Defensive Setup: The Hop

Defensive Setup: The Hop

As we all know, the game of baseball is a game of inches.  With the evolution of MLB’s statcast, it’s becoming even more apparent.  On the defensive side of things, route efficiency and reaction times are two of the most important metrics that determine whether or not a player gets to a ball and is able to make a play or not.  And how a player sets up defensively can make a big difference.

When a player gets ready for a pitch a lot has to happen.  They have to consider the pitcher, the specific pitch, the batter, their tendencies and the game situation to determine where they are going to play.  They also have to mentally map out what their responsibilities are each pitch and what they are going to do if/when the ball is put in play.

Once that is finished the player has to prepare physically and that’s where we’re going to focus our attention. While everyone gets ready in their own way, most players move their feet and get into an athletic position.  Simple enough.  I think everyone understands why this is important.  However, it’s how they do it that’s important and like most things, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.  So let’s start by looking at how some of the greats prepare for each pitch.

As you can see, they get airborne, spread their feet out and get lower into an athletic position with their feet square to home plate.  It’s this move that allows them to read and react to the batted ball and get the best jump possible (in any direction) all while avoiding missteps.  If you want the specifics and science behind why this move is important, check out the video from Auburn softball and Dr. Wendi Weimar at the end of this post.

But let’s dig a little deeper.  It’s not just what they do, it’s when they do it.  As you can see from the video below, players land the hop after the ball is hit.  Take a look at the second basemen.


While at first this seems counterintuitive, if you step back and think about it, it makes a lot of sense.  If the player lands the hop as the ball is being hit, they really don’t know where it’s going.  The idea of the hop is to land and react immediately so it makes sense that they land the hop just after contact.  This allows them to read the hit and react the moment they hit the ground.

Think of it in terms of hitting.  Players stride and land their stride with the ball about half way to home plate.  This allows them the chance to read the pitch and react immediately (if necessary) when they land their stride.

We see the same thing in tennis.  If you watch a player read and react to a serve they get airborne about the time the serve is being hit and land with the ball about half way to them.

Prepare for the pitch like the best in the game by getting the best jump possible and taking the most efficient route to the ball as you can.  It might be the difference between making the play and coming up just a few inches short.