June 9, 2009

2B steal coverage

In the Monday game at Busch Stadium, there was a steal of second base by the Colorado Rockies in which no one covered second base.

Catcher Yadier Molina fired down to second, as he should, assuming, in this case, as he should, that one of the middle infielders would be covering the bag.

No one covered.

Brendan Ryan was playing shortstop; Skip Schumaker was playing second base.

We may not know who was responsible for covering second, but I've been asked to explain the basics of this play.

So ...

Normally, on an attempted steal of second base the shortstop covers the bag with a left-handed batter and the second baseman covers the bag with a right-handed batter. This does two things for the defense, the first of which may or may not even come into play. The first supposed benefit is that the "opposite side" defender gets a clearer view of the entire catcher play, making sure he gets a good read on the throw.

Secondly, the tendency is for a hitter to hit to the pull side, therefore, keeping the second baseman in pull-side position in case of a hit ball with a left-handed hitter at bat; the opposite for right-handed hitters, whose pull side is through the left side of the infield.

This strategy can be affected by a few factors however, that make the "standard coverage" less than ideal when considering tendency. For instance, a right-handed hitter is at bat whose tendency is to hit to the opposite field, or, the right side. In such a case, it would make sense for the second baseman to hold his position on the right side and allow the shortstop to cover second base.

Another factor is knowing the pitch choice and location. For instance, inside pitches tend to create a pulled hit, more so when the pitch choice is slower in speed for a particular pitcher. So there are a bevy of variable in pitch choice and location.

The shortstop normally makes the call as to who is covering second base on attempted steals, which the only two choices being either himself, or the second baseman. He accomplishes this signal by shielding his face with his glove, just so the second baseman can see him. The standard signal is open mouth/closed mouth. Open mouth can mean: "I'm covering. Closed mouth can mean: "You cover the bag." Or vica versa. Other signals known only to the shortstop and second baseman can be utilized, if desired.

To be sure, someone must be covering, and the shortstop must make that clear. The dugout may be signalling the shortstop as to who they prefer cover second base in an unusual situation, but the shortstop must pass that coverage along via the pre-determined signal with the second baseman.

In order to make open/closed mouth signal more definitive with younger players, I've utilized the shortstop signalling open mouth if he is covering; and, instead of closed mouth, he would stick his tongue out at the second baseman, meaning, "I'm pointing at you so you cover the bag."

As for the Cardinals, Brendan Ryan, one might imagine, would be making sure Skip Schumaker, new to second base this season on the pro level, would have the communication. Regardless of who missed the call, it is a basic mistake that looks bad for a defense at the pro level. The fans may not know whose fault it is when Molina's throw sails into center field, but the players on both sides have a good idea, and usually that's enough embarrassment to get it right the next time.