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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Left Field Mistakes

The 6th of 12 posts that show common mistakes players make by position

Note: It is valid to say that the mistakes listed for the individual outfield positions would be true for all the outfield positions.  That being said, I believe the concepts chosen are more frequently seen in the individual position being addressed.

How left fielders handle balls hit
to this part of the field will
separate the good from great.
Allowing too many batters to get to second base. This mostly applies to balls hit down the left field line that aren't hit hard enough to reach the corner.  It's a play where the batter tries to stretch a base hit into a double.  The mistake left fielders make is being too slow in getting to these balls making it more likely the batter-runner will take the chance in going to second.  Many times the left fielder incorrectly assumes the batter will stay at first and takes his time.  Other times the batter-runner may know the left fielder's arm strength is a little short and tries to take advantage.  Either way, the left fielder must attack all balls hit to this area to get to them as quickly as possible.  A batter-runner who rounds first base and sees the left fielder in the process of throwing to second will most likely stop at first.  If he rounds first and the left fielder has not yet reached the ball, he will most likely try for second base and probably will make it there.  Left fielders need to get to the ball and get rid of it as fast as they can.

Bonds:  In his prime, one of the best
ever at keeping runners at first.
Throwing to the cut-off man.  This refers to two separate plays in which the left fielder is involved.  The first involves the play explained above where the batter-runner attempts to stretch a single into a double.  The second involves a throw to home plate to cut down a runner trying to score.  The source of the mistake involves the difference between the phrases "throwing to the cut-off man" and "throwing through the cut-off man."   When players are younger, their lack of arm strength generally prevents them from throwing from left field all the way to second base without using the shortstop as a cut-off man.  The same holds true for throws to home with the third baseman as the cut-off.  Kids are therefore taught to "hit the cut-off man" with all throws.  As stated in previous posts, the game gets faster as players get older.  As a result, the left fielder eventually must be able to reach the base they are throwing to without the need for a cut-off man.  However, many older kids with enough arm strength still have this "throw it to the cut-off man" mentality instead of the "throw it through the cut-off man" mind set. Adding a cut-off man increases the time it takes for the ball to reach its destination.  Ideally, all throws should be low enough so that the cut-off man is capable of cutting it but strong enough to reach the base on its own as well.

An aggressive Ryan Braun prepares to dive for
a shallow fly ball in left field. 
Too much respect for the shortstop and center fielder. In comparison, the left fielder is usually the less talented outfielder of the three all things considered.  Of course, there are always exceptions to this.  On the other hand, the center fielder and shortstop are frequently the two best overall defensive players on the field.  Sometimes this impacts how left fielders go after fly balls.  If the left fielder knows that the shortstop and center fielder are talented, they sometimes assume those other guys will get the ball more easily.  Therefore, the left fielder gives up on going for the ball too soon. To complicate matters further, many coaches stress that center fielders have priority if two outfielders both go after a fly ball.  Although this is true, some left fielders become too timid on all fly balls as a result.  The best left fielders know when to back off and when to attack the fly balls they are responsible for catching.

Too deep with a runner on second, two outs.  As stated above, many times the left fielder is not the best defensive outfielder of the three.  This of course may apply to arm strength as well.  Especially with two outs, many left fielders play too deep with a runner on second base.  Since there are two outs, the runner on second will start running at contact and therefore has a better chance of scoring on a hit.  This is why left fielders sometimes should play a little more shallow - especially if their arm strength is a bit short.  The obvious risk that comes with this is that balls can be more easily hit over their head.  However, with two outs, the left fielder needs to be in a better position to give himself a chance to throw out a runner at home.  The score, the inning, and who is batting also play a factor so understand that it is never as clear cut a rule as it may sound.

Tomorrow:  Center Field

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