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.