How to Turn a Double Play in Baseball

The double play is the pitcher’s and defense’s best friend. It can get you out of a jam, kill your opponent’s momentum, and limit your pitch count. Getting two force outs in one play is not easy, though. If you watch Major League games, you’ll see that double plays are almost always executed well. But this is because Big League infielders spend their whole careers practicing, turning thousands of double plays until the technique becomes second nature. Fortunately, it’s a technique that anyone can learn, and the sooner you start practicing, the better you’ll eventually be at it.

Starting the Double Play

From Third Base

When turning a double play, the margin for error is very small. It does depend on the batter’s speed, but most of the time a successful double play needs to be turned quickly. As such, the most important thing to remember is to get at least one out. On a particularly tough play, it can be easy to rush a throw or make a bad decision and not get any outs. Therefore, the most vital part of any double play (whether you end up getting one or two outs) is the feed. On a ball hit to third base, you have even less time because of the longer throw.

As a third baseman, you want to charge the ball as much as possible, or go cut it off if the ball is in the hole. Field the ball moving forward (not flat-footed), with your shoulders square towards the infield. Once you have the ball, get rid of it as soon as possible, and make a strong throw to the second baseman. Ideally, your throw should be chest-high and right over the second-base bag (or slightly towards first). Without a good feed, it is very difficult to turn a double play from third base.

From Shortstop

How you start a double play from shortstop will depend a lot on how the ball is hit. You may have to backhand it and make a quick throw, and you may have to charge in and flip to the second baseman. The most important variable is where the ball is hit. If you have to move to your right at all, get in front of the ball, field it out in front of you, then open your hips towards second base and make a quick overhand throw to the second baseman.

If the ball is hit to your left, you want to field the ball out in front of you and maintain your momentum towards second base, then flip the ball underhand to the second baseman. Once again, the feed is crucial. Try to get the second baseman the ball chest-high over the base.

Regardless of where the ball is hit, the most important thing to remember is to field the ball cleanly first. It can be easy to get ahead of yourself, and start trying to turn the double play before you actually have the ball. Secure possession and make sure you get an out. The more comfortable you get with the mechanics, the quicker you’ll be.

From Second Base

The technique for starting a double play at second is similar to the technique at shortstop. If the ball is hit to your right (towards the middle), then field it out in front of your body and let your momentum carry you towards the bag as you flip the ball to the shortstop. A ball hit to your left is a much more difficult play. Get in front of the ball and field it out in front of your body, then quickly pivot your feet and shoulders towards second base and make a quick overhand throw to the shortstop.

On a play in the hole, you may only have time for one out, so if you try to get the force at second, make sure you make a quick, accurate throw. In most cases, the shortstop will be moving across second base as you throw to him, so focus on putting the ball chest-high right over the base.

From First Base

Turning the 3-6-1 or 3-6-3 double play is very difficult, but there are a lot of times when a first baseman can at least get a force out at second base on a ground ball. It’s an easier play for lefthanders, as they can field the ball and throw to second in one motion. Right-handers have to field the ball and pivot around towards second base before making the throw. The two most important aspects of starting a double play from first base are: make sure you can get an out, and create a throwing lane.

Don’t make a throw to second if you’re not sure you can get the runner, and don’t throw it if you can’t get a clear line to the shortstop. Most times, if you field the ball in front of the baseline, you can hit the shortstop on the inside of the base. If you field the ball behind the baseline, look for a throwing lane to the shortstop behind the base. Once again, don’t rush it. The idea is to make an accurate throw.

From the Pitcher

Even in the big leagues, pitchers trying to start double plays seem to be the source of an excessively high number of errors. Before each batter, the pitcher needs to be aware of which infielder he’ll need to throw to on a potential double play (it will usually be the shortstop). When you get a ground ball, first make sure you field it cleanly.

Don’t panic or rush; you will usually have plenty of time to turn two. Get your head turned towards second base, and do a shuffle step to set your feet towards the base. Then make a strong throw right to second base. You may be tempted to “lead” the shortstop since he will be moving across the bag, but this can frequently lead to errors. Make life easier on your shortstop by staying under control and making a firm, chest-high throw directly over second base.

Finishing the Double Play

From Shortstop

Fielding the ball cleanly and making a good feed are the two most difficult parts of turning a double play. Finishing the play is just a matter of learning good footwork and making an accurate throw to first base. From shortstop, when the ball is hit to the right side, start moving towards second base. Try to time it so you reach the base just as the second baseman or first baseman throws or flips to the ball to you. Catch the ball with two hands and touch second base as you shuffle across it.

Once you come across the base and clear yourself from the runner sliding in, turn your shoulders and make a strong throw to first. Timing and body control are paramount on this play. With practice, your timing coming across the base will be second nature, but you should never be rushed or out of control. You need to be prepared for a bad feed, and if you get a bad feed you need to be able to adjust and make sure you get at least one out.

From Second Base

There are a few different footwork techniques for second basemen. Which one you use will in some cases be based on the situation, but can also be a matter of preference. If you get to the base in time, the best method is probably to straddle second base and wait for the feed. That way, you can adjust your body if the throw is to your left or right. Catch the ball with two hands and tag the base as you take a shuffle step across the bag to gain a little momentum on your throw.

If you need to be quicker than that, another popular method is to stand just behind the bag with one foot on second base. Once you catch the ball, it’s just a quick step-and-throw to get rid of it. Finally, if the runner is really barreling in on you and you have time, some second basemen like to catch the ball and touch the base as they come forward across the bag. Take a step in front of the base to clear yourself from the runner, then make the throw to first.

For a second baseman, the toughest part about finishing a double play is getting enough on the throw to get the out at first. Some players have stronger arms than others, so that will likely impact whether you need an extra step or not. Once again, always stay in control, make sure you at least get the out at second, and do your best to make an accurate throw with the base runner in your face. Then make sure you jump out of the way because that runner will try to slide right into you!

Amazingly True Story

October 10, 1920 in Cleveland, Ohio. Game 5 of the 1920 World Series between the Indians and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Top of the 5th inning, no outs, and the Dodgers are batting with Pete Kilduff on second base and Otto Miller on first base. With Clarence Mitchell at the plate, both base runners try to steal on the pitch from Jim Bagby. Mitchell hits a line drive to the right of second base. Already in double play depth, Indians second baseman Bill Wambsganss (rhymes with Bombs-lens) takes a few steps to his right and catches the ball with his glove to retire Mitchell.

Wambsganss continues to second base and tags the bag to double off Kilduff, who was already halfway to third. Wambsganss then looks up to make a throw back to first base, but sees Miller standing just a few steps away, caught in the baseline. Wambsganss reaches out and tags Miller, and then tosses the baseball towards the pitcher’s mound and starts to jog into the dugout. There is silence for an instant, and then realizing what has happened, the crowd erupts into applause. The Indians win the game 8-1 and go on to win the Series in seven games, thanks in part to the only unassisted triple play in World Series history.

Practice, Practice, Practice

The only way to excel at turning a double play is through repetition. The play has to be executed quickly in order to succeed, and involves some of the more complex mechanics in an infielder’s repertoire. A smooth double play also requires the fielders to be in tune with each other and communicate effectively. Because of all this, practicing over and over again is the only way to master the skill. You essentially cannot spend too much time practicing double plays; they are, after all, the defense’s best friend.

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