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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Shortstop: The 1-6-3 double play

An easy ground ball back to the pitcher with a runner on first base is called "a pitcher's best friend."  It should be an easy double play for the defense.  There are a number of little things the pitcher, the shortstop, and the first baseman must do in order to execute this play efficiently and successfully though.  This post concentrates on one thing that causes the most trouble for the shortstop.  

(Photo: Lindsay Niegelberg / Connecticut Post)
This all starts with the shortstop not assuming that the pitcher will make a good throw back to second base.  Pitchers are used to throwing to a person, not a base.  Therefore, many times instead of leading the shortstop and throwing the ball over the bag, many pitchers mistakenly throw it to the third base side of second base because that's where the shortstop is coming from.  They are throwing it to the person instead of the bag.  If the shortstop does not approach the bag correctly, the photo above shows what happens.  The shortstop has to reach back to catch the ball which alters his balance and momentum to first base.  Of course, this makes it less likely that the double play will be successful.  Although it was not a great throw by the pitcher, the shortstop made the mistake of getting to the bag too quickly.  To prevent this, here is what the shortstop should do.

I explained this in a previous post called Shortstop Mistakes as it related to a normal double play.  It applies to throws by the pitcher on the 1-6-3 double-play as well.  First, the shortstop must begin at double-play depth (double-play depth is explained in this post) in order to get to the bag in time to turn a double-play.  When the ball is hit back to the pitcher, the shortstop should take a couple big, quick steps towards the bag to quickly cut the distance between him and the bag.  Next is the tricky part.  When the shortstop gets to within 5-6 feet of the bag, he has to slow down using smaller steps in order to read the throw from the pitcher.  I refer to this as "sneaking up on the bag."  If the throw is on target and over the bag, the shortstop continues moving quickly again, catches the ball over the bag, and makes the throw to first base to complete the double-play.  If it's a poorly thrown ball on the third base side, the shortstop can stop, catch the ball, and then go to the bag.  

The point is that the shortstop has to try and stay behind the ball so that he is always moving towards second base when he catches the throw.  This allows the shortstop's momentum to continue through the bag even though the pitcher's throw may not be a great one.  

If the footwork and timing is correct, a shortstop - unless the throw is just horribly off target - should never have to reach back to catch a throw from the pitcher.

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