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Baseball is a game that depends on situations. What makes the game interesting and exciting is that defenders often must make decisions about how to field and where to throw the ball to get an out or prevent a run.
While some situations are routine, others are not.
Baseball positioning is about putting your players in the right spot on the field, based on the situation, so they can make the best play. This guide will take a closer look at positioning and defensive responsibilities for each player.
Baseball Positioning by Numbers
Each position on the baseball diamond has a number assigned to it. These numbers are used by the scorekeeper to show how each play is completed throughout the game. The numbers go as follows:
- Pitcher = 1
- Catcher = 2
- First baseman = 3
- Second baseman = 4
- Shortstop = 5
- Third baseman = 6
- Left fielder = 7
- Center fielder = 8
- Right fielder = 9
You’ll often see baseball diagrams with these numbers imposed over each position.
When we talk about where to stand for defensive positioning, however, we use a different set of numbers. For the infield, these numbers go from 1-4 and refer to a set of depths each infielder should stand at, relative to home plate, based on the situation. The numbers usually refer to the following set-ups:
- Standard depth
- Double play depth
- Half-way depth
- Infield in depth
As you can see from the diagram, the positioning for second base and shortstop are the inverse of each other.
Third base stays at the same angle for each situation but moves either forward or backward. You’ll also notice that first base doesn’t have position assignments for double play depth or half-way depth, only standard and infield in.
The first baseman should always be either setting up behind the bag or playing in.
Each defensive set-up listed above is used for different situations in baseball. Let’s walk through each.
The “normal” depth for each player will vary based on their comfort level. As they get older and have a better sense of their fielding abilities, infielders might prefer to play a little back to have more time to react, or more forward so they have a shorter throw to first.
As long as their standard positioning doesn’t deviate too much from the diagram, they can play where they’re comfortable.
Use standard depth when the bases are empty or when there are two outs and no bunt is expected (the play being at first base).
Double play depth
For double play depth, second base and shortstop each move closer to the bag and a little closer to home. Third base moves forward. Infielders should set up in double play depth when there’s a chance for a double play, like in the following situations:
- Runner at first base with less than two outs.
- Runners at first and third bases with less than two outs.
- Runners at first and second bases with less than two outs.
- Possibly when the bases are loaded, but it’s the coach’s final call.
For the first three situations above, infielders should reset to standard depth if there are two outs.
The goal of moving all the infielders in is to get an out at home plate. Use this set-up if there is a runner at third with less than two outs, or the bases are loaded with less than two outs.
Any time you have a runner at third and cannot let them score, your infield should be in. Your infielders should play at the edge of the infield grass, staying in the dirt.
Setting up at a half-way position allows fielders to keep their options open. Second, short, and third will stand in the baseline, a few steps off the infield grass. Fielders can use this positioning instead of infield in if there’s a slow runner at third.
It’s also good if there are runners at first and third and you might try for the double play.
Late in the game when it's important to avoid having runners in scoring position, double play depth is a strategy to avoid defending hard hit balls down the line.
So corner infielders will position closer towards the foul lines and the outfielders will position further back to avoid balls hit over their head.
Also, corner outfielders will shift towards the foul lines as well.
The number one priority is defending against extra base hits.
Each player on the team has distinct defensive responsibilities.
Let’s go through each one briefly to see what infielders, outfielders, the pitcher, and the catcher must do to field their positions.
First and Second Basemen
Most of the first baseman’s responsibilities revolve around covering first. But this position has other situational tasks as well. When there’s a runner on first, the first baseman should hold the runner as much as possible.
In most scenarios, when there’s a runner on or heading for third, the first baseman has a better chance at starting a double play by throwing to second.
As a middle infielder, the second baseman’s responsibilities are much more situational than those of the first baseman.
The second baseman will have to cover first base at times, and second base at others. This position also acts as a cut-off for balls hit to right field and right center.
Shortstop and Third Baseman
A position that requires even more situational decision-making than second base is shortstop. Shortstop also has to cover a lot of ground.
When the shortstop and second baseman have to decide who will cover the bag, a good trick to remember is moving toward the ball.
If it’s hit to the right side of the field, the shortstop moves toward the ball to cover the bag – and vice versa for the second baseman and the left side of the field.
The third baseman should have a good arm, so he can get the ball across the field to first base. Most consider third base a reactionary position that doesn’t require much thinking, since third base receives the hardest-hit balls.
But in almost every situation, the third baseman has a decision to make – usually whether making the long throw to first in the best play or not.
Pitcher & Catcher
It’s easy to forget that the pitcher and catcher are also part of the infield defense, but their positional responsibilities are just as important as the rest of the infielders.
In most situations, the pitcher can go for the force out, but it depends on how hard the ball is hit.
The catcher is one of the most important positions on the infield, as the last line of defense at home plate, and as a “traffic director” for some plays. The catcher is also responsible for trying to throw out baserunners attempting to steal.
The outfielders have much more to do besides catch long fly-balls. Outfielders must be adept at getting rid of the ball quickly, so they must know where to throw the ball in every situation.
Outfielders are also responsible for backing up bases in some plays.
Final Thoughts on Baseball Positioning
For young baseball players, knowing where to stand in each situation can be tough. Many older players have a deep understanding of positioning and responsibilities simply because they’ve played the game longer.
But what younger players lack in experience, they can make up for in strategy. These baseball positioning tips will help young players learn more about the game and how to be successful at their chosen defensive position.
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