Infield Throwing Position
Infield throwing position is probably the next logical phase to talk about when it comes to the basics of fielding a ground ball. There are many different techniques used and taught throughout baseball (right or wrong). Instead of really pushing one on to you I will talk about each of them and give you the pros and cons and what type is best used for certain types of ground balls.
The only difference between all of these styles of throwing position is the footwork. I’ll talk about the 5 different types of footwork that are most commonly used.
Different Types of Footwork
The step in front footwork model is probably the best one to teach to beginners. The step in front is widely taught and is probably the most commonly used for the routine ground ball. I would always recommend the step in front method for the routine ground ball. When the fielder is transitioning from the fielding position to the throwing position the right foot steps in front of the left foot. A good teaching point is to tell the kids to take the insole of their right foot directly towards first base. Pros: Probably the biggest advantage of this is the fielder is gaining ground towards first base and cutting down the total distance and making the throw shorter as opposed to moving in a different direction, away from first base, causing the shoulders to fly off and produce an errant throw. Cons: The disadvantage is that it takes a little more time than the other types of footwork, making “bang bang” plays not an ideal situation for this type of throw.
(THE ABOVE INFORMATION IS WRONG. Read why it’s wrong and what the better method is HERE)
The step behind is what most young kids do already and I see a lot of coaches trying to break this habit. I am not a big proponent of the step behind either, but it is necessary to know for a couple unique plays. The step behind is where the right foot will step behind the left foot before the actual throw.
When to use it:
The key aspect about the step behind is that the fielder will only use this play on extension plays to the left where he would have to get rid of the ball quickly. With this specific play it would take too much time to stop their momentum and step in front, or do a replace step.
The step behind is also used by third basemen sometimes with a double play ball to the left, but if you can teach them the replace step (talked about below) correctly, it’s best to avoid the step behind.
The step behind is quicker on an extension play when the runner has above average speed and the infielder has less time to get rid of the ball.
It’s a tough throw because the momentum of the infielder will not be heading directly towards first base. The step behind is used to shift the hips towards first base as much as possible but the shoulders and overall body momentum will probably be heading in a direction that’s not directly towards first base and is not ideal. Although, sometimes the step behind is necessary. So, it does need to be practiced.
The replace step is another set of footwork that’s best used on certain types of ground balls. Simply, the replace step is a shuffle towards first base. The reason I call it a replace step is because the back foot is basically replacing itself where the glove hand foot was in the fielding position.
I see a lot of kids naturally do this on the routine ground ball as well, instead of the step in front method talked about above. The reason that I don’t like it as much for the routine ball right at the infielder is because you really don’t gain as much ground toward first base as you do with the step in front method and it takes just as much time. Having said that, the play that I like to teach the replace step with is the routine backhand (read more about backhands here).
The reason I like the replace step with the back hand is because it feels more natural to the infielder when coming out of the backhand fielding position than trying to step in front. When the fielder tries to step in front or step behind out of the backhand, he will often get his feet tangled or get off balance.
Set and Throw:
The set and throw or “bang bang” footwork is simple to understand, but very hard to do well. Excluding slow rollers, the only time a fielder will use the set and throw method is when it is a plus runner and it’s an extension play either right or left.
The set and throw is the absolute quickest way to get rid of the ball, but is a very difficult throw because there will be no added momentum from the lower half to help carry the ball all the way to first base. It’s basically all arm strength and is not ideal but necessary to teach even to the younger kids so they can begin to gain the muscle memory and as their arms get stronger this play will become easier and easier.
Let’s start with the backhand: (remember it’s a plus runner so the ball has to be in and out of the fielders hands as quickly as possible) The fielder will field the backhand and without any steps, shuffles, or hops, he will come up and fire the ball to first base. Now, the key with the backhand on a bang bang play is to remember that the right foot needs to be in front and behind the glove. The fielder needs to be balanced and have the right foot firmly set in the ground to make this throw. Make sure all the focus is on the right foot and to drive off of the right foot with this backhand play.
Now, for the extension bang bang play to the left. Again, the right foot is the key on this play, although this does require another step. As soon as the ball is fielded to the left, the right foot needs to be planted (and often requires a jump) as quickly as possible to get any type of velocity on the ball.
