The Art of The Infield in Baseball

The Art of The Infield in Baseball has evolved tremendously.

Gone are the days when if you couldn’t play defense but could really hit, they’d just stick you in left field and hope for the best.

And sure, that may be the case for the 1% of the 1% of hitters but the reality is, if you want to stay in the lineup, especially at the higher levels, you have to have a good glove!

The ability to make routine plays, day in and day out is a non-negotiable.

Understand: To stay in the line-up, especially when you’re struggling at the plate, you have to be a great defender.

This is Applied Vision Baseball On The Art of Fielding.

An Antidote To Defensive Errors

Want The Ball

Ozzie Smith once spoke about what his transition was like on defense at the big league level.

Early in his career, he'd be a late-inning replacement at short-stop and after sitting on the bench the whole game, the greatest challenge was coming off the bench wanting the ball hit to you.

His mental process was simple.

The more tentative you feel, the more aggressive you need to be.

Understand: Getting into the state of wanting the ball hit to you is an intention you set within yourself.

Find that part of you that expects to make plays.

Wanting the ball hit to you with 100% confidence is a muscle. The more you train it, the stronger it becomes.

The more timid you feel, the more aggressive you want to be toward the ball.

Know The Hops

Infielders, we have to know the hops in order to put ourselves in a good position to field the ball.

There are four types of hops:

  • long hop
  • short hop
  • in between long hop
  • in between short hop

Armed with the knowledge of various hop types, you can either field it:

  • conventionally
  • with a drop step 
  • with a forward pick

With the long hop, you can field it normally. Head down, back flat, butt up, fielding it out front.

The short hop is a pick. Head down, back flat, butt up, fielding it out front.

The in-between-long-hop requires you to drop step. We can address this by creating space and distance between the bounce and your glove so you have time to adjust.

The in-between-short-hop requires you to "go get it". Turn the in-between-short-hop into a basic short hop so you can make the pick cleanly.

The beautiful thing about this skill is that all it requires to train is a tennis ball and a wall.

So here’s a question. How do you know when to drop-step or go get it?

Oftentimes it depends on the speed of the runner.

Know your hops.

Know The Speed of The Runner

The faster the runner is at the plate, the more to the four-hole, 6-hole, and the left-field line the defender should position.

Why? Because you want to take away the backhand and prepare for the play that requires the longest throw.

Plays that take you away from first base, take longer to make.

You have less time.

You need a quicker exchange.

You are required to be more athletic.

It's a challenging play.

Oftentimes when we make an error, it's not because of our fielding or throwing mechanics so much as it is not being in a good fielding position to make the play.

So we rush, and then the mechanics break down.

If you watch a big league game live, and focus on the defender, you’ll periodically see an infielder pull something out of their back pocket. It’s a list of scouting reports for each hitter in the lineup.

You best believe speed is something they’re adjusting for. Set yourself up for success by knowing the speed of the runner

Put yourself in a good position to make the field.

Never Take Pitches Off

Being ready for the ball to be hit at you starts with wanting the ball.

Wanting the ball will vary from game to game as you develop consistency with your footwork, arm slot, and in-game tempo.

Most importantly, as your confidence increases as a defender, the game will slow down, and you'll want the ball more.

Each pitch is a new situation that requires you to be on time with your prep step, 100% in the moment as the ball crosses the plate while knowing where to go if and when the ball is hit to you.

Each pitch, this is your goal.

Never take pitches off.

Execute Arm Accuracy

The majority of our errors on defense will be throwing errors, and usually, those are a result of things related to:

  • poor footwork
  • poor timing of glove-to-hand transition with the ball
  • inconsistent arm-stroke

With the right footwork, we learn to be focused, present, and on time.

When our transition of the ball from glove to hand is the same each time, occurring at the waist (center of gravity) our movements become efficient and repeatable.

When our arm-stroke is consistent, we can throw from various angles, on the run, off-balance, or while in posture, and we'll still be able to get rid of the ball with trust, instincts, and athleticism.

Accurate, effortless, and repeatable.

how can big leaguers throw 162 games in 180 days?

With an efficiency of movement & repeatable actions.

