Outfield Positioning: Backing Up Plays

For outfielders, consider this your positioning cheat sheet. This article outlines who goes to the ball, who backs up, and where you need to be in each situation.
tips for outfielders, how to back up plays, outfield positioning“Outfield is about awareness and effort. Don’t give up on any ball, go after everything.”Kevin Russo, New York Yankees, left fielder and 2nd baseman.

Backing up bases goes un noticed about 80% of the time – until there is an overthrow or a ball kicks away from an infielder.  This is the time that backing up gets noticed and will keep the runners from moving up to the next base.

You are the safety valve, the ball can’t get by you.

The biggest thing with correct outfield positioning is thinking ahead.

Analyze the situation and know how you will react in each possible scenario. This pre pitch thinking is half the battle.

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Outfield Positioning for Base Hit

No One on Base
Base hit to right field (ball doesn’t get past outfielder)
Right Fielder:Fields the ball.
Centerfielder:Backs up the right fielder
Left Fielder:Backs up second base, (staying a good 50-60 feet behind the play), watching the throw come from the right field line. Being in a straight line from where the ball is thrown to where it is being caught.
Base hit to centerfield (ball doesn’t get past outfielder)
Right Fielder:Back up centerfielder
Centerfielder:Fields the ball
Left Fielder:Back up centerfielder
Base hit to left field (ball doesn’t get past outfielder)
Right Fielder:Backs up second base, watching the throw and be in line from where the left fielder throws the ball to where the 2nd baseman catches the ball.
Centerfielder:Back up left fielder
Left Fielder:Fields the ball

Hit for extra bases (ball in gap or down line)

No one on base
Balls hit down right field line (double with a chance at triple)
Right Fielder:Go get the ball.
Centerfielder:Work in the direction of the baseball in case the right fielder falls down or the ball takes a crazy hop off the wall.
Left Fielder:Watch play develop.  Either be in line backing up the throw to second base or if there is a chance for a triple start making your way behind 3rd base to help back up that throw.  (Remember, the pitcher should be backing up 3rd base.  Watch for errant throw from an infielder, back picking at 2nd base).
Balls hit in right center gap (double with a chance at triple)
Right Fielder:Go get the ball
Centerfielder:Go get the ball
Left Fielder:Watch the play develop.  Either be in line backing up the throw to second base or if there is a chance for a triple start making your way behind 3rd base to help back up that throw.  (Remember, the pitcher should be backing up 3rd base.  Watch for errant throw from an infielder, back picking at 2nd base).
Balls hit in left center gap (double with a chance at triple)
Right Fielder:Back up 2nd base, make sure you are in line with the throw. You may have to trickle down to where the 1st baseman plays when the 1st baseman vacates his position and goes to cover 2nd base. When he does there will be no one to back him up and a ball that gets by him will roll forever. That is the right fielders responsibility to back up the 1st baseman when he goes to cover 2nd base.
Centerfielder:Go get the ball
Left Fielder:Go get the ball
Balls hit down left field line (double with a chance at triple)
Right Fielder:Back up 2nd base, make sure you are in line with the throw. You may have to trickle down to where the 1st baseman plays when the 1st baseman vacates his position and goes to cover 2nd base. When he does there will be no one to back him up and a ball that gets by him will roll forever. That is the right fielders responsibility to back up the 1st baseman when he goes to cover 2nd base.
Centerfielder:Work in the direction of the baseball in case the left fielder falls down or the ball takes a crazy hop off the wall.
Left Fielder:Go get the ball

 

