Editor’s note – This article originally appeared on AstrosConnection.com.
“Hit the cutoff man!” That cry, which may be a demand or a plea depending on the circumstances, can be heard at every game. One of the most easily overlooked aspects of a winning baseball team is the team’s ability to hit the cutoff man, to make strong and accurate relay throws to the correct base, to make good decisions whether to cut off throws, and to make good decisions on what to do with the ball after cutting off the throw. Teams that stress fundamentals will spend a considerable amount of time drilling on balls hit in the gaps and down the lines, and they will work every day on infielders’ cutoff positions for throws from outfielders. Casual fans often cheer loudly for a throw that carries in the air from an outfielder to home or third, but the knowing fan recognizes that the impressive-looking throw missed a cutoff man and most likely allowed trailing runners to advance a base. Hitting the cutoff man consistently is one of the little things that winning teams do. This article examines the rules and positioning for infielders and outfielders to execute the cutoff play.Fly Ball Rules
Essential to solid outfield defense is a clear understanding of specific responsibilities for balls hit in the air. Outfielders must catch anything they can reach in front of them. The outfielder should take any popup or fly he can get to coming in, and he must call for the ball as soon as he thinks he can make the catch. Infielders must go into the outfield for popups, but they must give way immediately when an outfielder calls for the ball. The center fielder should catch anything he can get to in either gap, and the left fielder and right fielder must give way immediately and move to back him up as soon as he calls for the ball. Outfielders must back up one another on every play and should communicate with one another between pitches and during plays.
The Double Cutoff: balls hit, over, through or by an outfielder
A ball hit well in the gap, down the line, or through or over an outfielder likely will go to the wall. What happens next will determine if, or how many, baserunners will score and how many bases the hitter will advance beyond first base. This situation requires the outfielder to get the ball quickly to an infielder and requires the infielder to make an accurate relay throw to the correct base. Coordination between outfielders and infielders and correct positioning by the infielders are essential because this throw will not go to a base.
A ball hit to the wall tells the outfielder to disregard the runners and to throw the ball directly to the cutoff man, an infielder who has run into the outfield to take the throw. The second baseman and shortstop will be double cutoff men on all balls hit over, through or by an outfielder; one will be in front and will run toward the outfielder to take the throw, and the other will be in line with the throw but will be about ten feet behind the front cutoff man. The front cutoff man should try to catch the ball in a position to make a relay throw with no wasted motion. The back cutoff man has two roles: he must watch the progress of the runners so that he can tell the front cutoff man where to throw the ball, and he must catch the ball and make the relay throw himself if the front cutoff man does not catch the outfielder’s throw.
The second baseman is the front cutoff man on all balls hit to the wall down the right field line and into right center field. The shortstop is the front cutoff man on all balls hit to the wall down the left field line, into left center field and to straightaway center. On the double cutoff, the first baseman watches the hitter touch first and then trails him to second base for a throw if the hitter takes a wide turn around second base. After the hitter rounds second base and heads for third, the first baseman will move back into the infield to be a cutoff man for the relay throw.
During the double cutoff, the third baseman must wait at the bag for a throw. He has no cutoff responsibilities on a ball hit over, through or by an outfielder. In various situations, including the double cutoff, the pitcher must be ready to back up either home or third base, depending on where the throw goes. To accomplish this task, the pitcher has to sprint to a position in foul territory halfway between third and home. As the outfielder throws, the pitcher will go to the base to which the throw is made to back up for an errant throw. Double cutoff rules apply only if the ball goes over, through or by an outfielder.
General Cutoff Rules
On all throws from an outfielder to the bases, the infielders and the pitcher have specific places to be. As the ball goes into the outfield with runners on base, the infielders should begin to move quickly to their assigned places to prepare to cut off the throw if necessary. Outfielders have to know who the cutoff man will be at each base, and they should attempt to throw the ball through the head of the cutoff man to the base, not throw the ball to him. A one hop throw to the base is perfect, and the head-high throw can be cut off easily. Each cutoff man should raise his arms in the “touchdown” signal to give the throwing outfielder a clear target. The exact position of the cutoff man is determined by the depth and position of the outfielder and the strength of his throwing arm.
The catcher or the infielder who is lining up the cutoff man must watch the runners, judge the accuracy and the velocity of the throw and tell the cutoff man what to do. The cutoff man’s options are to let the ball go through, to cut off the throw and throw it to a base or to cut off the throw and hold the ball. The player making the call for the cutoff man cannot be timid or soft-spoken with this communication, and he must decide and speak soon enough for the cutoff man to react to the throw. If the outfielder’s throw toward a base is too high to be cut off, the cutoff man should not jump for the ball but rather should fake a catch and throw to second. This fake catch and throw may keep the hitter from moving up to second on the high throw.
