July 23, 2014

Inside-outside routes in the outer gardens

Analysis of baseball using the St. Louis Cardinals is focus of 4thebirds..., and in Tuesday night's 7-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, we get to break down a defensive play in which we catch some Redbirds doing it right.

Before Adam Wainwright got touched up for a significantly crooked number in the middle innings, Cardinals outfielders Matt Holliday (lf) and Jon Jay (cf) and shortstop Jhonny Peralta converged on a pop fly in shallow left field.

First off, Holliday correctly called off Peralta, as such a defensive chance is normally handled much easier by an outfielder moving forward toward the infield than an infielder running back or backpedaling into the outfield. Why? Well, most fielders are more accustomed to making catches on fly balls while moving forward, but also, because backpedaling and/or running sideways while straining to look upward tends to get the fielder landing on his heels, which in turn makes the ball seem to jerk about in his vision. Outfielders (any fielder) running forward has a much easier time staying on their toes, which makes vision on the ball much smoother, hence, more easy to judge.

But the effectiveness of the approach regarding vision solves for individual technique and not the issue of convergence.

Specifically, when outfielders converge, the chances of a collision get higher in a hurry.

Obviously, a misplayed ball is at stake, but the possibility of injury to one or both players becomes the larger concern. Inside-outside routes (by the outfielders) can reduce the odds of a bad outcome on convergence plays.

Inside-outside routes describe the desired outcome of execution, however, it is the execution of fly ball reception which creates the routes. The center fielder, therefore, on fly balls in the gaps or alleys where a collision with a corner outfielder is possible, executes a basket style catch. Either the left or right fielder, in the same situation, attempts a catch at shoulder level. If the outfielders take the prescribed paths to the fly ball, assuming the left and right fielders are never meeting in a gap, they should not end up on a collision course.

Take the play described in the opening of this post for instance. With Peralta backing off the fly ball, Holliday races in, catching the ball at shoulder level while Jay moves through behind Holliday. Jay is seen to be readying for a basket catch. There is a discernible difference in their routes due to the execution of fly ball reception taken by each outfielder.

Inside-outside routes should always put the center fielder on a path that goes behind (outfield wall side) either corner outfielder, depending on which alley the fly ball is falling.

As far as the play chosen for analysis, it is possible Holliday was simply calling for the fly and his teammates were backing off, but it certainly had the appearance of a properly executed inside-outside route. In other words, Holliday may have been just trying to reach the fly ball the best way he could, without regard for his style of reception. And Jay may have simply been approaching for a basket catch because he calculated a collision with an outfielder that would have resulted in something similar of a blindside hit by former NFL star, Dick Butkus.

If the inside-outside routes taken by Holliday and Jay were due to understanding the technique, all the better.

If the inside-outside routes were taken accidentally, than a real train wreck is imminent.

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