3B or 2B?
June 22, 2005 10:07 AM   Subscribe

Little League Baseball Filter: Where would you play your weakest fielder -- 3B or 2B?

My co-coach says 3B should get the weaker fielder because ... when you play third, you can only make an error on balls hit to you (on steals the player cannot advance). When you are at second you are responsible when the ball is hit to you, when the ball is hit to short on a force, when it is hit to third on a force, when you have to get the cutoff, and when you have to throw home after a hit to the outfield.

My gut disagrees, believing that a strong third baseman is your next-to-last defense against a run crossing the plate in a low-scoring game (which these tend to be). And a weak arm at 2B has a better chance of making the throw to first on a routine ground ball.

Law of averages or gut?
posted by terrier319 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (28 answers total)
 
I assume you're talking about the weaker of two fielders, and not the weakest fielder on the team, right?

That said, I think that your co-coach is right, although your gut does have a point. Your co-coach's analysis is backed up by the better fielders playing second base on MLB teams (I believe - I'm no baseball expert).

Along the "last defense" lines of your gut's analysis, though, the second baseman will (hopefully) always have someone backing him/her up on a throw to second base, while the third baseman will usually lack that luxury. This is, I think, a much bigger deal in Little League games than in MLB games - I've seen a ton of Little League runs given up by a throw to third that ends up bouncing off of the away team dugout.

So, in short, I don't really know. And, now that I think about it, I probably don't know enough about baseball to be answering this question. So take my advice in that spirit.
posted by UKnowForKids at 10:17 AM on June 22, 2005


I say gut. This is, of course, assuming that you can't put the kid in left field. 2B is going to see, generally, balls that aren't hit as hard, and is going to have shorter throws to make. While the issues of double-plays and having to turn around to throw to first come into play, I think that 2B is a better overall position for this kid.

By the way, how old are the players? That makes some difference -- if they are younger and ball-shy, third base could be a disaster. If they are older and need to be more sophisticated in their decision making (and have a problem with this), second base might be a problem.
posted by xorowo at 10:21 AM on June 22, 2005


When I was a kid and my dad was my little league coach, he used to put me in right field, under the assumption that the kids couldn't really hit it out there. He was right. I spent most of my time picking dandelions. (Maybe it was left field. I can't remember much about it, other than the dandelions.)
posted by goatdog at 10:31 AM on June 22, 2005


Judging from where they would play me in scout baseball, third. The only problem is when someone is running to third. I had a .600 batting average though.
posted by drezdn at 10:35 AM on June 22, 2005


I think the most important question in little league is who can make the throw from third. It's a long way across the diamond for kids, even on the small little league field.

On our team, we usually had the previous game's pitcher on third. Whoever that was had the arm, clearly, and was accustomed to playing close to the plate.

Assuming everyone can catch thrown balls reasonably well, which I know is a big assumption depending on the level of the team, there is an argument for putting your weakest fielder at first base. Since most hitters will be hitting right, you're going to get a lot more balls down the third base line at that level than down to first.

For my money the second baseman really has to not only have the physical ability to play the position, but also has to have the brains to really get the game. There are a lot more covering responsibilities and complicated plays at second. And if your catcher is ever going to try and throw out a runner, the kid has to know to BE there in the first place.
posted by mikel at 10:50 AM on June 22, 2005


I remember, when I was a little leaguer, that everyone pulled the ball. 90% were righties so that means lots of balls down the left field line (and why right field was the place to hide weaker fielders), making 3b a very demanding position (close to the plate, lots of hard hit balls, and the longest throws by any infielder). Watching my nephew and nieces (and talking to my sister and brother) makes me either question my childhood memory or wonder if hitting/pitching/coaching styles have changed because the kids seem to hit much more to all fields. So, in conclusion, I dunno.
posted by TimeFactor at 11:04 AM on June 22, 2005


For my money the second baseman really has to not only have the physical ability to play the position, but also has to have the brains to really get the game. There are a lot more covering responsibilities and complicated plays at second. And if your catcher is ever going to try and throw out a runner, the kid has to know to BE there in the first place.

Seconded.
posted by dreamsign at 11:05 AM on June 22, 2005


I'm not sure you can be given a solid answer without knowing a little more about the players... saying one is weaker at fielding than another can mean a lot of different things! Does one have a stronger/accurate arm, better reaction time/speed/footwork, are either of them left handed, who has the better head for the game, etc.

