Double plays are regarded as a Pitcher’s best friend and quite rightfully so, as there are probably 1000s of them turned every year in the MLB alone, which rescues pitchers from trouble. I’m sure there’s a geek somewhere, no disrespect meant by a person who can not figure out their remote control, who has the exact number, but for our purpose, “a lot” is good enough.
Most double plays begin with a ground ball hit to either the shortstop or second baseman, known as “Up the Middle,” the fielder who receives the ball from the fielder who caught the ground ball, steps on second base, for a force out, then relays the ball to the first baseman in time to beat the batter to the base, resulting in two put outs occurring on one play.
The second most common double play begins with a ground ball hit to the first baseman, who throws the ball to the shortstop, who after stepping on second for the force out, relays the ball back to either, the first baseman or the pitcher, depending on who is covering first base.
The third normal possibly is a ground ball hit to the third baseman, who throws the ball to the second baseman, who steps on second for the force out, then relays the ball to the first baseman in time to beat the runner.
These infield players have become so adept at turning a double play, they rarely make a mistake and I’m not only talking a bad throw or a dropped ball. They have developed the sixth sense of estimating the speed of the ball vs. the speed of the runners.
For instance, when a softly hit ground ball is fielded by the third baseman, he will automatically throw the ball to the first baseman, in order to insure getting one out. Without looking at the runner, who is going from first to second, he knows the possibility of turning two is impossible because the ball wasn’t hit fast enough to beat both runners.
In addition, there are two other methods of turning two, which is still not all inclusive, which are uncommon, but do occur enough players must be schooled in their execution.
One such play is a Come Backer to the pitcher. This play is set up when there is a runner on first base and the batter hits the ball back up the middle and the pitcher fields it on a bounce.
It is imperative the pitcher crow hops as he turns around to face second base, squaring his hips and shoulders, or else the act of throwing across the body or side armed presents a definite risk of a wild throw.
Since the shortstop will be going to second base to receive the throw, the pitcher must time his throw ( lead the player ) in order for the ball to arrive at the same time as the fielder. The throw should always be chest high, because at that height it’s easier to catch an errant throw and still complete the play, and a chest high throw allows the fielder to immediately transfer the ball to his throwing hand and throw all in the same motion.
The shortstop steps on second base as he crosses it, for the force out, and relays to first base for the second put out. The reason this double play is uncommon, is the chance of pitcher fielding a ball hit hard enough to turn two is uncommon, as the ball usually gets by the pitcher where a middle infielder will make the play or it goes into center field for a hit.
The next unusual double play is a Home to First double play. Bases are loaded with no outs and the defensive team can not allow a run to score or they will lose the game. Such as bottom of the ninth, home team batting, tie score and 1 run wins the game.
For this defensive alignment all the infielders must be playing very shallow, bunt shallow or more and the outfielders will be positioned 15 to 20 feet beyond the infield apron.
This is a do or die defense, as a hard hit ball, unless it’s hit right at a fielder, will be a hit and any type of normal fly ball to the outfield will be well over the heads of the outfielders. The intent of this defensive alignment is to create a play of forcing an out at home plate, preventing a run from scoring, and getting the second put out at first base.
The Catcher is the key to this double play. When the ball is hit the catcher will immediately come out of his crouch position, stand near or on the back tip of the plate, facing the fielder. This positioning is taken in order to allow for movement by the catcher to adjust and field an off line throw and still touch the plate for the force out.
After receiving the throw and touching the plate, the catcher will move into fair territory creating a clear visual path between him and the first baseman, then throw a chest high strike to first. This moving into fair territory, besides affording a better line of sight, prevents a throw from hitting the runner going down the first base line.
After the throw the catcher retreats to home plate and locates the lead runner in case he’s attempting to score from second base.