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Firstly we will look at the various positions in the field, and the qualities want (or need) to see in a fielder manning each position. After that we will look at things when we have a less than perfect line up. If we have a new team and half of them don't know what to do which positions are really important and which can we cut corners with ?
In an ideal world every player would be 6'6", run 100 yards in 10 seconds, and be able to catch pigeons in mid air. Unfortunately even on good teams things don't work like that. The table below lists some game skills and suggests how important they are to fielding in a particular position. If a box is "important" then a player should really have that quality to play that position. If a skill is "useful" then a player with that skill will be noticeably better in that position than one without it. If the box is blank then that skill is a bit of a luxury when playing in that position.
|Position||Catching the ball||Quick Reactions||Speed||Strong arm||Special|
Not all fielding positions are created equal. The relative importance of different fielding positions changes as the overall level of play changes. Some fielding positions become relatively less important at higher levels of play but at the same time as the level of play increases the more important it is that all the players on the team are basically competent, (or competent in the basics). We will look at an inexperienced team that is just starting out and then talk about how things change as we get better.
It is not always immediately obvious to new players, but whether a player is left or right handed makes a big difference to how suitable they are to playing some positions on the field. In the outfield it is largely irrelevant. Left handed players have a small advantage at first base. Right handed players have a big advantage at second third and short stop.
These differences arise because on the vast majority of infield plays the ball is thrown clockwise around the diamond. A left handed first base has their glove on their right hand which makes it easier to take throws from other infielders. A left hander at one of the other infield positions will more often than that find themselves having to turn round between fielding the ball and then throwing it. The extra time that this takes makes it difficult for left handers to flourish in these positions.
When a team starts to play there are 3 positions that need to be filled adequately to give the team a chance of being competitive:
At a low level of play a lot of outs are recorded on weakly hit balls within the infield. If the team has a pitcher who can throw strikes (thus forcing batter to swing), a short stop that can catch weak fly balls and field grounders, and a first base that can catch a team might not win but they can put up a respectable showing even if the rest of the fielders are not up to much.
When a team starts out, unless it is completely outmatched, it will play against other teams who contain a large percentage of average or poor players and it is those players that you are most interested in when you are in the field. Any team you play against may have a couple of really good players who hit the ball effectively but fortunately for you, because of the way softball works their effect is strictly limited. All the poor players on the other team also get a turn at bat and as long as you get them out the damage their good players can do is restricted. This is the secret to making a new team competitive. Make sure that you get all the easy outs and you can contain the damage their good players can do ! Getting the hard outs looks good but it's closing the deal on the easy outs that leads to success.
When a team gets started there are usually at least a couple of fielders who struggle with basic catching and throwing. A captain has to be careful about how they use such players for several reasons:
Fortunately there are a couple of well known places on the field where a weak fielder can be hidden. These are:
In an ideal world a team wouldnt have any weak fielders but believe me when they do it is useful to know where to hide them.
NOTE: Usually I would always hide the weakest fielder at catcher BUT at a low level a strong arm can actually be more useful at catcher than in right field. This is particularly true if you have two players who just cannot catch. An outfielder who cannot catch has little use for a strong arm BUT a catcher with a strong arm can still pick up mis-hits from the floor and throw them to first even if they cannot catch.
When you sit down to decide who goes where in the field, the Captain first needs to fill the "big three" positions. After that the weakest players are assigned to catcher and right field. What about the rest ? At a low level of play filling the other infield positions is probably more important than the outfield. If the team gets all the "easy" outs you can afford to live with the odd big home run.
That said any team line up is a balancing act, it can be worth weakening even one of the "big three" positions slightly if it strengthens the team over all. For example if your "best" first base can play well in the outfield whereas the number two guy is almost as good at first but has the speed of a tortoise it is usually a good idea to accept a small fall off at first to buy a big increase in the outfield.
As the level of play goes up the demands on players change and the relative importance of different fielding positions also changes:
NOTE that all these changes are relative, not absolute. The demands on all the fielders increase as the level of play gets higher. Also the importance of team work grows as the playing level goes up. As players master the basics they need to become more aware of the need to back up, cover bases and use cut off plays.
The four infielders have to be split two male and two female. 99% of short stops are male. All other combinations are seen and have their virtues but usually second base is a "female" position as it's a short throw to first.
This means the usual choice is between having the second man on third and having him on first.
This should be driven entirely by the personnel available. Both first and third are good places to hide immobile players so it all depends on the arm strength and catching abilities and range of the individuals concerned (of both sexes). There is no one general right answer:
The best combination is probably a good female first base coupled with a good male third base and at higher levels of play this is what most teams use, but there are lots of factors that need to be considered before making a decision, especially at lower levels of play. A good male first base will usually be bigger and have a greater range than his female equivalent and thus can cover up a multitude of sins amongst the other infielders. On the other hand it's easier to find a competent male third base than the female equivalent, and a good female third base could usually equally well be used in the outfield so it does all depend on the individuals available on the team and the level at which they are playing.
Having said above that second base is usually a "female" position there can be times when it is worth having a man there. Against a team with strong hitters that you know like to hit up the middle it can be worth having a man on second, but I personally do not like this arrangement.
Pitcher and catcher have to be one each of male and female. Given the fact that the weakest player on the team will usually be female it is a good idea to have a male pitcher unless the best female pitcher is a LOT bet than the best male.
The four outfielders also have to be split two male and two female. Normally the best outfielder is put in left field, or sometimes left centre. More often than not the fielders are ordered boy, girl, boy, girl but against teams that like to hit up the middle it can be worth putting the two blokes together in left and right centre.
There are no any hard and fast rules about outfield placement but there are some general principles.
NB: These notes assume the presence of a 150' fielding line in the outfield. If this line is not being used the outfielders should take the chance to pull in even further against the weaker batters.
When a woman is batting, unless you know she has genuine power, all the outfielders should be on the 150' line.
When a bloke is batting the female outfielders should be about 10 paces back from the line and the blokes about another 5 paces deeper than that. The left fielder should be another 5 paces back for a right hander, the right fielder deeper for a left hander. For a "big hitter" go back another 5 to 10 paces, if you know the batter has little power push in towards the 150' line. The higher the level of the opposition the further back the outfield are likely to end up.
When a right hander is batting the fielders should push towards the left field line..
With a left hander the fielders should move to the right....
The more base runners are on the further out the out fielders should play. That said with no one on make sure they push in far enough to look for the catch. Unless they are reminded to be agressive outfielders tend to drift deeper and deeper as games go on. The percentage play is to keep them a bit tighter and look for the outs.