When it comes to baseball, one of the most demanding positions to play is shortstop. Most baseball players have heard of MLB’s greatest shortstops like Derek Jeter, Ozzie Smith, and Cal Ripken, Jr., but what made these baseball players so good? Below, we’ll dive into the 10 qualities of what makes a good shortstop.
As a general rule for what makes a good shortstop, good shortstops can cover a lot of ground, are athletic, have strong arms, and are solid hitters. For a coach to consider a shortstop to be in the lineup, a good shortstop must be effective on both offense and defense.
In general, good shortstops are effective on both sides of the plate, but what exactly are the qualities that make up a good shortstop? Here are the top 10 qualities that make for a great shortstop.
1) Cover a Lot of Ground
Shortstops have a lot of ground to cover in the infield. The distance from second base to third base may only be 90 feet apart, but shortstops have a lot more responsibility than just those 90 feet.
If a batter hits a short fly ball into the outfield, the shortstop will need to chase down that ball until an outfielder calls them off. Depending on how quick the outfielders are, the shortstop might have a lot of ground to cover while running with their back towards the ball.
In addition to chasing down short fly balls, shortstops are also responsible for being the cut-off man for the left fielder and centerfielder. In order to be an effective cut-off man, shortstops must run towards the outfielder who is fielding the ball so they are somewhere in between the base and their outfielder.
Not all outfielders’ arms are created equal so an infielder must also be aware of who is throwing the ball and how strong of an arm that outfielder has. If the outfielder has a good arm then the shortstop won’t need to run out as far, but if the outfielder does not have a strong arm the shortstop will need to run further into the outfield to make sure they can get the ball into the infield in the shortest amount of time.
Some additional areas that shortstops need to cover are third base and second base. Depending on the situation, the second baseman or the third baseman may be unable to cover their respective base. In these instances, shortstops must know to run towards that base so they can be there for the potential throw.
2) Have a Strong Arm
As a general rule, shortstops can be anywhere from 85 to 130 feet away from first base. If the batter hits the ball closer to third base then the shortstop will be further away from first, but if the batter hits a ball up the middle of the field then the shortstop would be closer to first.
Because shortstops can sometimes be a good distance away from first base, they need to have a strong arm so they can reliably get the ball to the first baseman. On occasion, a shortstop will need to throw the ball from in the hole, which adds another layer of complexity to their throw.
When the shortstop fields the ball in the hole, they are typically moving away from first base. In order to get the runner out at first, shortstops need to have a strong arm if they want to have a chance of throwing out that runner.
To see an example of a shortstop with a strong arm throwing from in the hole, check out the quick YouTube clip below.
In addition to needing a strong arm for throwing to first base, shortstops also need a strong arm so they can be an effective cut-off man. When they receive the ball from their outfielder, shortstops are still standing in the outfield grass. If there is a runner who is advancing, the shortstop will need to have a strong arm so they can try to throw out that runner.
To see a great example of why a shortstop needs to have a strong arm on the relay throw, check out the YouTube clip below.
3) Have Confidence
Shortstops get most of the defensive action on the field so having confidence is a must. Because shortstops will field a lot of hits during the course of a game, they should be expecting the ball to be hit to them. When they expect the ball to be hit to them, they should also have the confidence that they’ll be able to make the play.
Confidence can be one of those traits that seems to vary from game to game, but one way shortstops can help increase their overall level of confidence is simply by practicing. The more practice you have fielding a ball, turning double plays, and making throws to first, the more confidence you’ll have when those same plays happen during a game.
4) Make Accurate Throws
Another key component to any good shortstop is their ability to accurately throw the baseball. Having a strong arm is great, but having a strong arm without being accurate can translate into throwing errors made by the shortstop.
To accurately throw the baseball, shortstops need lots of practice throwing the ball to first from all different places within the infield. Sometimes the batter will hit the ball closer to third base so the shortstop needs to make an accurate throw from farther away. On the other hand, batters will sometimes hit slow choppers where the shortstop will need to charge the ball. In these instances, shortstops need to make sure they aren’t over-throwing their first baseman.
Accurate throws are especially important for shortstops when they are the relay man. The relay man is responsible for getting the ball to the correct place in the infield as quickly as possible. If the relay man makes a poor throw to a base, the base runner can easily advance to the next base.
On occasion, shortstops will need to make less-than-normal throws if they want to get a baserunner out and those throws will have to be accurate. These less-than-normal throws can come in the form of properly underhanding a ball to get a force out at second base or making a throw on the run, which forces shortstops to make a throw off the wrong foot.
When it comes to properly underhanding a ball to second base, lots of players can easily throw the ball too hard or too low, causing the second baseman to completely miss the catch. So shortstops will need to practice underhanding the ball so the throw is soft enough and high enough for their second baseman to make a play.
5) Reliably Turn Double Plays
One of the best defensive plays to watch in baseball is the double play. Players in the Major Leagues make it look easy, but it’s also something that Major Leaguers practice regularly.
