Why Little Things Matter (especially in the World Series)

“If it’s slow, let it go…”

While watching the World Series game 7 one of my favorite pet peeves in all of the defensive baseball plays came up. In the 1st inning Cody Bellinger was charged with an error for throwing the ball away to Darvish covering 1B. In my opinion, which is correct, Bellinger should have let the ball go to the 2nd baseman, Forsythe. If Cody reads it early and lets it go he would have been covering 1B, and he would of received a routine throw from Forsythe to get Bregman, the hitter, out.

When you watch the replay Forsythe was easily there waiting for the ground ball.

I love watching Bellinger play 1st base, I believe he is a super confident, impactful defender at 1B, maybe one of the most dynamic defenders at 1B that I have seen in a while.

A key defensive strategy, especially with all the shifts in baseball is to keep the 1st baseman at 1B as often as possible. The adage is: “If it’s slow, let it go.” If the ball isn’t hit hard, or if you know where the 2nd baseman is positioned, then you let the ball hit to your right go, and cover the bag.

So many good things happen when you do this.

  1. The guy with the big glove gets to catch the ball thrown to 1B.
  2. The worst thrower on the field (1B typically) doesn’t have to throw the ball.
  3. The worst defender (usually the pitcher) doesn’t touch the ball. Now because the 1st baseman has fielded the ball, the pitcher has to catch a throw and step on a bag. He is on the run and the throw is going to be at a tough angle.
  4. One of the best defenders (typical 2nd baseman) gets to catch a slowly hit ball and throw it to the guy with a big glove.

That play might have been the difference in winning the World Series and losing it.

There are lots of arguments why the play happened but in my opinion only one is the real excuse…..it was a bad play.

Some people would say that the 1st baseman should go get all he can get or that it’s too hard of a decision. Maybe it was just Bellinger hustling and trying too hard, and that a MLB 1st baseman and a MLB pitcher should be able to make that play. The answers are: wrong, not if it’s practiced, probably and most of the time.

OK, so here are some of the other things I know to be true. Pitchers (excluding Mike Leake) aren’t as good of defenders as 2nd baseman and most 1st baseman.

I have coached pitchers for 30 years and I have no problem saying that there are many I wouldn’t trust handling the ball on defense. I’d rather the other guys be responsible making plays and keep the pitcher from messing things up.

Too bad the play that is made maybe 80%-95% of the time gets screwed up in the 7th game of the World Series. The difference is that by keeping the 1st baseman at the base, the play gets made 99% of the time.

This isn’t the first time a simple 3-1 play that should have been a 4-3 out, was screwed up on a big stage. In 2010 Jim Joyce missed a call at 1B that would have been the last out and would have given Armando Galarraga, pitcher for the Tigers, a perfect game.

With 2 outs in the 9th inning, Galarraga received a throw from Miguel Cabrera who ranged to his right and cut in front of the 2nd baseman. He then threw back to the covering Galarraga, who got a piece of the bag, but Joyce missed the call. The point is if Cabrera lets the ball go and covers 1B himself, it’s an easy play and the perfect game is intact and Joyce’s blown call never happens.

1B cover plays on swinging bunts, push bunts, DP covers, are mostly screwed up by pitchers dropping the ball or missing the bag. It’s a tough play because the pitcher is on the run, has to catch the ball and step on the base and beat the runner. Some left-handed pitchers that fall off to the right side can’t beat fast runners to the base and the double play cover and catch is much harder for the LHP because of how they must cover the bag and switch their feet to stretch to the throw.

The pitcher has to cover on most 3-6-1 double plays, not a lot you can do but I will develop systems to get the pitcher out of the 3-1, 4-1 play as often as possible. I just want to avoid the pitcher covering or a decision is made on an in-between ball between the 1st baseman or 2nd baseman, and the pitcher.

This is the technique that keeps the pitcher off the 1st base cover on the “triangle ball”. The 1st baseman will only field that ball if he can either step on the base or tag the runner out on a ball he fields; otherwise he always stays at the base and lets the pitcher and the 2nd baseman chase the ball. Again, I’m talking about short balls and push bunts where the 1st baseman is deep and there is a triangle between the pitcher, 1st and 2nd baseman.

In this system you will see the pitcher taking a deep angle at times to make a play on the ball because he has no base responsibilities.   You will also see the 2nd baseman being very aggressive to the ball where he will possibly even glove flip the ball to the 1st baseman. The 2nd baseman needs to call off the pitcher; the pitcher chases the ball until he is called off.

Yeah but…..

The “other way” this play gets defended is to have the pitcher take a direct line to 1B and communicate with the 1st baseman regarding the ball and the base. My strong opinion is that this leads to confusion and lots of missed balls and bases. I watched a professional team’s pfp session running this technique and at least half of the plays resulted in a drop, missed bag and for sure a runner safe, if it were a game situation.

Tito Francona is a firm believer that an out is required on all balls hit under 90 feet, so a technique that only gets half of those outs in practice shouldn’t be considered a sound tactic.

So this is the pfp session I like to practice all the time. 1st baseman, pitcher and 2nd baseman are all on the field and the coach fungoes balls to the 1st baseman’s right, short balls and push bunts and all 3 guys practice their ball reads and base responsibilities. I absolutely guarantee more plays will be made, that will result in an out, compared to “yeah but”.

1st base play is crazy important, I really don’t think you can be a good defense without a good 1st baseman. The 1st baseman needs to be great in the dirt and have footwork around the bag so he can get outs on all balls he catches. Dodgers have that guy in Bellinger so in a sound defensive system, that is practiced regularly, you get that out more often, especially when the tension is high in big moments.