The defensive responsibilities of the outfielder in baseball is a pretty simple collection of tasks and skills related to collecting and returning balls that reach beyond the infield. Abilities to perform are often tied to the tools a player possesses to run, in order to cover ground, and arm strength, to restrict advancing base runners.
But an outfielder that can enhance those skills or even overcome a lack thereof by positioning and tactics. Outfielders can develop baseball savvy by paying attention to a number of easy to acquire information sources. They can gain precision in execution with a few techniques built through simple drills.
Another panel of coaches from the Dirtbags has been put together to provide both insight and instruction on these topics concerning outfield play.
- John Eberle … 17u
- Matt Jolly … 17u
- Brendan Dougherty … 17u / Director of South Carolina for Dirtbags Baseball
How can outfielders better position themselves to be in the best spot for a hitter/situation?
JOHN EBERLE – Familiarity with an opponent/player and advance scouting reports obviously can help in positioning. Another important key is having the middle infielders communicate with outfielders with hand signals on whether a pitch will be something hard or off-speed and location of the pitch. This helps in knowing if you need to shade one way or another. Also, paying attention to the batter’s swing. Is he overmatched by the pitcher? Does he have an inside out swing, etc.?
Situationally, where the runners are on base, early or late in the game and what the score is. You may need to play a little shallower if you need to try to make a throw to a base/home plate to try and cut down a runner, deeper if you have a small lead late in the game.
MATT JOLLY – I prefer my outfielders to protect the gaps more (especially corner guys). I’ve seen a lot of players tend to guard the lines leaving too much of the field exposed. I want my guys to use the infield grass/dirt lines or base paths as general guidelines. After that, their positioning is determined by the hitter or AB. If they can learn to read swing paths and pitch locations as well as hitter strength and what the pitcher will do in certain counts they will be much better off.
BRENDAN DOUGHERTY – Best way for OF to position themselves is to watch BP when the other team is hitting. Know where the opposing hitters are in the lineup and keep up with who is hitting. Also who is pitching for your team. Is he a high velo guy where you have to shade the other way or a guy who gives up a lot of balls to the pull side. Understanding the situations of the game will give you even more tips on where the ball may be hit.
What is a tip for outfielders on throwing that can translate to being a more effective piece to the team defense?
JOHN EBERLE – Getting the ball in efficiently/effectively, try to throw four seams when possible for better accuracy, giving the cut-off a chance unless it’s a do or die play. When catching the ball positioning your body with your glove side to the field and at least having your throwing hand up by the glove (should be there to use two hands on the catch anyway) so you can get into a crow hop. Or get rid of it quickly if a crow hop isn’t possible/necessary. Also, when finishing a throw, finish to your target, don’t fall off to the side or make a throw and pull up…your momentum from getting behind your throw should take at least a few steps towards the target after release
MATT JOLLY – Throw a cut-able baseball unless the situation absolutely dictates otherwise. More direct throws will hold runners from advancing or cause them to hesitate, which always helps the pitcher/defense. Also we don’t always encounter elite arm strength. Another short throw from an infielder can be more direct than one long one.
BRENDAN DOUGHERTY – Your main job as an outfielder is not to throw runners out but to cover ground, be accurate, and do not allow baserunners to advance extra bases because of your throwing mistake.
What is a simple drill or practice habit to help outfielders in catching both fly balls and ground balls?
JOHN EBERLE – A simple and effective drill is to get a partner and throw 10 ground balls to each other and then 10 fly balls, repeat 2 or 3 times so each player gets 20 to 30 reps. Important to work on every aspect from fielding ground ball cleanly through making a good, strong accurate throw and with fly balls getting behind the ball while it’s in the air and using that momentum to finish to your target making a strong accurate throw.
Practice habits should include focusing on the details and fundamentals and understanding that being efficient, making an accurate throw/giving the cut-off a chance when fielding ground balls and fly balls it can make a difference in winning and losing a game.
MATT JOLLY – Incorporate simulated ground balls and fly balls in your throwing routine to work on feeling body positioning and footwork before and during the throwing motion. Best used when working back in and throws are in more of a pull down phase
BRENDAN DOUGHERTY – For fly balls outfielders need to work extremely hard at getting behind balls. Anytime you can take balls live off the bat is one way to get good reps.
A great drill is just having a partner and throwing balls up and working to get behind every ball. For ground ball work you should try to work to field ground balls exactly like an infielder and work from there. Not often will get down on one knee if ever.
A big thanks once again for the coaches who weighed in on these topics about outfield play. Be sure to check in next week when the series delves into questions on sliding.