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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Shortstop mistakes / footwork (Part 2)

In a previous post that listed four common mistakes by shortstops, I talked about the footwork shortstops need to have when approaching a ground ball.  I said that in most cases, the fielder's last two steps before catching the ball are right foot then left foot.  As I explained, this puts the ball back in the center of the body and starts the momentum towards first base.  The next question becomes, what is the proper footwork after he catches the ball?  The answer is simple ... cross over with your right foot and step with your left to throw.  It's a simple answer but it's one that many shortstops fail to do correctly or consistently.  If done correctly, a shortstop only needs four steps to catch a ground ball and throw it.  Two occur before catching the ball and two occur after.  Any steps added to those four simply add time to the process.  Here are a few important things about the last two steps to the process:

Cross in front.  Crossing in front as opposed to behind your left foot continues your momentum directly towards 1st base.  Crossing behind your left foot shifts your momentum towards right field a bit too much.  As a result, your weight is traveling towards right field but you want to throw to 1st base.  The two are not consistent and usually causes the ball to drift away from the 1st baseman.  Crossing in front keeps you on the line to 1st which helps with your throws.  It also helps with balance since our bodies are accustom to putting one foot in front of the other when walking or running.  Stepping behind alters the natural motion of our body.

Inside of the foot.  In Figures 1 & 2, Jeter and Vizquel both are stepping in front with the inside part of their right foot pointing towards first.  The reason is the same as why a pitcher in the wind-up turns his foot sideways on the pitching rubber before lifting his knee up to throw.  It enables him to turn properly before opening up to throw.

Turn the shoulder.  Shortstops turn their front shoulder in and point it to their target as they are crossing in front.  If they didn't, they would fly open too soon (similar to a pitcher) and lose velocity and accuracy.

Bigger the better. The four-step footwork process should involve four large steps.  Smaller steps limit balance, momentum, and power.  The third step (right foot cross in front) needs to be a big step, almost a jump.  Many call this a "crow hop" which develops lots of momentum towards 1st base.  A big jump/crow-hop with the third step is what allows shortstops with less arm strength to continue to play shortstop (ex. Ozzie Smith, David Eckstein, etc.).  Not only does a bigger step cut the distance of your throw, it gets the most out of your body's momentum so you don't need your arm as much. 

Exceptions.  As with most everything else in baseball, there are always exceptions to this "cross in front" rule.  The following plays usually require a shortstop to step behind the left foot after catching the ball:
  • A play up the middle where crossing over continues his momentum towards centerfield.  Crossing behind with the next step after catching the ball redirects momentum towards 1st base. 
  • A play where the runner on 2nd base incorrectly runs to 3rd base on a routine ball to shortstop.  The shortstop steps behind on that play so as to turn towards 3rd base to throw the runner out.
  • A medium speed ground ball in the hole that is hit too hard to get to the right of but not hard enough to wait for it deep in the hole.  The shortstop cuts in, backhands it, steps behind, and throws to 1st base.
  • A play at home plate when the shortstop starts in on the grass.  Stepping behind shifts his momentum towards home plate.
Basically, the shortstop should always practice the four basic steps to fielding and throwing - right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot.  Another way of saying it is right foot, left foot, cross-over, and throw.  He can always add steps if he has time or step behind if needed but it is very difficult to cut out steps if he has never practiced and mastered the more efficient, four-step process.
It's a bit technical but the great ones do it.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks coach! Good stuff. I'll work on that.