This is the first blog of its type, focused on a defensive play and breaking down it’s different pieces. In these blogs I’ll use both good and bad examples to demonstrate key defensive principles. This first one is the latter, looking at botched double play turn from Starlin Castro against the Rockies on July 27th.
Looking at this play, we see that Addison Russell gives Starlin a good feed and he’s got ample time to throw out Ben Paulsen (a decent runner). Corey Dickerson is gaining ground on Castro but doesn’t make an extreme effort to go out and get him on the slide. We see that Starlin’s throw sails up the line. I see this happen a lot with young throwers, (infielders, outfielders and catchers) so lets use Starlin’s example and take a frame by frame look at why.
The first frame shows us that Starlin is squared up to Russell as he receives the flip. This is an important piece that can get neglected by young players, as they often assume good feeds and get ahead of themselves and throw before they catch. Castro is setup well here to make a good throw to first.
We see here in frame two that Starlin is starting to make the transfer from glove to hand, clear himself from the bag and get turned to first base. Clearing from the bag is another piece that young players need to make sure they do well. Amateur baseball rules only allow baserunners to slide to the bag, to and through at the collegiate level, so using that and finding a lane outside the base path is important. At the professional level., baserunners can slide outside the path as long as they can reach the bag, so getting clear is even more important. There’s another piece to this thought that we’ll see in the next frame.
This is the key frame in the sequence, where we see Castro up and ready to make a throw. While he’s done a good job of clearing himself from the bag, notice where his hips are pointing. He’s not turned towards the base, but rather pointed down the right field line. Many times guys get away with this, but obviously here he does not. While his momentum through the catch does make it more difficult to clear and get his hips completely turned in line with the bag, in this case Starlin drifts with his hips and is trying to throw the opposite direction as his body is taking him. Granted, Dickerson is coming at him, but it almost seems though he is more focused on avoiding contact than he is making the throw. With young amateur players this piece is critical!! They have protection from the bag and the base path, and yet many still don’t get their body in the direction they are throwing, often times due to a runner barreling down on them. This causes release points to become inconistant and throws to follow suit. In these types of throws as a shortstop, players need to make sure that as they clear themselves and their hips get them as close to in line with their target as possible, using that direction to THROW OVER THEIR HIPS.
The fourth frame while blurry, shows us the release point relative to where Castro’s body ended up. Without context this may look alright, but remember that his self imposed momentum is taking him down the line and he’s got to make a tough adjustment in his throw. Now please don’t get me wrong here, I’m not suggesting that in every single throw requires the hips to be perfectly in line with the target, because their are many where time is of the essence, momentum is too great and we just have to get rid of the sucker. The point here is that if we are at all able, avoiding drifting and making a strong , quick move towards our target with our hips is going to allow us to make more consistent throws.
In the last frame here, we can see that his back leg is kind of swung behind his body and front leg. Again, this happens on many balls that we’ve got to go get and get rid of on the run, but in this case I would like to see that back leg and foot coming through towards the target next to his front leg at this point, as you can see with this year’s number 2 overall pick Alex Bregman.
If you look up at the GIF, you can see that Castro’s leg and foot eventually do come through, but later rather than sooner. An effortless follow towards the target with that back leg is evidence of momentum used in the proper direction. This is a key principle for young players, who must utilize both elements, especially when their physical tools (size, speed, arm strength) aren’t fully developed yet.
Hopefully taking a look at this play has helped to show the importance of direction when making throws not only in a double play situation as a shortstop, but from any position on any throw where you have the time to get yourself in line with the target. Remember the wise words of Chubbs Peterson….It’s all in the hips.