Mastering the Art of the Double Play
Double plays, often referred to simply as “turning two”, are the unsung heroes of winning baseball. Home runs and strikeouts get all the press, but turning a no-out, bases loaded situation into an inning-ending double play might just be the most valuable play in baseball.
Traditional double plays are more rare at the youth level due to smaller fields and weaker arms. Yet the fundamentals of double plays can be taught from a very young age. It is also important to understand that not all double plays are contained in the infield.
Today, we will review the DNA of the double play, how to teach the double play to young baseball players, and some defensive fundamentals which help youth athletes learn how to turn two.
What is a Double Play in Youth Baseball?
Before getting into the details, we should explain exactly what a double play is for the uninitiated. A double play is any defensive play which ends in two (2) runners being called out. In most cases, this involves the batter being called out and another runner already on the basepaths. There are certainly exceptions.
The most common double play comes from an infield ground ball which is thrown to second base (throwing out the runner who started on first base) then thrown to first base (throwing out the batter). As we will discuss below, there are many other double play variants.
It is important to teach youth baseball players when to try for a double play and when to hold back. Since double plays are difficult to turn, situational awareness is key. For example, a third baseman charging a ground ball with the bases loaded and less than two outs should probably throw home rather than turning and trying to throw towards second.
Mastering the Art of Turning Two
So let’s focus on that most common of double plays -- the infield ground ball. Youth baseball coaches should absolutely practice this team defensive play with their squad by focusing on the following aspects:
The fielder should receive the ball with soft hands. Youth player should worry about fielding the ball first, then worry about making the throw.
With soft hands, transfer the ball from the glove to the throwing hand.
Depending on the distance between the fielder and the base, he or she might choose to toss, flip, sidearm, or make a full throwing motion to deliver the ball. This choice is critical for effective defense.
The other defender (generally the shortstop or second baseman) should position themselves around the base with an athletic stance, ready to receive the ball.
The receiver should catch the ball with soft hands, already moving their feet towards first base for the throw.
The receiver should transition the ball to the throwing hand, avoid the baserunner, and make a solid throw to first.
Baseball Double Play Defense Requires Teamwork
One of the reasons why the double play is so difficult to turn in youth baseball is the level of communication and teamwork required. This is also a reason to have your young athletes practice turning double plays as much as possible.
For starters, coaches and other players should help the defenders before the pitch is thrown. Every player should know exactly where he or she will go with the ball if it is hit their way. There is no time to make a good decision once the ball has been hit.
After the ball is hit, teammates and coaches should be yelling “Two! Two!” or “One! One!” to the fielder to help them out. This is because the fielder cannot possible watch the baserunners at the same time as he or she is viewing the ball. Fielders must trust their teammates and execute the play.
Different Types of Double Play Defense in Youth Baseball
The classic infield double play: the 4-6-3 or 6-4-3 double play involves the shortstop and second baseman turning a ground ball into a double play with a force out at second. This is by far the most common double play in baseball.
Outfield assist on a fly ball: runners often tag up when a fly ball is hit into the outfield, particularly from third base going home. Outfielders can then catch the ball before throwing the runner out trying to advance.
Home to first double play: in a close game with the bases loaded, a sharply hit ground ball should often be thrown home. If this happens fast enough, the catcher can turn and fire the ball towards first base for a double play. Remember that the batter is always forced to first regardless of what happens ahead of him or her on the basepaths.
Many more: strike ‘em out throw ‘em out, line drives in the infield, catching a runner who strayed too far from the base on a fly ball -- there is a large variety of potential double plays in baseball. Consider bringing different scenarios into your youth baseball practice to improve your players’ game IQ and have a little fun with it!
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