Mental Side of Fielding


A well trained defense can help a pitcher immensely over the course of a game. Often, the defense can rob batters of hits, or extra bases. Even when a pitcher doesn’t have his best stuff, the defense can pick him up and give him a chance to earn a ‘W’.

Baseball is one of those games that tests your ability to stay focused and to plan for contingencies in situations that are fluid enough to change from pitch to pitch. How fielders recognize, plan for, and handle these situations (often with only about 10 seconds of time to think) can determine the outcome of the game.

A great way for coaches to help their pitchers be more successful is to invest the necessary time in practice to really work with the defense.

One thing we do is something called “Little League Infield”. My HS coach introduced me to it and we spent at least 10 minutes of every practice on this drill. We would pull the defense into the area in front of home plate in about a 50 foot square. The players would be distributed just like on the full-sized field only very close together. The coach would have throw down bases dispersed and the defense would review situations.

He would call out situations in a virtual inning then randomly select a defensive player and ask what would happen if there was a wild pitch? or what if the runner stole and the batter swung and missed? or what if it was a base hit to shallow left? He would want to know what various players thought their responsibilities were or what the priority was. Which runner on base is the most important? Sometimes it felt like we answered 100 questions in those 10 minutes.

There would be no ball, no actual runners, and everything was virtual. The players had to visualize these situations. They would have to see it develop and unfold in their mind. Eventually, the players began to call out the coverage after the coach set up the situation. The next phase would be for the players to run through the choreography. They would move to cover their bases or get into back up positions, or cut off positions, etc.

During games, everyone would be playing “Little League Infield” in their heads between each pitch. The players would be communicating between each pitch and calling attention to the critical details so everyone was on the same page.

I’ve always tried to incorporate this below the HS level with varying degrees of success. No matter what, there is always improvement in defensive performance. It also brings to light which players have a head for the game and can be trusted in key situations late in games to do the right thing.

It definitely helps the pitcher’s mental game when he can trust the defense behind him is alert and giving their best effort at all times.


Bad defense is so frustrating when I’m pitching. One thing that helps me not get angry at teammates is realize no one is perfect and I’ve made errors before so I have no right to be mad at them


One of the biggest reasons for messing up a play is rushing the play. There’s a certain tempo that every fielder, regardless of the position, must get in the grove with. A tempo that allows a decision planned for, out of many "anticipated" possible plays, then possession of the ball cleanly, a reasonable platform to either throw from, or cover a bag, or to back up, then execute. Again, a tempo of expectation, action, results.

Pressure, being one of the culprits that causes a fielder to rush his tempo, can be one of the toughest things to get a handle on. In the professional game, this IS the craftsman’s expertise that makes him a professional. The professionals can make it look easy - because this is their livelihood. Like a bricklayer who constructs a wall that’s neat and clean, straight as an arrow, crisp corners, and the same amount of mortar mix between every brick. This stuff doesn’t happen over night either. Constant practice to hone one’s ability to act without hesitation and precise.

Now for amateurs, this is a tall order. Don’t get too upset if things go south - and they will, more often than not. But there is a drill that every club that I was ever with did, to develop that tempo that I remarked about heretofore. That drill is pictured below.

There’s noting like pressure to see what a man is really made of. And there’s no better pressure cooker in baseball than there is with base-runners-on. So, let every fielder take a shot at covering second base in addition to the pitching and being a catcher, with a base runner on second, then here’s how this drill unfolds:

  1. the base runner on second takes a 13 foot lead off the bag
  2. as soon as the pitcher starts his delivery motion from the stretch (set) the runner takes off
  3. the pitcher delivers to the backstop
  4. the backstop gets possession then rifles the ball to second
  5. the runner from second rounds third and heads for home
  6. the second baseman throws the ball back to the backstop
  7. the baseball and the base runner should arrive at home plate at about the same time.

Here’s what’s going on:

  1. with a ten foot lead off second base, the base runner has less than 90 feet to make it to third - oh, in about 3.5 to 4.0 seconds
  2. once the base runner rounds third he should make it to home plate in about 4.5 to 5.5 seconds
  3. the total elapsed time that the base runner is on the base paths is about 8.0 to 9.5 seconds
  4. in highly competitive amateur baseball, if everyone does their job with deliberate control of the ball
    - pitcher to backstop
    - backstop to second base
    - second base back to the backstop
    all of that ball handling should be under 9.5 seconds or so.

In dominant clubs, the base runner rarely beats the ball to home plate. Other amateur clubs the base runner beats the ball by a .05 to a full 1.5 seconds.

Now before anyone gets real cocky with themselves, the base runner has to be someone that can really fly on the base path. Also as mentioned earlier, everyone takes their turn as a pitcher, a catcher (not down the position), and finally second base, then as a base runner.


Bad defense sucks. Obviously. But I can tell you that pro scouts and college coaches who may be watching/recruiting/scouting you don’t give a rip about what happens behind you… Literally could care less. They want to see how you respond, how you carry yourself, how you pick your teammates up, how you get back to making quality pitches, how you focus on the next pitch. You are being judged. Not anyone else.