Shortstops are an essential component to turning a double play so they need to make sure they are always ready when there is a runner on first base. Sometimes the shortstop will be responsible for throwing the ball to second base to make the first out and sometimes the shortstop will be the one running towards second base where they need to catch the ball for the first out and quickly make an accurate throw to first base for the second out.
Shortstops also need to be reliable for the non-traditional double plays. An example of this would be if the bases were loaded and a batter gets a weak hit towards the shortstop. If the shortstop is playing in, they can throw the ball to home for the first out and the catcher can throw the ball to first base for the second out. This strategy can be effective if the infield needs to prevent a run from scoring.
6) Know How to Be a Relay Man
Being a relay man is not something that comes naturally, which is why shortstops need to practice relay throws. Once the ball is hit in the outfield, the shortstop needs to listen to their teammates so they know what base they could potentially throw the ball.
If their teammates think the baserunner has a chance to run towards third base, the infield will typically yell “3”, which is a quick way to indicate to the rest of the team that there is a potential play at third base.
When a shortstop knows which base there could be a play, they will then need to position themselves so they are directly in line with that base. When the shortstop is directly in line with the base they want to throw, an over-throw by the outfielder would just result in the ball going to the correct base.
In addition to lining up correctly, shortstops also need to know how to catch the ball so they can quickly turn and release the ball towards the correct base. Ideally, the relay-man would catch the ball on the glove-side of their body and at a height of their head. Catching the ball here allows the relay-man to quickly turn and make a throw to the base.
When a coach sees a shortstop correctly performing a relay, they have more confidence in that player’s abilities.
7) Ability to Run Down Bloop Hits
Catching a bloop-hit, also known as a blooper, is a difficult play for shortstops to make.
A bloop hit is when a batter hits a weak fly ball that lands in the area between an outfielder and an infielder. When a batter hits a bloop towards the left side of the field, the shortstop will need to turn their back towards the infield and run towards the spot where the ball will land.
Sometimes shortstops can run and get into position to make the catch, but sometimes this play requires shortstops to make an over-the-shoulder catch while on the run.
To see how difficult this type of play can be, check out the quick YouTube clip below where Corey Seager makes a wonderful over-the-shoulder catch.
8) Coordinate With Pitcher and Second Baseman on Pick-offs
Another aspect to being a good shortstop is the ability to communicate with their pitcher when making a pick-off attempt.
Communication with the pitcher isn’t something that verbally happens on the field when making a pick-off attempt. Instead, shortstops, second baseman, and the pitcher need to come up with a plan on how they will attempt to pick off a runner at second base. For example, they’ll all need to answer the question of who covers second base on a pick-off.
The second baseman and the shortstop both have the ability to cover second base on a pick off play, but prior to taking the field there needs to be communication with the pitcher on who is planning to cover second base in the event of a pick off attempt.
If the shortstop is going to be covering second base on a pick-off attempt then the second baseman will need to back up the throw. On the other hand, if the second baseman will be receiving the throw then the shortstop will need to back up the throw.
In a perfect world, the pitcher, second baseman, and shortstop will all know the pick-off attempt is about to occur because they’ll all have previously agreed on some type of signal that indicates there will be a pick-off attempt.
9) Coordinate With Second Baseman on Steal Attempts
On the same lines of coordinating with the pitcher on a pick-off move, the second baseman and shortstop both need to coordinate on who will be covering second base in the event of a runner stealing second base.
I’ve been on teams where the second baseman always takes the throw to second base and where the shortstop always takes the throw to second base. But out of all the teams I’ve been on, the most common strategy for covering second base on a steal attempt is for either the second baseman or shortstop covering second base, depending on the hitter being a right-handed hitter or a left-handed hitter.
Lots of teams will shift to the pull-side of the hitter, meaning that the defense will shift more towards the third-base side of the field for a right-handed hitter and shift more towards the first-base side of the field for left-handed hitters. This means that when a runner is on first base, second baseman are closer to second base when a right-handed hitter is up and further away from second base when a left-handed hitter is up.
So the second baseman and shortstop will typically cover second base if they’re the closest ones to the base. But this strategy for covering second base can vary from play to play so it’s also common for the second baseman and the shortstop to discuss who is covering second base in-between pitches.
10) Be a Great Hitter
When we think of a shortstop, we typically think of players making spectacular plays from deep in the hole, but another crucial aspect of being a good shortstop is the offensive ability to hit the ball.
Baseball is won by both offense and defense, and while it’s a great thing to go an entire game without an error, it’s even better to crush the ball and put up some runs for your team.
When coaches evaluate players, they don’t just evaluate their defensive skills. Coaches also evaluate a player’s ability to hit for contact and to hit for power. So if you’re a shortstop looking to make the starting lineup, then your ability to put the ball in play, get on base, and score runs are just as important as your ability to make the defensive plays.
If we were to go and look through the history of MLB’s best shortstops, we’ll notice that these players also put up great numbers at the plate. So don’t overlook the offensive abilities of a shortstop – it’s what could make one shortstop stand out over another.