Learn How To Relax on Defense

You can't play defense at an elite level with squeezed butt cheeks..

When you're tense and playing with pressure, the ball plays you instead of you playing the ball.

Take a deep breath.

Take a moment to realize the tension you're carrying.

Ask yourself, what's the point of playing with tension if it's only slowing me down?

Realize the burden that second-guessing yourself has on your defense.

You feel the pressure because you fear making another mistake and hey, it happens.

Hopefully, you have a coach who helps you respond to failure positively, but if you don't then you're on your own and that's ok also.

This is your challenge.

Learn to let go.

Learn to be a better competitor.

Beat your opponent with your mental and emotional makeup.

The glove will follow.

When On Defense Be On Defense

When you're on defense, are you thinking about your past at bat?

It's hard to make the routine play let alone the web gem when your mind is stuck on yesterday.

  • present focused and on time.
  • having an awareness of the situation.
  • wanting the ball and anticipating it off the bat.

all require the mind to be in the here and now.

When you're on defense, BE on defense.

Go Again

A ground ball takes a bad hop and pops you in the face. 

Take a deep breath, reaccess, and expect to make the next play.

Go again.

You boot a routine ground ball so hard you could have been playing soccer. 

Take a deep breath, reaccess, and expect to make the next play.

Go again.

You make a throwing error or misread a hop or fly ball. 

Take a deep breath, reaccess, and expect to make the next play.

Go again.

Play the game, and make mistakes.

Do it again until you get it right.

It's the only thing that matters.

Presence On The Field

The moment you can step on the field, take your position and look at the opposing team in the dugout and say:

  • I’m better than every single one of you.
  • I don’t care who you are, what you’re ranked, or how successful you’ve been, I can beat you.
  • Win or lose, I will out-compete you.
  • If my physical game isn’t here today, I’ll beat you with my mental and emotional makeup.

This is when you’ll know you are a great competitor.

This is when you know you have a mental game.

From here, you can lead by example.

From here, your presence will be felt on the field.

The Art of The Infield In Baseball Closing

In closing, sometimes being a solid defender is about having an offensive mindset at your position. In other words, you have to attack the ball in order to remove bad hops and cut the distance. For many of us, the hardest play is the play to the right. Anything that moves you away from first base is going to require you to be athletic.

We can get better by finishing the play in practice and during B.P. by reading the ball off the bat like you’re in a game.

Own the concepts.

Anticipate every ball of the bat.

Remember that each pitch is a new situation, and what defines you as a great defender is your ability to be present, focused, and on time while the pitcher works on the mound.

To stand out on the field develop situational awareness, and expect to make plays. 

There aren't a lot of Big Leaguers who got to the highest level just on their bat alone. Sure there are a few. Those that were born to really swing it with ++ Power and off-the-charts hand-eye coordination.

But most players who get to the next level do it with a well-rounded skillset including elite-level defensive skills.

So here's my question to you. Do you trust your glove and arm accuracy?

If so, how much? Can you execute repeatable mechanics on defense?

If so, how consistently? Can you adapt to the situation of the game without being overwhelmed?

If so, even when the pressure is on?

How do you perform when the unexpected or adversity appears? Eg: a bad hop, pee-rod hit to your backhand with the go-ahead run on 3rd with two outs.

I can't stress enough the importance of good instincts on defense, and it's never too early to learn it.

Be a Student of The Game

Study great defensive coaches like Ron Washington, Perry Hill, Nate Trosky, Trent Mongero, or Kai Correa.

The wealth of knowledge online is astounding.

There truly is no excuse to not get just a little bit better each day.

I believe you have what it takes to develop a Golden Glove as long as you continue to be and stay a student of the game.

What is a good fielding percentage?

At the highest level, a 980% fielding percentage is typically considered an elite performance.

What is Fielding in Baseball?

Fielding in baseball is the defensive role of responding to the ball off the batter who is opponent. After contact is made, the defender must field, catch, and throw the ball according to the full of the game.

How can I be a better infielder?

Establish repeatable arm slots, know your hops, and put yourself in a good position to throw the ball at your target.

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