The pitcher should never stand at the mound watching the play, and he should never cut off a throw. The pitcher is not a cutoff man on any throw from the outfield, and he is not ever supposed to be a spectator. The pitcher will be backing up at home or third on every throw to those bases, and with more than one runner on base, he has to be ready to back up at either base when the ball goes into the outfield. He must be both active and alert.
The following situations illustrate the infielders’ and the pitcher’s assignments on throws from the outfield with runners on base. Perhaps the various situations that are possible will demonstrate the alertness, judgment and awareness that are required for proper execution of the cutoff. More than one runner on base, of course, creates more than one possible place for an outfielder to throw the ball, which increases the need for good decisions and intelligent execution of the play.
Hit or fly to LF, runner trying to score
The third baseman is the cutoff man for the throw from the left fielder to home plate. He will move ten to fifteen feet down the baseline for his cutoff position, and the catcher will line him up with the left fielder’s position for the throw. As soon as the shortstop is sure that the left fielder will catch the ball, he must sprint to cover third base. The second baseman will cover second base, and the first baseman will stay at first base to keep the hitter from rounding the bag too far. The pitcher backs up home. The positioning will remain the same if there also is a possible throw to third, but the pitcher will back up third if the throw goes there.
Hit or fly to CF, runner trying to score
The first baseman is the cutoff man on throws from the center fielder to the plate. As the ball is hit into the outfield, he must move immediately to a position on the second base side of the mound. He cannot be late getting into position. The catcher lines up the first baseman for the throw to home. Most teams have the third baseman remain at third on all throws from the center fielder, but the Astros sometimes use the third baseman as the cutoff man on the throw from center if there is no possibility of a throw to third.
Whether the second baseman or shortstop covers second base is determined by where the ball is hit and whether there is a possible throw to third. If there is a possible throw to third, the shortstop will be the cutoff man for that throw, and the second baseman will cover second on a ball hit to any part of center field. The third baseman will line up the shortstop for a throw to third. If there is no possible throw to third, the shortstop will cover second base on a ball hit to right center field and the second baseman will cover second on the ball hit to left center field. The pitcher backs up the catcher on the throw to the plate and backs up the third baseman if the throw goes there.
Hit or fly to RF, runner trying to score
The first baseman is the cutoff man for the throw home, and he will set up ten to fifteen feet down the baseline to be in position to cut off the throw. The catcher lines the first baseman up for the throw from right field. If there also is a possible throw to third on the play, the shortstop will be the cutoff man for that throw and the second baseman will cover second. The third baseman will line up the shortstop for a throw to third. If there is no possible throw to third, the shortstop will cover second base and the second baseman will cover first base. The third baseman will remain at the third base. The pitcher will back up home or third, depending on where the throw goes.
Hit or fly to LF, runner moving from first to third
A cutoff man usually is not necessary on this short throw. The third baseman will cover third base, the second baseman will cover second, and the first baseman will cover first. The shortstop is available for a cutoff on a fly ball hit deep down the left field line, but in most cases he should stay out of the way. The pitcher backs up third base.
Hit or fly to CF, runner moving from first to third
The shortstop is the cutoff man for the throw to third and will position himself in the infield dirt between second and third. The third baseman lines up the shortstop on the center fielder’s position for the throw. The second baseman will cover second base, and the first baseman will cover first. The pitcher must back up third base.
Hit or fly to RF, runner moving from first to third
The shortstop will be the cutoff man for this throw. His position will be either on the infield dirt or the grass between second and third. The third baseman will line up the shortstop for the throw. The second baseman will cover second base, and the first baseman will cover first. The pitcher must back up third base.
Communication and Judgment
On all balls hit to the outfield, each outfielder must know the score and the situation, be aware of the speed of the runners, and be able to judge when a throw to home is a wasted throw that will allow other runners to take an extra base. Often the best play is to concede the run and to prevent the trailing runner from advancing to third or to prevent the hitter from advancing to scoring position at second. Communication between the outfielders during the play can help to prevent a wasted throw and can keep the hitter out of scoring position. The cutoff throw that is head-high as it reaches the cutoff man also will deter runners from taking an extra base.
Hitting the cutoff man with an accurate throw is an essential part of winning baseball. A strong, accurate throw that will carry through the cutoff man if not intercepted is necessary, and equally important is for each infielder to know his assignment and to be in the right place for the variety of situations that runners on base create on a ball hit to the outfield. At your next game, look away from the ball occasionally and watch the infielders move into position for cutoff plays. This exercise in self-discipline likely will increase your appreciation of the complexity of this game.