Think the Game

Failure to Back Up Properly

The Situation: There’s a runner at 1st with 2 outs in the top of the 5th inning. The 8-hitter is up to bat with a 1-2 count. The defense is winning the game 3-1 and will have the middle of their order up in the bottom of the 5th.

The Play: The pitcher delivers and misses middle with a cement mixer slider meant to be a chase pitch out of the zone. The batter smokes the mistake on a line to left field for a base hit that one hops to the outfielder. The pitcher curses himself and starts to move slowly towards the 3rd base line, still about half way between the foul line and the mound. Even with two outs, the runner at first knows he will have no shot to make it to 3rd and starts to ease into second base. Just as the outfielder goes to field the easy hop, he takes his eye off the ball to look up and check the runner. The ball glances off his glove and caroms a few yards away. The miscue sets off a series of frantic events:

  1. The runner, having never come to a complete stop, takes off for third.
  2. The outfielder sprints after the ball, gathers it with his bare hand and heaves it towards 3rd.
  3. The batter rounds first and heads to second, where he will easily be safe with no possible play.
  4. The pitcher, not having broke to back-up third initially, tries to get to his proper position at 3rd. Realizing the throw is off the mark, he positions himself just on the warning track on the third base side to field the errant throw. As the misfire comes bounding towards the pitcher, it hits the lip where the foul territory grass meets the warning track and takes a funny hop. The ball somehow gets through the pitchers legs. The pitcher turns quickly to recover the ball, which bounces off the brick wall back towards him. The runner from third, seeing the pitcher turn his back takes off for home as the pitcher struggles to corral the bouncing ball. Realizing the pitcher can’t pick the ball up cleanly, the batter runner on 2nd heads to 3rd.

The Outcome: Instead of having a two-run lead with runners on 1st and 2nd, 2 outs and the 9-hitter at bat, it is now a 1 run lead with the tying run at 3rd base. Even though the 9-hitter makes an out, the damage is done and home team is back in the game with more energy and momentum.

What Went Wrong: This is one of those situations where we could point to a number of mistakes, but today we’ll focus on the pitcher. Yes, he made a poor 1-2 pitch. That happens occasionally, and I’m sure he wants it back. But that is only where the trouble begins. We want to address 2 errors in particular:

  1. The pitcher decides to watch and read the play to save himself the extra cardio. Instead, he should be anticipating the possible throw and be ready for it in the off chance that exactly what happened, happens. The pitcher let his emotions dictate his actions. He knows he should be getting over to back up a potential throw to third base, but he is mad at himself and fails to anticipate the next play. By the time he sees what happens, it’s too late for him to be where he needs to be. If he did as he is supposed to do, he would be able to get into optimal backup position, which brings us to mistake number 2.
  2. Pitchers often fail to get into the optimal backup position when backing up throws, most of the time because of laziness. Don’t let that be you! If you don’t know what the optimal backup position is or why, then, listen up! The optimal backup position is as far back in foul territory as possible in line with the errant throw. Many times, this means you are either pressed up against the steps of the dugout or the fence. This position is optimal because it ensures the ball stays in front of the last line of defense (the pitcher!). When the ball is in front of the fielder, it makes it a more difficult read for the base runner, who often will err on the side of caution when unsure, and it makes it easier to gather the ball and throw to the next base in a fluid motion. Let’s say the pitcher is in the proper position and still got the bad hop. If the ball goes between his legs and hits the bricks right behind him, it will either be at his feet or in front of him, where he can gather and throw home for the possible play in one swift movement. Instead, he must turn his back on the play, run 8-10 feet, gather the ball, turn around, and make an accurate throw.

You can see which backup option is the best in terms of winning, so we will let you decide whether it is worth the effort. The lessons to learn here are many, but most of all, never let emotion dictate your behavior and it’s important to do things the right way, every single time!