Baseball 101: Brendan Harris and the Double Play
The reputation long-attached to Twins 2B Brendan Harris seems accurate: Good hit, no catch. A veteran of six major league franchises in five seasons, Harris' numbers through nearly 50 ballgames as a Twin mirror the scouting reports that accompanied his arrival to Minnesota. A career .271 hitter with a lifetime on base percentage of .332, Harris is currently batting .262 with an on-base clip of .335.
It's the leather that's loose. Of the 12 A.L. second basemen with at least 33 starts at the position, Brendan is bendin' the weak side of the curve, as evidenced by his 12/12 ranking in fielding percentage, his 11/12 range factor and his 12/12 zone rating.
And while Harris holds a political science degree from William & Mary, one doesn't need an embossed piece of paper to note that Brendan is falling behind fast in recent second base polls. Prior to today's afternoon duel with Texas, he's been picking up butt splinters, while Alexi Casilla has been penciled in for starts at the position since Sunday.
On occasion, I'll use this space to get back to some baseball basics, to revisit some hardball fundamentals. For Harris, it's been readily observed that a wealth of his defensive struggles are attributed to his oft-butchering of turning the double play. Here are some basics that he may want to revisit should Casilla continue to cherry-pick his starts:
As the Fielder
1. On a ball to the 2B's right, employ an underhand, shovel toss to the SS covering the bag while using a stiff wrist to ensure accuracy. If the ball is fielded in the runner's direct path to second, use a sideways flick, again with a stiff wrist. When coaching, I rarely suggested to latter to younger players, as said motion offers less accuracy. (It should be noted that the same recommendation goes for pitchers when throwing a ball, in close proximity, to first base).
2. For a ball hit at or near the 2B's fielding position, a staggered stance should be used (with the right foot planted slightly behind the left) to aid in a pivot toss to the shortstop. Toes should pivot toward the target. On a hard-hit ball, a skilled second baseman can move closer to a kneeling position for the feed.
3. On a ball hit to the left -- the most challenging of the turns-- the second baseman can either field the ball (with the glove near to the ground) and quickly rotate the hips, then pop the feet toward second base. A more skilled player can perform a 180-degree motion, flowing with the body's momentum, and then plant the right foot before throwing to the shortstop. Either way on the ball -- just be certain to get that first out, and retire the lead runner.
As the Receiver
Timing and footwork are key, and while a major leaguer should surely be able to execute the following with regularity, Harris receives a small pass here in that he hasn't had ample opportunity to develop a rapport with the left side of the infield to ensure that the aforementioned "timing" is a well-oiled machine. The footwork, however, is on his shoulders.
1. On a sharply hit ball to either 3B or SS, the second baseman should approach the base with hands slightly separated hands before his chest -- providing a sound target for the fielder. He then places his left foot on the bag before the ball is received, and then pops off on the right foot, moving toward the right fielder, to make the throw to first.
2. Or, the second baseman can approach the bag in the same manner, and then use the bag as protection against a hard-charging runner, popping behind the base, toward the left fielder, to make the throw to first.
3. In what has seemed a struggle for Harris, the second baseman can also time his footwork to cross the bag for a feed from either the third baseman or shortstop. Approaching the base with hands raised, the 2B receives the feed with the left foot on the base, crosses, and then pivots on the right foot inside the base to make the throw.
Of course, there is a considerable degree of improvisation and creativity involved in each of these situations, but I'll present them herein as, again, sound fundamentals.
For a very quality video of these mechanics, click here to visit Coach Bernstorf, a real hard-ass that will either rekindle baseball nostalgia or give you nightmares of little league hell.
UPDATE: Concurrent to construction of this post, it was announced this morning that shortstop Adam Everett was again placed on the 15-day DL due to chronic shoulder pain. Harris received his first start at short this afternoon, with Alexi Casilla starting his fourth straight game at second. It was the eighth different combination the Twins have employed up the middle this year, although this combo looked solid -- at least for todaym-- with the pair turning four doubles plays (three 4-6-3’s and one 6-4-3) in the club’s 8-7, extra-inning loss to Texas.
Prior to the game, Gardy said in regard to moving Harris: “It’s not easy going over there [to second base] and turning double plays. Foot speed and all that, Alexi’s a little quicker. Brendan’s worked very hard. He’ll be over there [at second], too. We’re going to mix it up right now. Alexi’s playing well for a few ballgames, and I’ve liked the way it looks.”
In his career, Harris has played 106 games at second and 94 at shortstop.
UPDATE #2: After today's ballgame, the club called up Matt Macri from AAA Rochester. With Nick Punto rehabbing, Matt Tolbert out for at least two months, and Everett on the DL, the team no doubt needed another infielder. In 29 games with Rochester, the 26-year old Macri hit .263 with one home run, playing primarily at third base.