Baseball cut-offs and relays – Defensive Positioning, Part 1

Baseball cut-offs and relays for middle infielders.  Includes proper defensive positioning, baseball cutoff diagrams, and who is the cut off man in various baseball situations.

Note: If you haven’t already, you may want to read about the basics of cut-offs and relays before proceeding with this article on 2nd base positioning for cut-offs.

1. Base hit with a runner on 2nd base.

In this relay situation, the throw or relay is to home plate. This section describes the defensive positioning for a base hit to outfield if there is a runner at second base.

1.A. Single to left fielder, runner on 2nd base.

Single to left fielder, runner on 2nd base. Baseball cut-offs and relays for middle infielders.  Includes proper defensive positioning, baseball cutoff diagrams, and who is the cut off man in various baseball situations.

The shortstop will run over to 3rd base and cover the bag. The 3rd baseman is vacating his base so he can be the cut off man to home plate.

With the throw going towards home plate, be ready for a ball cut off by the third baseman and thrown to the second base bag.  This could happen if there is no play at home, and the batter is trying to move up to 2nd.

(What positions do the numbers represent?)

1.B. Single to center fielder, runner on second base.

Single to center field, runner on 2nd base. Play is at home plate. Baseball cut-offs and relays for shortstop and 2nd baseman.

The shortstop will cover the 2nd base bag, notice that this responsibility will be different if there is a runner on 1st. In this scenario, the 2nd baseman will cover 1st and the shortstop will take 2nd.

See Diagram 1.B. – Positioning for a single hit to center field with a runner on second base. Play is at home plate.  First baseman is the cut-off man. Second baseman covers 1st base.

(What positions do the numbers represent?)

1.C. Single to right fielder, runner on 2nd base.

Diagram of positioning for a single hit to right field with a runner on second base.  The play will be at home plate, with the possibility of a cut and throw to 3rd base.  1st baseman is the relay guy.  2nd baseman will 1st base.

The shortstop will cover 2nd base. Again this responsibility will be different if there is a runner on 1st base. With nobody on base the 2nd baseman will cover 1st and the shortstop has the 2nd base bag.

Diagram of positioning for a single hit to right field with a runner on second base. Play is at home plate, with a possible cut and throw to 3rd base.  First baseman is the cut off man. Second baseman covers 1st base.

(What positions do the numbers represent?)

2. Base hit, with runners on 1st and 2nd Bases.

In this situation, the throw is to home plate, with potential for a cut and throw to 3rd base.  This section describes the positioning for a base hit to outfield if there are runners on both first and second bases.

2.A. Single to left field, runners on 1st & 2nd bases.

Single to left field, runners on 1st & 2nd bases.  Proper defensive positioning, baseball cutoff diagrams, and who is the cut off man in various baseball situations.

The shortstop will cover 3rd base. With no one on 1st, the 2nd baseman should run to 1st base in case there is an attempt to get the hitter out at first.

This diagram shows the setup for runners at 1st and 2nd base when a single is hit to left field. The 3rd baseman is the cut-off guy, so he may choose to reroute the throw if to 2nd or 3rd if needed.

(What positions do the numbers represent?)

2.B. Single to center field, runners on 1st and 2nd bases.

The shortstop will line up to 3rd base because the outfielder has the option of throwing home or to 3rd depending on the ball hit and the speed of the runners. The 2nd baseman is covering second base, and will be expecting the ball from a cut off man if the runner takes to big of a turn around 2nd base.

(What positions do the numbers represent?)

2.C. Single to right field, runners on 1st and 2nd bases.

The shortstop lines up to 3rd base, expecting the throw from the outfielder who has the option to go to home or to 3rd base.

You should line up in a straight line and about 15 – 20 feet to the 3rd base side of 2nd base. This will allow you to keep the ball and runner in your line of vision and make the decision to cut the ball or let it go through. This decision depends on what the runner decides to do.

(What positions do the numbers represent?)

To summarize, the shortstop must understand that depending on where the runners start out makes a big difference on which base to cover during baseball cut-offs and relays.