When you are practicing this play, it’s very important to stress the right foot and to get rid of the ball as quickly as possible. Even though, at first, there will be many errant throws and awkward body motions, it’s important to start practicing this young because as the kids gain muscle memory with this play their athletic ability will take over and you will see much better results.
The skip is for one play only and mostly used by the third baseman. This method of footwork is only used for hot shots directly at the fielder. The reason we use the skip for hot shots is because often when a fielder receives a hot shot, he will (by no fault of his own) be on his heels because it’s such a reaction play. The whole point of the skip play is to get the feet moving again and produce rhythm, so the feet can catch up to the arm.
I’ve seen it over and over when a fielder makes a great reaction play on a hot shot, then makes an errant throw because he rushes the throw and the feet cannot catch up. Remember, it’s a bullet of a ground ball and the fielder will have time. So, what we teach is to receive the ground ball, take a small skip with the right foot, much like an outfielder, and throw the ball to first. This allows the feet to catch up to the arm and will produce much more consistent results.
For the hot shot, and only for the hot shot, this will produce better rhythm and therefore more consistent throws.
Sometimes fielders feel with the skip that they have to throw the ball as hard as possible and this will create an uneven shoulder plane (negative tilt, talked about below), making the ball fly off target and creating overthrows. Also, sometimes fielders will adopt this for a routine ground ball when they don’t have as much time to get the ball to first. This needs to be avoided, and can be, by making sure that this method is only done on hot shots. I realize that this may be hard to understand from just reading about it and I will make sure that I talk about each phase in upcoming videos.
Upper Body Positioning:
The last thing I want to talk about is the position the upper body should be in during a throw to first base. The first thing that you need to convey to the infielders when talking about this is as the hands break and the arms start the throwing motion both thumbs should be down (refer to the picture above). This is just basic throwing technique, but what this does is it creates a good shoulder plane and promotes getting the throwing hand on top of the ball later in the throwing motion.
Sometimes, younger kids have the problem of getting underneath the ball and flying off with the front shoulder, creating errant throws. It often looks like the fielder is shot putting the ball. So that’s something to look for especially in younger groups. Older kids usually do not have this problem, but it’s very important to look for at a young age because this is a very tough habit to break.
Tilt is another thing to look for that is important in the upper body motion of the infield throw. Tilt consists of two areas: The tilt of the chest related to the feet and the tilt of the shoulders related to the ground. The tilt that we are talking about happens directly at the moment the ball is being released from the hand.
The reason that tilt of the chest related to the feet is important is because having the correct tilt (nose in front of feet) promotes the front shoulder to stay on the target longer and avoids that front shoulder from flying off and making the throwing elbow dip too far below the back shoulder. When this happens (I like to call it negative tilt) the hand will slip under the ball and you will see much less consistency in the accuracy of throws.
The tilt of the shoulders related to ground is very important and often misunderstood. At the moment of release for an infielder, the throwing shoulder should be below the glove hand shoulder. This is the opposite of what pitchers and outfielders are taught because it’s not the most powerful throwing position. The reason infielders are taught this is because it’s quicker, doesn’t require the infielder to stand straight up taking too much time, and produces the most accurate throws for the time allotted to an infielder (the more young infielders do this at a young age the more velocity they will get on their throws). The key thing to remember is to try to keep the throwing elbow above the plane of the shoulders or as close to it as possible.
There’s a good explanation of tilt and sidearm vs tilt in the article on slow rollers.
The lower the elbow dips under that shoulder plane the less velocity the fielder can put on the throw. Now, having said that, if you look through Google images you will see many professional infielders with their elbow below the shoulder plane. Keep in mind though, when this is happening they are either making a short throw or they have enough time to not put as much velocity on the ball. The higher the elbow gets above the shoulder plane the more velocity it will have (to an extent), but the longer it will take to complete the throw. So it’s a trade off that is learned through reps and live situations.
I would suggest reading flips and feeds next. It talks a lot about tilt and how we use it to turn double plays.
Please feel free to comment and let me know how things are working for you and your players. I especially urge people that disagree with me to comment. I would love to talk about it and trade ideas on technique.
(Photos by Keith Allison)