Generally speaking, your co-coach is absolutely right. A poor fielding third baseman can hurt you, but they have the least defensive responsibility of any infield position. Based purely on the numbers, a bad 2B will hurt you far worse than a 3B because the 2B will touch the ball many more times per game.

But part of coaching IS instinct. Break the players down, maybe one of them DOES fit a certain position better, and you find out you were correct all along.
posted by Pufferish at 11:06 AM on June 22, 2005


Weak fielder? Can he pitch?

I played 3B in various youth/HS leagues until I was 18. It was a simple position, requiring only the knowledge of how to cover a steal/triple attempt and the ability to put myself in front of some real scorching line drives/ground balls.

And a strong arm. I didn't have the strongest arm, but I was a good hitter and strong fielder. But, I played 3B pretty well my whole life.

This post doesn't help you at all.
posted by unixrat at 11:08 AM on June 22, 2005


Right field, goatdog, because more people bat right and can give left field a scare on an error from the infield.

I even found a four-leaf clover once.
posted by sagwalla at 11:11 AM on June 22, 2005


I would think the second baseman gets a lot more fielding chances as well, so any given error rate would be more harmful.
posted by Rumple at 11:17 AM on June 22, 2005


My feeling is that both 2nd and 3rd need intelligence in terms of managing play on the field and managing outfielders and being alert for steals, cut offs, back ups, bunts, etc. First base, on the other hand, pretty much only needs to be able to catch the ball. I am of the firm opinion that weak fielders go in Right Field, and then First Base, if Right is not an option.
posted by spicynuts at 11:18 AM on June 22, 2005


A couple of thoughts:

(1) You said: when you play third, you can only make an error on balls hit to you (on steals the player cannot advance).

I'm not sure what that means, but I think it means that steals are allowed (but that the runner can't advance if there is an error on the attempt to throw him out). If that's the case, and you have a good catcher, putting a good fielder at 3B might be worth it. When I was in little league, I was a catcher, and I had a pretty good arm. I would often make a good throw to third, and our crap 3B would drop it or it would whiz by him and into the outfield. A good out (taking away a scoring opportunity) would turn into a run. Not cool.

(2) Think about what would happen if the ball went past the fielder. If it is the 3B, your left fielder (generally an able fielder) would be picking it up and chucking it in. He would be close to third base, so he could hit the 3B and keep the runner at second. But if it went past the 2B (and the hitter was speedy) then the chance of a triple goes up because the right fielder (generally not a very good fielder) would be fielding it and the throw to third would likely need to hit the cutoff man.

(3) There's not much definition of "weakest fielder," but I think the 2B's responsibilities to cover first or be available to cover a force out at second could be taught reasonably well. And 2B wouldn't have to be a cutoff man because SS could take the cutoff from CF and 1B could take it from RF. So even if the kid at second was not the most coordinated, you could teach him to get to his assigned places and avoid too much responsibility. You can't teach a weak arm to get the ball across the field from third to first quickly and accurately.

This is an intriguing question for sure. I'd say put the good guy at third.
posted by AgentRocket at 11:24 AM on June 22, 2005


Pop culture and experience as a little league umpire tells me that right field is for the worst of the worst fielders. It's a pretty safe bet.
posted by themadjuggler at 11:54 AM on June 22, 2005


I was by far the worst fielder on every little league team I played on, though I did have a decent arm. Most of the time I played right field; occasionally I pitched. On those rare occasions when I was assigned to the infield and wasn't pitching, I was always third base.
posted by Acetylene at 12:01 PM on June 22, 2005


Assuming you meant the lesser of the two fielders and not the worst fielder on your team (who belongs in RF in Little League), I would put him at third base. All he has to do is knock the ball down and prevent ground balls up the line from turning into doubles. Unless he literally doesn't have the throwing arm to make the throw across the diamond.
posted by LouMac at 12:05 PM on June 22, 2005


Like some, I took the 2B vs. 3B question to be a one or the other thing... I assumed the question meant you already had a worse fielder in right. If you don't, follow the advice of many responders in here... there is no better place on the field to hide a defensive liability than RF.

If they're really terrible, swap 'em with your LF depending on the handedness of the batter. It takes more power to go deep opposite-field than you usually see in Little League.
posted by Pufferish at 12:08 PM on June 22, 2005


Getting ready for the playoffs here in Chicago, I can tell you about our two teams (at 9 and 10 years old). Third base does not see a lot of action, there are very few batters who get so far out ahead of the pitch that they pull it toward the line. Anything hit solid on the ground tends to go toward short or the pitcher.