I hope you find this article on baseball cut offs and relays, along with the baseball cutoff diagrams, to be helpful.  I’ve tried to cover the proper defensive positioning and who is the cut off man in various baseball situations.  Comments, questions and feedback are welcome in the comment section below.  – Doug
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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, PIT 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 16 years of playing professionally, he is now a professional scout with the Colorado Rockies. You should click to watch this great defensive play by Bernier

29 Comments

  1. William Berotti on

    When there is a RUNNER on first base and a HITTER hits a bloop single to right field, which takes the second baseman out of the play (because he attempts but fails to make an over-the-shoulder catch), and the right fielder now has a chance to throw the aggressive RUNNER out at third, but the defense of course also wants to prevent the HITTER from reaching second base on the right fielder’s throw to third base, should the shortstop cover second base forcing the third baseman to act as his own cutoff man (by charging a late throw to third base and perhaps throwing the HITTER out at second base)? Or is there another way of giving the right fielder a chance to throw the RUNNER out at third while hopefully keeping the HITTER from reaching second if the throw to third is going to be too late to get the RUNNER?

  2. Taylor Duncan on

    I still don’t understand why the third baseman would get the cut because if you think about it, 2nd baseman and shortstop predominantly have stronger arms and more accurate throws than the third baseman or 1st baseman. Also how many throws a game do the 1st baseman and 3rd baseman usually get during a game? Not very many…

    • I totally agree. …and my daughter is in 16u travel and she said the exact same thing as you said…she is our shortstop. …

      • I agree with John’s sentiments. The 3B more times than not should have the stronger arm when compared to a 2B.

        • Ideally that would be nice, but it’s not always the case. Usually with young players its easy to put the kid with a weaker arm at second base. As kids get older, your defense will be a lot stronger if your second baseman has a good arm. It will help on double plays, backhand plays up the middle and relay throws. There are a few ML teams where the second baseman has a stronger arm then the third baseman.

      • Agreed. And if your 3Bman doesn’t have an accurate and/or strong enough arm to relay it 50/55 feet to home (or back to 2nd to check a wayward runner, for that matter), he/she shouldn’t be on the field. Also, assigning cut responsibility based on how many throws a potential cut man might otherwise make during a game is just silliness on several levels. With this mindset, I suppose one would relieve the 1Bman of his long and well-established around-the-mound cut responsibilities, in favor of the pitcher, catcher, a MIer, or perhaps an outfielder.

        • Realistically if the throw from a outfielder is off line to the catcher and the 3rd baseman has to cut the ball, there shouldn’t be a play at home plate. That would mean the 3rd base coach shouldn’t have sent the baserunner. Most likely the cut off man would re direct the ball to a different base or just catch and hold the ball and make sure no other runners advance.

    • The 3B is the cut off man because the throw may need to be re directed. Having a player in the proper position as a cut off man will also keep trail runners from advancing to the next base. It has nothing to do with arm strength or throwing accuracy. It’s all positioning and scheme.

  3. I have always taught my players to (initially) move towards the baseball off of the bat. Instinctively I want them trying to make a play on the ball. In the case of a base hit directly up the middle with a runner on 2nd base, the 2nd baseman should be moving to his right to try and make a play on the ball. Every cut diagram I have seen (including this one) shows the 2nd baseman covering 1st base….in other words he would initially move to his right and then after the ball passes him to center field he has to hit the brakes and sprint all the way back to 1st base. Is this realistic or practical for that matter? or is there another way I should be teaching my kids for this particular case?

    • Kevin Trenholm on

      Craig,
      Me too. I’m guessing Doug is basing this on players that can make the “my play/not my play” very early and react. I still teach my kids to follow the ball and that means the 2nd baseman and SS cover 2nd depending on the direction of the hit.

      • Kevin, Craig,
        Let’s look at the potential positioning of the 2nd baseman in the situations in question. In most instances he will be close to the middle, holding the runner on second base. Therefore, he will likely be able to make a play on a ball hit to his right. If he can not make a play, given his proximity to the middle he will know it right away (as you mentioned) and will likely not have made wasted movement in that direction before moving to cover first. When the SS is holding the runner, the 2Bman will more likely be in the hole, maybe even closer to IB if the LHB is a dead pull hitter. In this position, his transition to covering first is much more efficient. In any case, the cover responsibility is not of principal importance. He is there, of course, in the event the runner falls, or strays too far in his rounding of IB, where a play might then be made on the runner. Also, there is no concern that the 2bman’s absence from first will allow the runner a free pass to 2B, because the SS is there covering. So, as you stated, the foremost responsibility for the 2B is to make a play on the ball; and if that means moving to his right and possibly diving, falling, or just having the ball roll past his reach, which in all cases would preclude his covering first in a timely manner, nothing is lost. I’ll take the odds of a 4-3 out occurring over 4 tagging a careless or clumsy runner at first any day.

