In my last post, I outlined the key principles that every defensive player employs in order to be effective. Proper reads, good timing, strong catch position and efficient and explosive throwing position are consistently executed fundamentals by all great defensive players. My new term for these is the core four (Take a look here for a full refresher)
As I began to work on diving into each of those principles in depth, I realized that a couple more introductory posts were necessary in order for us to speak and understand the language of great defense. In addition, many of the players I work with seemed to not quite understand why we were working on what were working on, so a simple definable term was necessary in order to tie things together. This post here will explain defensive adjustability, a term that I will use in most likely every single defensive post from here on out and is crucial to understanding high level play with the glove.
What is defensive adjustability??
My definition is as follows:
Defensive adjustability is the ability to consistently get in position to execute plays even though the variables surrounding those plays will likely be inconsistent from instance to instance.
Now admittedly this is a very broad definition, but defense is a very broad subject, with endless possibilities. To the untrained eye a fly ball is a fly ball, all groundballs to second base are alike, and a catcher executes a throw to second pretty much the same way each time. However, anybody who has experience in these departments understands that every single ball that is hit/thrown will most likely act differently (even if slightly) than the one before it. It is with this in mind that we must build our defensive fundamentals and analyze defensive skills and performance.
Now if you’ve read my cohort Chris Dunn’s hitting blog, the term adjustability is familiar. As a hitter, having a swing that can handle different forms of pitch pressure (fast/slow, in/out, up/down, cut/run, flat/breaking) is a huge separator. Hitters at the upper levels of the game can hammer certain pitch if they know it is coming, but the true test lies in when they don’t. Well the same goes for a defensive player! Anybody can handle a flyball that falls right into their glove, but how often does that happen!? As a defensive player, being in positions that allow us to adjust to different variations of batted and thrown balls is of highest priority.
Now while adjustability as a hitter and a fielder are similar, there is one key difference that needs to be pointed out. Hitters are afforded the luxury of three strikes, giving them some wiggle room early in counts if they recognize early and decide that the specific pitch isn’t to their liking, and even if the hitter doesn’t recognize and swings and misses, he’s still okay. Obviously this changes with two strikes and adjustability becomes of paramount importance. Figured out what the difference is, fielders? You don’t have the luxury of passing on that tricky top spin ball, and you have to catch that bad throw that your teammate made. As guys with gloves on our hands we have to expect and react to the unexpected on every single play, both from a mental and physical standpoint. The great defenders do, the average ones don’t.
So lets take a look at just a couple of quick examples modeling adjustability in a variety of defensive plays.
Lets start in the outfield with a Ben Revere on a play from last year. You can see in the GIF above that his initial read and first step take him to his arm side, but the baseball slices back towards his glove side. If Revere was only able to make the catch on the side where he first went, he’d have been in trouble, but his ability to make a quick turn, find the ball again and make the play diving to his left models his adjustability.
We move to the infield and focus on adjustability when catching a groundball. This is a play that Nolan Arenado (on the short list for the best defender in baseball) made on a Justin Upton chopper just the other night. You can see that like Revere’s catch in the outfield, Nolan’s initial read isn’t what he ends up doing. He takes a couple steps in and quickly realizes that his best chance is to work hard backwards and get the big hop. Arenado’s control of his feet showcase his adjustability and allow him to change his plan mid play and make catching the baseball easier (although the throw was incredibly difficult)
Here we focus on a throw in the Infield with David Freese on a tough barehand slow roller. On this play, Freese has to reach way down with his upper body in order to successfully field this ball, and time is of the essence in terms of getting it across the diamond. You can see that when Freese makes this throw, his body is tilted over towards the plate. Although his arm slot is similar to how he’d normally throw, his ability to make an accurate throw from a lower angle with his body tilted exemplifies throwing adjustability on a play like this.
We shift behind the plate and take a look at Kurt Suzuki and a run saving block in tight ballgame. You can see that Suzuki is set up in the middle of the plate expecting the slider in that area, and the pitch misses well into the left handed batters box. Suzuki finds a way to knock it down with his glove, really the only shot he had of doing so as there was no way he was going to get there with his body. With 12-13 guys on a pitching staff, all with various pitches, command and velocities of those pitches, the catching position demands adjustability at an incredible level in many different aspects. (Think receiving, blocking and throwing). I’d venture to guess that Suzuki had a good knowledge of the movement on Drew Storen’s slider and an understanding of where he may miss with it. That intelligence aided his ability to adjust in this case.
With the examples above, we’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg in terms of plays that demand adjustability in defensive players. As I work with guys at all different levels, everything we do drill wise is done with this principle in mind, as well as how their natural skills are evaluated. As I said earlier, this will be a mainstay in how we talk defense at all positions. Everything that is done as a great defender must to be rooted in this principle! Keep an eye out for my final introductory post getting into the importance of routine and what it means when talking defense.