a straight line with the 2nd and 3rd Base bags.
The centerfielder's alignment should never be directly in line with the pitcher and catcher. The pitcher will block the view of the centerfielder and the toughest read for an Outfielder is the ball hit directly at him.
To alleviate these two issues, I recommend an "Opposite" shift in centerfield at all times unless a scouting report tells us differently.
Again, the rationale is that hitters "Hit the ball back up the middle or let it get deep and hit it the other way". The alignment for a Right Handed hitter is set by lining up through the left side of the pitching rubber at an angle that ends through the hitter in the batters box.
The converse would be "Opposite" to a Left Handed hitter which would be aligned through the right side of the pitching rubber ending into the Left Handed hitters Batting Box.
The final issue that needs to be tackled is "Depth". My recommendation for a Left and Right Fielders is to maintain a depth of 270 to 280 feet under normal circumstances.
This spot on the turf can be found with the knowledge that 1B/3B are 90 feet from Home Plate, the Infield/Outfield Cut is 125 feet from Home Plate, and the Outfield Wall is typically 330 feet from Home Plate.
The centerfielder should maintain a depth of 280 to 290 feet with the baseline knowledge that 2B is 127 feet from Home Plate and the Centerfield wall is typically 400 feet from home plate.
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