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Cutoffs & Relays. (Baseball).

EVERY WELL-COACHED baseball team has a basic number of cutoff and relay plays designed to prevent the opposing baserunners from advancing.

Before each pitch, every player is expected to run down his mental checklist on what to do on the various kinds of batted balls.

Among the factors with which he must contend are: how the ball was hit, its depth, its velocity, the distance to the right or left, the field conditions, his arm strength and release, the game situation, and finally, the baserunner's speed.

Most of these factors can be evaluated before the pitch is made. It's important to understand that all nine players have a role on every batted ball, and no player's role is less important than the others.

For example, on a base hit to right field with a runner on first, the right-fielder's throw to third base is considered the most important aspect of the cutoff and relay. But many other "little things" also enter into the play.

The second baseman must set up on the inside of the base while watching the runner from first hit the bag. This will cause the runner to take a slightly wider turn around the base, making him run an extra two or three feet. The extra distance becomes very important on a bang-bang play.

Consider the role of the shortstop. He must line up with third base as the cutoff man - 45 feet or less from the third baseman.

This kind of positioning makes it tougher for the batter/runner to advance to second. He will have to delay his decision until the ball is either cut off by the shortstop or goes by him.

The position within the 45-foot radius makes it easier to cut off poor throws, as the player can come up to cut or relay a throw while still having more range in the handling of a high throw.

Most cutoff and relay situations begin with the outfielder fielding the ball and throwing it low to the cutoff man. As a rule, a low throw will gain 10% more distance than a high throw. This means that a player who can throw 225 feet with a high throw will be able to get the ball out 250 feet with a low throw. That makes a tremendous difference in cutoff and relay plays.

We also want to emphasize that throwing through to the target (on a fly) makes for stronger throws while avoiding eccentric bounces.

The ball (in a cutoff and relay situation) is thrown to a relay man, a cutoff man, or an end receiver, such as a catcher at home plate, a third baseman at third base, and so on.

A relay man who sets up on the outfield grass is going to relay the ball to the base with which he is aligned. A cutoff man who sets up in the infield grass derives his name (cutoff man) from that fact. Balls are not usually relayed on the infield grass.

The percentages tell us that balls relayed on the infield grass do not result in outs. The cutoff man's main job is to cut off throws that are late or off line. He sets up no more than 45 feet from the base and either holds the ball or throws it to another base.

Relay men must keep their heads on a swivel when aligning themselves -- constantly looking back at the baserunner to decide where to throw the ball.

On an extra base hit, they will look back at the runner three different times -- (1) immediately after their first step to the outfield, (2) when the ball passes the outfielder, and (3) just as the outfielder reaches to pick up the ball.

When our infielders go out to serve as relay men, we want them to call out the outfielder's last name and wave an arm, allowing the outfielders to pick up the target with their eyes as well as their ears. The verbal signal is also important because it informs the outfielders of their targets as they're running to pick up a ball with their backs to the target.

Infielders must also make a decision on how far to go out to relay a ball. Arm strength is the determinant. Coaches have to maximize the better arms. If, for example, our goal is to throw 380 feet, we would want the stronger arm to throw 210-220 and the weaker arm 160-170.

The most efficient manner in which to relay a baseball is by having the relay man assume a sideways position and move toward the target.

In extra-base hit situations, we will use a tandem relay -- have two players (shortstop and second baseman) go out. If the extra base hit is down the right-field line with a runner on first, we will have the second baseman and first baseman go out.

This tandem relay team consists of a lead man and backup man. The lead man is the player closer to the throwing outfielder, and we want to make sure the outfielder throws to him.

The back-up man in the tandem situation is there for exactly that reason -- to back up the lead man. He plays approximately 45 feet behind the lead man and slightly off center. The off-center position prevents him from having his vision blocked by the lead man.

The lead man is taught not to jump for a ball unless he's 100% sure he can catch it. We do not want to risk a deflection that will prevent either man from making the play.

In case of doubt, we let the backup man take the throw. The same holds true for a ball that hits the ground and is going to give the lead man an in-between hop. We go ahead and let the backup man relay the ball.

Verbal Signals

A key to a successful cutoff and relay is consistent use of verbal signals. When a relay or a cutoff man is lining up to receive a throw, he must call the thrower's last name. If he wants the ball cut to another base, he must call a number.

For example, on a base hit with a runner on second trying to score, our catcher will yell "3-3" if he wants to cut the throw and throw to third base. "2-2" would be the verbal signal for the throw to second base and "1-1" is the verbal call for a throw to first base.

If our end receiver wants the ball to come straight through untouched, he will call "Leave! Leave!" In a rare situation, he may call "Relay! Relay!" This differentiation is critical because our relay/cutoff men will now be able to more quickly recognize whether or not they have to close up and prepare to throw to another base.

Any time the infielder hears a non-number, he knows that he will be letting the ball go or possibly relaying it, and will thus be handling the ball on his glove side.

We also want to be able to confuse baserunners by calling nothing at all. Any time the end receiver calls nothing, it is the same as if he called "Leave! Leave!"

This is most likely to happen when we're attempting to deceive the baserunner. For example, the catcher may stand at home plate with his hands on his hips, acting as if the baseball has not been thrown to home plate. At the last second, he will catch the ball. Any verbal signal in this situation would defeat the attempt to confuse the baserunner.

The cutoff man has to be able to fake cutting off a ball that is being thrown through to a base or home-plate. The fake (cut) involves slapping the palm or outside of the glove with an open hand. The sound can confuse a backside runner into thinking that the ball has been cut, and prevent the baserunner from taking the extra base he normally would have taken.

A good fake cut should be followed up by either an arm fake or a direct sprint at the baserunner for whom the fake cut was intended.

Baserunners should be forced into wide turns whenever possible, as mentioned before. Many opportunities for this occur at first, second, and third. Remember, when baserunners are forced into wider turns, it is just like making them run 100 feet rather than the 50 feet they should be running.

When a runner rounds third, the third baseman should force a wide turn while watching the runner touch the bag. The same technique can be used by the shortstop, second baseman, and first baseman at their bases.

Infielders have to be warned to be careful not to obstruct the baserunner's path or set up too close to the base.

This can be done by verbalizing "Yes! Yes!" when the runner is attempting to advance and "No! No!" when the runner is staying at that particular base. This will enable the end receiver to more accurately judge the available time to relay the throw or to leave the base to catch an off-line throw and return to the base to make a tag on the runner.

Backing Up

Backing up is another major part of cutoffs and relays. The backup player has to go all-out to the proper position. A good back-up drill can be devised simply by having the infielders purposely let balls get by them for the sole purpose of checking to see whether the backup man was in the correct position.

Backup players who take pride in their game will be in their assigned position waiting for an overthrown ball. Players with no pride will wind up joining the chase for the ball.

The one unique aspect of our cutoffs and relays is that the first baseman is the cutoff to the plate on base hits to both left and left center. We believe it eliminates confusion that may arise from balls on which both the first and third basemen think of themselves as the cutoff man. It is much easier to have these players do the same thing on every base hit.

The major drawback is that the first baseman may be late getting into the proper position on hard-hit balls to left field or ground balls that the shortstop or third baseman has a chance of fielding.

When this happens, we just have to hope that we get an accurate and intelligent throw from our left fielder.

Excerpted from Jerry Weinstein and Andy McKay's Baseball Instructional Manual published in 1995 when both coaches were busy turning the Sacramento City College program into one of the top amateur programs in the country.
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Author:Mckay, Andy
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2001
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