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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Right Field Mistakes

An Oriole right fielder prepares to throw
in a spring training game.
The 8th of 12 posts explaining common mistakes made by players by position.

Relying too much on arm strength.  Most outfielders  eventually find themselves in right field because of their arm strength.  Even though all outfielders have similar distances on throws to second base and home plate, it’s the long throw to third base that separates the right fielders from the other two outfielders.  The longer throw requires a stronger arm.  However, this arm strength can pose a problem for some right fielders.  Because they have always had good arms, many of these right fielders have neglected the proper footwork needed to get to a ball and get rid of it quickly.  Click here (and scroll down a little) for two examples. Outfielders with less arm strength realize early on that they have to develop proper footwork and technique to make up for a lack of arm strength.  Right fielders on the other hand can be more interested in showing off their arms than learning the finer points of playing outfield.  Good arm strength and a desire to constantly improve on the little things is what allows right fielders to go from good to great.
Slow to read swings. Great defensive players regardless of position need to be good at anticipating where balls are going to be hit.  I addressed this point about anticipating in the posts about shortstops and  third basemen but it could apply to everyone else on defense as well.  One problem that is uniquely difficult for right fielders is that many balls hit out their way are slicing away from them and towards the foul line.   As a result, it is imperative that right fielders become great at reading swings to anticipate where batted balls are most likely to go.  This of course helps with getting better jumps on all balls hit but especially those that slice away from them.  If a right handed batter fouls off a fastball over the first base dugout, the right fielder should probably interpret  that as the batter having  slower bat speed.  This kind of swing makes it more likely the ball will be hit to right field.  The observant right fielder might decide to shift his positioning more towards the right field foul line.   A hitter that turns well on a pitch and fouls it down the left field line might signal the right fielder to shift his positioning towards the right-center gap a bit more.  The point is to study the swings of all batters to better predict where balls will be hit.

Camping under the ball. This mistake can also be a byproduct of relying too heavily on arm strength when making plays.  With runners on base, the fundamentally correct way of catching a routine fly ball is to get behind the ball a few steps and move forward (towards the infield) to catch the ball.  This allows their momentum to already be moving towards their throwing target before they catch the ball.  When outfielders “camp” under the ball, they are catching the fly ball standing still or even worse, drifting backwards towards the fence.  In this scenario, the outfielder needs to waste a lot of time stopping and then changing their momentum in order to throw back to the infield.  A player who hustles behind the ball, squares their body up to the infield, and moves forward to catch the ball can catch and complete a strong throw much quicker. Right fielders with strong arms may tend to neglect these fundamentals thinking their arm strength will carry them through instead.  This may work at the lower levels but at some point, other teams’ base runners will begin to exploit this weakness.

Making throws tough to handle.  Since many right fielders like to show off their arm, many do not focus a lot of attention on the finesse side of their throws.  This is similar to a quarterback with a canon for an arm that can easily throw 50 yard passes but not a short screen pass that requires more finesse. Right fielders sometimes forget that there is a teammate on the other end of their throw who would appreciate being given an easy throw to catch so they can apply a tag.  The easiest throws to receive as an infielder  are those that arrive at the bag in the air or the ones that arrive on a big, easy to handle hop.  To show off their arms, many right fielders will launch a throw that ends up “short-hopping” the infielder making it very difficult to catch and make a tag.  Should there be a need to one-hop a throw to 2nd base, 3rd base, or home plate, a right fielder (or any outfielder) should throw the ball so that the ball bounces at least 15 feet away from the bag.  This will almost always ensure a clean, easy-to-handle hop for the infielder or catcher.  It takes some finesse and lots of deliberate practice but your teammates will thank you.

Tomorrow:  Pitching

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