Second actually sees a lot more action than third, primarily because right handed hitters are more likely to hit behind on the pitch and hit weakly up the middle or to second. I would say that we see 4-5 balls hit to second for every one that the third baseman gets.

I think the confusion with right field is that few kids have the power at this level to hit meaningfully on the fly to the opposite field. Like I said, they will hit grounders to the opposite field all day long, but almost nothing on the fly except occasionally to the alley.

Not that we are competitive here, but we have an unusual number of actuaries/statisticians/SABR metric people as parents.
posted by cgk at 12:23 PM on June 22, 2005


Played little league from age 6 to age 16, mostly 2nd base, but some 3rd. 2nd base definitely got more action, but 3rd base requires a lotta nerve and quick reflexes besides the strong arm.

2nd vs. 3rd also depends on the strength of your pitching. If your pitcher sucks, the lefties will be pulling more hits down the 3rd base line. If he pitches hard, they'll have trouble getting around on it, sending more hits towards 2nd.

That said, you generally put the best arm at 3rd and a good glove at 2nd. (Best glove goes to shortstop, obviously.) 1st base is tallest, slowest player.

Worst player goes to right field.

/ Little League Cliches for Dummies
posted by LordSludge at 1:02 PM on June 22, 2005


cgk is hitting on something here (heh, hitting): it depends a bit on the age of the players. While at younger ages 2B is more likely to get action, for the reasons he gave, 3B sees more hits as the kids get older. And while 2B will get lots of grounders, 3B will see more line drives.

When I was in little league, I got put at 3B because I was the often the only one who could throw to first who wasn't already a pitcher or catcher. Later, I was at 1B because I was good at catching all sorts of bad throws.

In other words, I don't have an answer, but there's some more anecdotal evidence for you.
posted by me3dia at 1:08 PM on June 22, 2005


(I was neither the tallest nor slowest when I played 1st. Those were the pitcher and 3B, respectively.)
posted by me3dia at 1:09 PM on June 22, 2005


me3dia has a point ... does this poor fielder have a good ability to catch balls that are thrown at him? ... then he should be on first and you can bring the left fielder in to help back him up for fielding ... the pitcher and catcher might be able to help a little too

if he can't catch thrown balls (or the rest of your team can't throw to first very well), i'd put him on 3rd, bring the right fielder in a little and move the center fielder, ss, and 2b over a bit

if you put him on second, you can probably forget about double plays or holding someone to a single or double consistently

if you put him on third and he's not reliable at throwing to first, train him to try to get the ball knocked down and have him throw to the pitcher or shortstop ... the key is to get the other players involved to compensate for his lack of fielding
posted by pyramid termite at 1:49 PM on June 22, 2005


i got lf and rf switched around ... i always do ... you should hear me try to give directions
posted by pyramid termite at 1:53 PM on June 22, 2005


2nd vs. 3rd also depends on the strength of your pitching. If your pitcher sucks, the lefties will be pulling more hits down the 3rd base line. If he pitches hard, they'll have trouble getting around on it, sending more hits towards 2nd.

Don't righties pull the ball down the third baseline?

And, what everyone else said-- 3B: bad feet, good arm, good reflexes. 2B: good feet, bad arm. If either kid is fat, put him at third and drill liners at him all day during fielding practice.
posted by Kwantsar at 2:12 PM on June 22, 2005


As long as the kid is willing to get in front of the ball, park him at third. If the kid isn't willing to do that, you're going to see a lot of unnecessary doubles and triples. Plus, with the cailibre of outfielder that was out there when I was in little league...perhaps an extra base there too.

At least with balls hit to second, usually the batter/runner is only getting one free base, not two. Strength up the middle is key.
posted by dflemingdotorg at 3:44 PM on June 22, 2005


Weak fielders don't belong in the infield. That's what right field is for.
posted by willpie at 7:33 PM on June 22, 2005


Put the kid with the better arm at third base if there's a significant difference, otherwise put the generally better fielder at third because most people are right handed and will pull the ball more at that age.
posted by Arch Stanton at 8:58 PM on June 22, 2005


And, what everyone else said-- 3B: bad feet, good arm, good reflexes. 2B: good feet, bad arm. If either kid is fat, put him at third and drill liners at him all day during fielding practice.

Hold it right there, buddy -- I played third base!

*digs up Little League team photo, sees 10 year-old self*

Oh.
posted by gigawhat? at 3:52 PM on June 23, 2005


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