Having the ability to take away a hitter’s strengths and attack their weaknesses can be enhanced by how defenders position themselves. Many high level college and professional teams spend countless hours developing and implementing a team defensive game plan (often times for specific hitters). We see this all the time with the application of the dramatic infield shifts that will sometimes bring three infielders to one side of 2B. Positioning in the outfield (OF) is also an essential aspect of the entirety of a team’s defense.
Keeping that in mind, and understanding that there are many different ways to play strategic defense, there are a few certain things that we can call “general” defensive positioning tactics for OF play. OF defensive positioning begins with the center fielder (CF). The CF is the captain of the outfield and is, therefore, in charge of communicating and moving the OF defense from pitch to pitch. Generically speaking for example, if the CF begins the pitch shading on the hitter’s pull side of the field, the opposite side fielder should also move in that direction so as to minimize any gap created between the fielders.
The hand of the pitcher can also determine the positioning of the center fielder. CF’s have the most ground to cover, and being able to see the pitch from almost straight behind the pitcher is essential for getting a good jump on any ball hit to the outfield. Right-handed pitchers tend to fall off the mound to the 1B side of the field. The most effective generic positioning for the CF is to shade to the SS side of 2B. The right fielder (RF) would then shift over towards CF. Vice versa for left-handed pitchers.
In game adjustments are also an integral part of team defense. CF’s should always be on the lookout for “tells” from opposing hitters that can help out with positioning. For example, if the CF can see that a batter is consistently late on high velocity pitches, he should shift to the opposite field side regardless of what hand the pitcher is. At this point, the percentages are higher that the batter will hit the ball the opposite way. He should then also bring the pull side fielder along with him in the same direction.
Other in game adjustments can be made based upon situation. For instance, the pitch count can help dictate defensive positioning. The most difficult count to hit in is any count with two strikes. Defenders should always be aware of the situation and adjust accordingly. In this example, the defensive OF’s should adjust to anticipate a defensive, two-strike swing and move the opposite fielder in a step or two. In other words, make the batter prove that he can drive a ball over the OF’s head with a two strike count. If they can, remember it and play that batter in a normal position with a two strike count.
There are other ideas and philosophies for defensive positioning. Playing with logic, attentiveness, and understanding of situations will go a long way to improving defensive OF play.