A pro player gives a step by step break down of how to turn a double play, and how to avoid getting taken out by the base runner. Written for second basemen.
Why it matters. Getting two outs on one pitch can be a huge momentum shift from the offensive team to the defensive team. A double play at the right time can take the wind out of a teams sails. In a time when the importance of defense gets overshadowed by homeruns and other offensive categories, it is important to remember that defense wins games. Eliminating runs from crossing the plate is just as valuable as knocking them in.
How to Turn a Double Play
There is an art to working around the second base bag on a double play when a runner is trying to take you out to avoid the completion of the play. Footwork around the bag from the second base side may take a bit more practice, it is different from the shortstop position because you have to create more momentum to throw to first base and you don’t see the runner sliding into you. The turn from this side of the bag takes feel for where the runner is and how much time your internal clock is telling you. You need to know the speed of the runner at first and at the plate.
Step 1: Get to the base.
As soon as the ball is hit to the shortstop or 3rd baseman, hurry to get to the bag.
Step 2: Plant your left foot.
Plant your left foot on the back of the base (farthest from the oncoming runner) and face the thrower squarely.
You always want to get to the bag and square up to the shortstop even if he is behind the second base bag. You need to get the first out before you can get the second one, so square up and give him a good target.
Step 3: ALWAYS take your right foot to the baseball.
When the ball is thrown, you should take your right foot towards the ball. Your foot should touch the ground at the same moment you catch the ball.
The footwork on double plays may look very different from play to play, but trust me, this is the fundamental starting point. Whether the ball is thrown far forward toward the baserunner or far back away from the runner, ALWAYS start your footwork by taking your right foot toward the ball.
Step 4: Catch the ball in the middle of your body,
if possible. This is because you will probably bring the ball to your center anyways before you make the throw. It’s just natural. So having the feed delivered there saves on transfer time and allows the whole play to happen more quickly.
That said, there are guys who use different footwork, or for whatever reason they like to do it differently. You might prefer the throw to lead you toward the runner, or at your back shoulder. If this is the case, it’s good to talk your shortstop and third baseman so that they know where you prefer to receive the double play feed.
Step 5: Get into throwing position.
Once you have caught the ball (so obviously the base has been tagged), you need to bring your left foot forward and toward first base so that you are in throwing position. You should be able to draw a straight line from your right foot, through your left, and to first base.
Your foot and left knee should be facing 1st base. It is a much stronger position for your knee in case of a collision. If the knee is facing 3rd base your knee is in a weak position and isn’t meant to bend sideways, this is how ACL’s get torn. As long as your left knee and foot are facing first base and your leg has some bend in it, you will be in a strong position to take a hard slide or let your foot easily give way so you can fall on the base runner to return the favor of a hard slide.
Step 6: The Throw.
There is no break between steps 4 & 5 – it should be one smooth motion. The step toward first is the beginning of your throw, and is a critical part of the momentum needed for a strong delivery.
For the throw, make sure you are down in your legs. You want to be low enough to create power with your lower half. This takes pressure off your throwing arm and allows for a much stronger throw.
The trick is when both legs are on the ground and you are about to throw, you almost want to feel coiled up and burst out of your legs towards first base. It is easy to take your momentum towards the pitchers mound. You need to fight to take all of your momentum and drive it toward the runner.
Step 7: Jump. How to avoid getting taken out by the runner.
Immediately after the throw, you should be in the air to avoid getting taken out by the runner (see below for more ways to do this).
When you are determined to turn double play, the base runner is equally as determined to do everything he can to stop you. In professional baseball, the runner does NOT have to stay in the baseline. As long as his hand can touch the base, the runner can – and probably will – slide right at you an attempt to break up the double play. (I failed to get out of the way one time during a spring training game. My knee was messed up for weeks with a hairline fracture.)
Note: In high school and college, the runner might try to take you out, but the rules state that he can only slide directly into the bag.
To avoid injury, you should know these three options for protecting yourself after you have made your throw to first base.
- After you get in the air, sometimes your body position allows for you to spread your legs and let the runner slide under and past you (The photos to your right provide an example).
- If you can avoid the runner once you touch down AFTER THE THROW, use your momentum to spin towards the infield grass and get out of the way. If you try to do this before the throw, your momentum and attention will be off-balance.
- Finally, sometimes it’s unavoidable, and you are going to get clipped by the runner as soon as you release the throw. In this case and you are going to fall anyways, try to come down on top of him. This might make him think twice about taking you out in the future, and it means that your momentum was headed in the right direction.
If the location of the throw allows, you can take your right foot and push it away from 2nd base. Clearing yourself to maneuver behind the second base bag allows you to use the base to help protect yourself from the runner. It is much more difficult for the runner to disrupt the double play when the base is in the way. This is a good situation to be in, but whether you can make it happen or not is dictated by the throw. It usually works best on a overhand toss from the shortstop and a good throw from the third baseman.
These techniques take time and feel and are important to a good second baseman. It is necessary to work on more than one way of turning a double play from second base so runners don’t know how to slide in every time. If you can keep the runner guessing it may turn a solid blow into a glancing slide.