Receiving Double Plays
Receiving double plays is something that is taught many different ways. The methods that we teach are simple movements that we can break down and are easy for young infielders to understand. We really try to ingrain the idea that we want the turn to be smooth as opposed to quick. A good saying to use is, “Smooth is quick, quick is slow.” This saying is trying to relay the idea that, when infielders try to rush and be too quick with their hands and feet, it often takes more time than the infielder that does simple movements in the most effective (smooth) way possible. In this post I’ll refer to some methods that are widely taught to younger infielders that I disagree with and why I disagree with them.
Let’s start with receiving the double play from the short stop (ss) position.
There are three main parts to receiving a double play effectively. The first part is the approach to second base. Part two, is actually receiving the baseball and the transition into the third part which is the throw. Each one of these parts has three sub-parts: footwork, body position, and hand positioning.
A lot of coaches teach the “halo” method, where they draw a circle around second base and tell their middle infielder to get to the halo and wait for the flip or feed to be delivered before they actually touch the bag with either of their feet. The reason I disagree with this is because it takes an extra step as opposed to the method we teach. The halo method requires a step to the bag, a replace step or shuffle, and a throw. The method we teach cuts out the first step, therefore we are getting rid of the ball one step earlier than the halo method. The thing you have to think about is, how often is a double play decided by one step?
Once the SS is in the correct position with his chest and eyes over his toes, and his right foot on the bag or in the process of stepping to the bag, we want to focus on the left foot. We want the left foot to hit the ground the SAME TIME the ball is hitting the glove We tell our SS’s right foot on the bag left foot to the ball. We want the left foot to gain ground towards the ball that’s being fed or flipped. This does a couple of things that we think are important to turning a double play effectively. First, it cuts down the distance of the throw to first base. We want to avoid the short stop staying behind the bag and just doing a quick shift of the feet to make a throw. Second, it clears the SS from the base path and gives him a clear throwing lane to first base. Lastly, it keeps the feet in rhythm with the momentum that he’s created towards the ball. This way we don’t have to have a quick stop and go movement that disrupts rhythm. If we take the left foot to the ball it also will position the SS’s body and hands more efficiently which is covered below.
The next thing we want to focus on, once our left foot is approaching the flip or feed, is our hand and body position. We always want the middle infielder to receive the ball within the confines of his body. When I say this, I’m saying, if possible, we don’t want the infielder to reach outside of the confines of his shoulders when receiving the feed because it interrupts rhythm, it’s slower, and since we are receiving the ball with two hands, the fielder will tend to take both hands outside his body towards the ball and this will change his momentum in a negative direction. You’ll see this happen with a lot of young SS’s that are trying to be too quick. Their left foot has landed too early and their shoulders have turned too early towards first base. We want the left shoulder to shift towards first base AFTER he has received the ball. If the shoulder shifts too early the SS gives up the ability to adjust to an errant throw. This is where the “left foot to the ball” and the left foot timing comes in big. If we are taking the left foot directly towards the feed this will make it possible to receive the feed within the confines of the body. Also, if the timing of the left foot is correct, the shoulders won’t shift until after the ball hits the glove.
With regard to hand position, we want the hands to be fairly close to the body. A good measuring point is no further out than the bill of the cap. A lot of coaches of youth and high school teams teach having the hands out in front of the face with almost straight arms. Their reasoning for this is that it gets the hands prepared to receive the ball. I’ve also heard coaches who teach this, talk about how you lose sight of the ball within a foot of the body. I disagree with this for a couple of reasons. First off, it’s much more efficient to let the ball travel that extra foot and puts the hands in a much closer position to where they need to be for the transition into the throw. Also, when the hands are in front of the face you have less time to adjust to a less than perfect feed as well as much less mobility or “give” with the hands. Plain and simple, it’s just faster to have the hands closer to the body. This doesn’t mean that the glove should be touching the chest or anything that drastic. We just want them inside, even with, or just outside the bill of the cap. There’s definitely leeway with this, depending on the fielder. We just use the bill of the cap as a reference point that’s easy to teach and easy to understand for young infielders. Another thing that we teach that’s a little different from conventional coaching is the hand position when receiving the ball. The conventional method that’s taught is thumbs together when the feed is above the waist and pinkies together when the ball is below the waist. We teach placing the throwing hand below the glove (alligator approach) when the feed is above the waist and throwing hand above the glove (similar to fielding a ground ball) when the ball is below the waist. The reason we teach this is because we’re trying to receive the ball in the palm of the glove to deflect it to the throwing hand. Often times, with the thumbs together method, the ball will deflect straight down and the throwing hand has a much greater distance to cover to transition the ball from glove to throwing hand, than it does with the throwing hand directly below the glove hand. Same goes for the ball fed below the waist. Again, we’re looking for the most efficient and simple way to get to the next step of turning a double play.
