Tuesday, January 16th, 2018

Reading hops as an infielder

One of the most astonishing stats that I’ve ever seen is one that even most die-hard baseball fans never heard about.  In 1990, Cal Ripken Jr. made a grand total of three errors.  THREE !!!!  He played in every game that year (1,406 innings) and had 680 defensive chances.  I don’t know about you but that blows my mind.

Cynics might say that his range wasn’t great so he didn’t get to as many balls as a major league shortstop should.  But that discounts the fact that he was a master at predicting where the ball was going to be hit based on variables like the count, the hitter, the pitcher, and the type and location of the pitch, and positioning himself accordingly.  And we’re talking about 680 chances!

How in the world does a shortstop not make more than three errors in a major league season?  Well, certainly a lot of hard work and repetitions but if I were to guess, a big part of his success was his ability to read hops.

Ever notice that some fielders never seem to get many bad hops?  This is usually caused by the fielder reading hops better than most players.  When a grounder is hit off the bat, a good fielder’s brain immediately makes predictions as to how many times the ball will bounce before he gets to it.  A huge key to successful fielding is learning how to speed up or slow down your footwork in order to catch the ball in the proper location – from the top of the arc down to a short hop. (shown in the following diagram)

From the top of the arc down to a short hop

Consistently catching the ball between the indicated points will turn any fielder into a better one.  Consistently catch the ball between these two points – the “in-between” hop – …

The dreaded "in-between" hop!

…and the fielder’s error totals will begin to rise.

Because of all this, fielders must concentrate not only on the proper footwork and mechanics of catching and throwing but also on the timing of that process as well.  The more a fielder practices this, the more he will be able to speed up or slow down his footwork to put himself in a better position to catch the grounder between the desired area.

Of course, some grounders don’t give any time for fielders to adjust at all.  The ball gets on them quickly and the fielder is at the mercy of whatever part of the bounce they get.  That’s baseball.  It’s also another reason why Cal’s three error total just blows me away.

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