Base Hit

Runner at 1st Base (or any variation, 1st and 2nd or bases loaded)
base hit to right field, (pitcher is backing up home plate)
Right Fielder:Field the ball, and throw home or third base.
Centerfielder:Back up right fielder. Once he fields the ball start making your way towards 2nd base and be ready in case the 1st baseman cuts the ball and throws to 2nd. Be in line and watch the play develop
Left Field:Back up third base, expecting the throw coming from right field. If the throw goes toward home, move a bit to your left and be in line with the cut off man (1st baseman) and expect him to throw the ball to 3rd. If the ball goes all the way home, move to the left field line and wait to see if the catcher throws the ball to 3rd base.
base hit to centerfield (pitcher is backing up home plate)
Right Fielder:Back up center fielder. Once the centerfielder fields the ball, start moving in toward 2nd base and watch the play develop. Be ready for a throw for an errant throw from an infielder.
Centerfielder:Fields the ball
Left Field:Back up center fielder, once he fields the ball work back toward the infield (probably toward 3rd base) and watch for an errant throw from an infielder.
base hit to left field (pitcher is backing up home plate)
Right fielder:Move in a few steps and watch the play develop. Be in a position to back up a throw to second or a missed throw to a cut off man.
Center Fielder:Back up left fielder
Leftfielder:Field the ball, and follow the throw and move toward the right field line, in case there is a throw to third base. You can be in line, backing up third base

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Hit for Extra Bases

Runner at 1st base, 1st and 2nd, or bases loaded

Note: With a runner at first base or any variation (1st only, 1st & 2nd, bases loaded) and a ball gets hit in a gap or down the lines and the middle infielders are setting up for a double cut, the opposite outfielder will be covering second base.  All the infielders have other responsibilities leaving 2nd base wide open.

Automatic double, chance for a triple, down right field line
Rightfield:Go get the ball
Center field:Follow the ball to make sure it doesn’t kick away from him and out towards centerfield
Left field:Cover 2nd base bag
Automatic double, chance for a triple, in right center gap
Rightfield:Go get the ball
Center field:Go get the ball
Left field:Cover 2nd base bag
Automatic double, chance for a triple, in left center gap
Rightfield:Cover 2nd base bag
Center field:Go get the ball
Left field:Go get the ball
Automatic double, chance for a triple, down left field line
Rightfield:Cover 2nd base bag
Center field:Go get the ball
Left field:Go get the ball

 

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Outfield positioning tips

Few things about being in the right spot
  • The pitcher is going to back up the bag where the lead runner will be going. As a corner outfielder, we need to back up another base.
  • Don’t have two people backing up the same base. If someone else is there, go somewhere else.
  • As with backing up bases, you are the last resort. You can watch a play happen and see what the runners are doing and where the throw is going and make a decision and then break hard to where you need to go. However, you need to be there on time.
  • Some plays require you to be in a certain spot, some plays require you to be in an area and shift to whatever is happening with the play.
Run Downs / Pickle
  • With cut offs being made and runners everywhere, there is always a potential for a run down.
  • Use the same strategy for backing up bases, and if you see a potential run down start making your way into the infield and to a base.
  • Let the infielder be first in line to participate in the run down.
  • If you see a base (in the run down) that is unoccupied, get to that bag quickly.
  • Usually there will be 2 guys at second base (shortstop and 2nd baseman) so look and see if 1st or 3rd base need extra help.
  • To learn more about the fundamentals of a run down click this link. Rundowns.

More Pro Tips and Instruction for Outfielders:

  1. Outfield 1: Basics of the Outfield
  2. Outfield 2: Tracking Fly Balls 
  3. Outfield 3: How to Avoid Losing Balls in the Sun 
  4. Outfield 4: How to Throw Using Crow Hops 
  5. Outfield 5: Using the Long Hop
  6. Best baseball sunglasses

See all articles for Outfielders

About Author

Doug Bernier, founder of Pro Baseball Insider.com, debuted in the Major Leagues in 2008 with the Colorado Rockies, and has played professional baseball for 5 organizations (CO Rockies, NY Yankees, Pirates, MN Twins, & TX Rangers) over the past 16 years. He has Major League time at every infield position, and has played every position on the field professionally except for catcher. Where is he now? After batting .200 in 45 at-bats and fielding .950 during 2017 spring training with the Rangers, Doug was assigned to the Ranger's AAA team the Round Rock Express. You should click to watch this great defensive play by Bernier

1 Comment

  1. Doug,
    I just want to say thanks for a terrific resource. These articles cover a wealth of knowledge. I especially like your advice on tracking fly balls: Hold your ground until you get a read. Too many times coaches (who I assume have never played outfield) tell players “your first step should be back.” I always tell my players that if some coaches asks them where their first step should be on a fly ball, the only correct answer is “in the direction the ball was hit.”

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