At SS the momentum will most likely be headed toward right field. Assuming that our left foot timing is correct our shoulders should just be beginning to head towards first base. We tell our kids to bury their shoulder into first base. Once they do this the feet will require one more step. We use a replace step to get the shoulders in the correct position. So if you’ve been paying attention the footwork so far, the SS should be right foot on the bag, left foot to the ball, and replace step. Now, there’s one more thing when it comes to footwork and it happens simultaneously as the ball leaves the hand. We call it the hop. It’s pretty simple, as the arm is moving forward the right foot comes up and the fielder hops with the left foot just after the ball is released. We do it for the obvious reason of protecting the fielder from the incoming baserunner. It’s a necessary part of the double play that should be taught at a young age.
Emphasize the fact that the hop needs to be done, but don’t spend too much time worrying about the height of the hop or spending large amounts of time on the form, because the fielder will naturally get out of the way of the runner in most cases.
Now, a question you are probably asking is, “What about flips and feeds that aren’t perfect or are even errant? How can you apply these methods to those situations?” There are a couple of things that are done differently, but our approach is exactly the same. Assuming the right foot is on the bag, and the chest and head are in front of the toes, when a bad throw is delivered the left foot hasn’t moved yet. Since, we are taking our left foot to the ball we can still move to receive the ball within the confines of our body, and complete the play regularly. If the ball is more than a foot to our left, we are still taking the left foot to the ball. We’ll have to reach outside the confines of our body to complete the play. The important thing that we want the infielder to do with the feed to the left or above their head, is to not reach with two hands towards the ball. We teach receiving this feed single handed for two reasons. One, a single arm reaching can extend further than two arms reaching, and two, it’s tougher to redirect the shoulders inline with first base when reaching with two hands. For the feed that’s errant to the SS’s right, it’s much tougher and requires an extra step. It’s really a bad position to be in any way you look at it. The SS’s momentum is going in the opposite direction, so he has to adjust his feet on the base. The left foot goes to the base and the right foot has to move on the SS’s side of the base. Since this puts the SS in a really bad throwing position with respect to the alignment of his feet, and the runner, he will often try a shift step then a throw. If he’s not already taken out by the runner by now, he’ll probably be late with the throw anyway. So, we teach our SS’s: any feed from second base that’s delivered on the right side of the base is “glove and go”. This just means we get rid of it before we take that extra shift step. Our shoulders and feet are out of line and we’ll be forced to deliver a side arm throw to avoid the runner and get any velocity on the ball at all, without moving our feet. We do this because it’s our only chance a double play and because usually the SS is one of the better athletes on the team, as well as, usually having one of the better arms on the team. So, this gives us our best chance in a bad situation. A lot of the time the SS will just have to hold it in a game situation, but it’s important to practice this feed to give the SS the proper tool to make a great play in a game.
Another situation worth covering is the unassisted double play at SS. Again, we want to turn this double play as efficient as possible. So, we teach releasing the ball as the left foot touches the SS’s side of second base. There’s not much to point out about it that’s not obvious, but we like to teach leading into this play with a shuffle. It’s just something that takes practice because it’s a little awkward at first. It’s also good to use with the feed from the pitcher.
If the ball is delivered from SS we like to take the throw from behind second base because the distance the ball will travel from SS to 2B is much shorter in distance and time, as opposed to a feed from 3B. With a feed from 3B, we like to take the feed from the SS’s side of 2B because we have more time to get there, we cut out a couple of feet that the ball would travel if we were on the other side of the base, and it’s easier to clear ourselves of the runner and have a better throwing lane from this side of the base.
Something you want to watch out for when receiving the DP from 2B is that the steps get to long. You don’t need to be five feet away from the base in either direction to clear yourself from the runner. Refer to the video and watch how short the steps are when the ball is actually received.
So, once the left foot is on the bag and the second baseman is about to receive the ball, we want him to focus on right foot timing. We want the right foot to hit as the ball hits our glove. We do this for the same reasons above in left foot timing for a SS. Right foot to the ball is very important. It keeps the feed or flip in the middle of the 2B’s body and will make the transition to the throw the most effective.