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Monday, April 4, 2011

Freeze on a line drive

Most players grow up hearing the phrase "freeze on a line drive" when they are on base with less than two outs.  In general, that is good advice.  Do not get doubled off on a line drive.  However, as players move up in levels to high school and beyond, there are a few more things required of players than just freezing.  Here are some.

Before the pitch is thrown, know where all
the fielders are playing.
Know where everyone is.  Freezing on a line drive makes perfect sense if the ball is hit in the direction of a fielder.  If it's not, there really isn't a need to freeze.  To know the difference, a runner must know where every fielder is before the pitch is thrown and hit.  The next time a runner leads off a base on TV you will probably see him look around at the outfielders and infielders to see where they are before the pitch.  That's not just being cautious of being picked-off.  They need to know where everyone else is so that when a ball is hit they have a better idea if it will be caught.  Here is an example.  A runner on first base knows before the play that the right fielder is shaded towards right center and the second baseman is playing in double-play depth.  A line drive is hit over his head and fairly deep.  Based on where the fielders were, there is no way anybody will catch that line drive.  The runner certainly should not freeze.  Instead, he's off at contact because of the information he gathered prior to the pitch.  There are many situations like this where an observant runner gets a much better jump on a line drive and goes first to third or maybe score from second base. A runner who doesn't know where everyone is freezes and many times can only move up one base on the play.

Freeze when away, step back when close.  For runners, here is a general rule to go by in a line-drive situation.  
If the ball is hit to a fielder far from you, then freeze.  If the line drive is hit to a fielder close to you, not only should a base runner freeze but he should take a step back to the bag.
Example:  A runner is on third base.  A line drive is hit to the first baseman, second baseman, or shortstop.  The runner just freezes because if the ball is caught, he still will probably be able to get back to the bag in time if there is a throw.  If the ball is hit in the area of the third baseman, the runner should freeze and step back towards third.  In this case, if the ball is caught and the runner just freezes, the third baseman may beat him back to the bag.  The same thing can be said for a runner on second or first and the line drives are hit to the shortstop and second baseman or first baseman respectively.

If the outfielder's back is
showing, go half way.
Tag up or half way.  This usually applies more to runners at second base so I'll just use them for this example.  There are several factors at play when determining whether a runner, after seeing a line drive hit into the outfield, should return to the base to tag up or go half way in case the ball is not caught.  The score, the outs, the inning, the arm strength of the outfielder, and speed of the runner all have something to do with the decision but in general, here is a simple thing that every runner should focus on.  Watch how the outfielder goes after the ball.  
If the outfielder is sprinting after the ball or if his back is to the infield when he runs (the ball is hit over his head) it is more likely he will not catch it.  In this case the runner should go half way.  If the ball is dropped or missed, the runner can easily score.  If the ball is caught, the runner can return to the base and might even be able to tag up and go to third if he is fast enough especially if the outfielder continued away from the infield after the catch.  If the outfielder appears to have a good shot at the line drive - by looking at where he is and how the ball is traveling - then the runner should go back to the bag and wait to tag up.  

All this is why when runners get on base I usually don't say "freeze on a line drive."  Instead, I say "get a good read on a line drive"  or "watch the line drive."  They need to see the play develop before deciding what is best to do.

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