        • Pete,
          You are correct. The responsibility of the second baseman getting back to first base is mostly to keep the hitter/runner from getting too big of a turn around 1st. When the runner is approaching first base and he sees the second baseman moving in that direction, the runner slows down and isn’t as aggressive. Most likely there won’t be a play at 1st base, but keeping the runner closer may keep the runner from advancing to second base if a throw kicks away slightly from a defender. We are trying to protect against giving up an additional 90 feet whenever possible.

    • Yes, the 2b will have time to get over to 1B to make the hitter honest/stay close to first. 1B has time to get near the mound to take the cut. The cut in this situation is really to stop the ball from going all the way home and preventing you from giving the hitter second base.

    • The second baseman can get back to first base if he knows his responsibilities before the play. For example, if he dives up the middle and gets up quickly, he won’t be anywhere close to beating the runner to first base, but the runner will see him moving that direction and will keep the runner from taking a large turn. The key is knowing where to be and running hard. I’ve done this, I know its possible.

      There are teams that are using the 3rd baseman as the cutoff man from centerfield (We did this with the Twins and Pirates) if there is no one on first base. In this case, the SS goes to 3B, the second baseman goes to 2B and the 1B stays home. This made the positioning on this play much easier but the pre pitch communication and understanding the responsibilities were more difficult (because if there is a runner at 1B, the 1B has to be the cutoff man not the 3B because there could be a potential play at 3B).

      Remember too, that the 2B is only going back to 1B when there is no one on 1B. If there is a runner at 1B, the 2B goes to 2B.

  4. When there is a runner on first and second base and a bloop single to left field takes the shortstop out into left field, and as a result makes it impossible for the shortstop to get back to cover 3rd base, should the 3rd baseman still act as the cutoff man to home plate, or in this situation, should the 3rd baseman cover third base and let either the 1st baseman act as the cutoff man or maybe even the catcher act as his own cutoff man?

    • Bill – In the case of a bloop single the runners are most probably holding half way and therefore if the ball drops the runners are probably going station to station. IF the ball is hit to where a SS thinks he can get to it, the runner has to respect that and hold just in case the ball is caught. Because of that, the 3rd baseman will stay closer to 3rd base just in case the ball drops and there is a play at 3rd. Being that the runners are most probably holding on such a play, the play is no longer at “4” and therefore the 3rd baseman is not needed as a cut to home.

      A catcher would never act as his own cut off, because he is covering the bag. He may advance toward the ball if he realizes there is no play at home and he wants to try and get another runner at another base, but that would never be considered him “acting” as his own cutoff.

      • William Berotti on

        “He may advance toward the ball if he realizes there is no play at home and he wants to try and get another runner at another base, but that would never be considered him “acting” as his own cutoff.”
        That is EXACTLY what acting as your own cut off man means.

    • This is a unique situation. If there is 0 or 1 out the runners would hold, and realistically a cut off man to home plate is not needed. If the ball falls, the runners would move up 90 feet and no more. If there are 2 outs and the runners are running at contact, the left fielder has to make a decision on where he wants to make his throw. 3rd baseman stays at his bag because if the runner at 1st is trying to get to 3rd on this bloop, he should be thrown out. The runner at 2nd will most likely score and the hitter (who is now the runner going to 1st) will move up to 2nd if the left fielder makes a throw home.

      There is always improv happening on defense when a situation is unique. The first baseman if he is paying attention can act as the cut off man to home plate on this play to help out.

    • Mike,
      I’ll have to go look and see if the diagrams are hidden somewhere on our site (things disappear or move around from time to time). Basically with a runner at first base and a ball hit to any of the three outfield spots the shortstop will be the cutoff man to third base. Making sure he is in a straight line between the outfielder and the third baseman. The second baseman will have the responsibility to cover second base and the 1st and third baseman stay at their bases and are ready for the ball to be thrown to them. Hope this helps.

      Doug

  5. This was a great tool for my junior team to read although they shold have this down by this level it was still a wonderful reminder.

  6. The note under diagram 1.B seems to conflict with the diagram itself. It reads as follows: “See Diagram 1.B. – Positioning for a single hit to center field with a runner on second base. Play is at home plate, with a possible cut and throw to 3rd base. First baseman is the cut-off guy. Second baseman covers 2nd base.”

    Shouldn’t the possible cut and throw be to 2nd base and shouldn’t the second baseman cover 1st base? Please clarify. Thanks, Tom

    • Tom,
      Thanks for pointing out the mistake. We try to proof read everything, but that slipped through the cracks. The diagram was correct but the wording was wrong. The second baseman should be covering first base and the shortstop would be covering second base. Thanks for helping us out and pointing out the mistake.

      Thanks, Doug

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