June 30, 2014

Please Shelby, back up a base, any base

It would be hard to believe (actually not) that a professional baseball player in the major leagues would be inconsistent in their defensive assignments, unless, perhaps, they were playing out of position for the first time in an emergency fill-in situation.

But we'll take a look at a defensive flaw that normally plagues the youngest of players, meaning preteen, but sometimes afflicts those at the highest levels of the game. In this case, the defense in question is simply backing up a play.

Today we'll pick on Shelby Miller, who doesn't seem to want to back up possible throws from the outfield to third and/or home plate.

Well, he did make it halfway to the backup position, but that can make things potentially worse.

Backing up a play for a pitcher is not rocket science. In fact, it's pretty much common sense.

If a pitcher believes an outfield throw is going to come to third base, he backs of third base; if a pitcher believes an outfield throw is going to come to home plate, he backs up home plate. If there is no clear indication to which base the outfield throw may come, due to not being sure where the outfielder believes he needs to throw the ball, the pitcher heads to a position between third base and home plate, then does his best to back up where the throw actually goes.

It is important to understand that the backup position is (as much as possible) in line with the potential throw, and more importantly, all the way to the out-of-play boundary. Getting as far back as possible allows the pitcher more of chance to adjust to an errant throw from the outfield to the target base or simply from a missed catch at third base or home plate by the baseman or catcher, as the case may be.

Now, back to Shelby, who was seen sort of wandering on the third base line on one occasion and in the situation that prompted this post, was just a few feet in front of catcher, Yadier Molina on a throw to home plate. Miller actually cut off the throw. I'm sure Miller has trust that a Gold Glove catcher can handle catching these throws, so it is hoped Miller just messed up.

There's a few big time reasons a pitcher needs to be at the proper backup position and not where Miller was, about five feet in front of the Molina:
  • There's no one backing up the throw to home plate. If other base runners, including the batter-runner are trying to advance on the errant throw or misplayed reception, they'll be running awhile, until someone else reacts and chases down the ball.
  • Even if Miller makes the catch (which he did), he's wait in front of home plate with no chance to make a play on a base runner attempting to score.
  • If Miller is acting as a cut-off man (also not his duty), being so deep (close to home plate), he has little to no chance of throwing out a base runner.

Potential reasons improper backup by pitchers occurs:
  1. Pitcher somehow was never taught how to back up a base properly
  2. Pitcher just "blew it," which happens
  3. Pitcher is lazy in habits and is not corrected by coaching staff
  4. Pitcher is pouting over base hit that created the scoring situation
  5. Pitcher wants swift kick in butt by Molina

Do I like Shelby Miller? Yep, glad he's a Cardinal.

Am I picking on Shelby Miller? Yep.

Am I as good a pitcher as Shelby Miller? Not in a million eons.

Do I have a big time contract to perform plays correctly? Nope, but if I was caught five feet in front Molina on such a play, it would only be because I'm old and slow, and not because of any of those potential reason listed above except number 2.

See, there's a lot we can learn from major leaguers.

Now help me catch Shelby doing something well on his next outing, and we'll analyze that.

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