In baseball, fly balls should create an automatic out. Even though the outfield tends to receive more fly balls than the infield, knowing how to catch a fly ball should be a basic skill that all players should possess. But it is also a skill that players of all levels should continue to practice. What are the fundamentals of catching a fly ball?
The fundamentals of catching a fly ball include judging the ball off the bat, running towards the fly ball, making the catch, and being in the proper position to make a throw after the catch. Players also need to know how to communicate with other players to avoid collisions.
Catching a fly ball should be a basic skill in baseball. However, practicing the fundamentals are routinely neglected in practice. Yet, poor catching abilities will ruin a team. Let’s cover the 5 fundamentals of catching a fly ball that all players need to keep in mind during games and in practice.
This article is one part of a guide on baseball fundamentals. Read my complete guide on breaking down every baseball fundamental for every position.
5 Fundamentals of Catching A Fly Ball
Catching a fly ball may be a basic skill in baseball, but all players need to learn how to correctly catch a fly ball. Even after you believe you’ve mastered the skill, it’s always a good idea to revisit the fundamentals from time to time. Let’s go over those fundamentals of catching a fly ball.
1) Judging A Fly Ball
Fly balls can be hit anywhere and it’s up to the player to get a good jump on the ball. The first step in moving towards the ball is being able to read the ball off the bat.
Once you know where the ball is hit, you can then start judging the ball to determine how far back you need to go or how far in you’ll need to go.
Judging a fly ball is typically a quick calculation the mind instinctively makes thanks to lots of practice. The brain immediately begins making this assessment as soon as the bat meets the ball.
However, a line drive can be particularly tricky to ascertain. Outfielders should use the brim of their baseball cap as a guideline to determine if they need to run in or, if the ball goes over the brim of their cap, run back.
2) Running After A Fly Ball
After the mental calculation is made, the player’s body needs to be moving into a position to make the catch. This requires running towards the spot the fly ball will land, taking a good angle to where the ball will land, and being aware of your surroundings (like teammates, base runners, or fences).
Three main rules for running after a fly ball:
- Don’t run on your heels. It will disrupt your ability to judge the ball and sometimes make it look like the ball is bouncing around
- Don’t backpedal
- It is always easier to move in towards the ball than backward. So your first step is always back
Basic Fly Ball Footwork
As the brain calculates the path of the baseball, the feet should already be starting to move.
When a fly ball is hit, a drop step should be occurring. This is where the foot on the side of the ball drops back.
This is where the opposite foot crosses to begin getting in line with the ball.
Now the player needs to hustle. This may be forward, turning their back and running backward, sprinting at an angle, or running straight in. The key is for the player to get in a position that is slightly behind the ball.
Remember that the glove is part of the hand when sprinting: run with it, not out in front like a waiter balancing a tray. Fast players keep their glove tucked in towards their body until the last possible second.
3) Communicating With Teammates
When going after a fly ball, chances are there will be another player in your vicinity who is also trying to catch the ball. It’s imperative you learn how to communicate with your teammates so your team can catch the ball and avoid a collision while getting the out.
When catching a fly ball, someone needs to call for it. The lack of calling for the baseball leads to dark comedy moments where players bash into each other, and the ball plops on the ground beside them or bonks a player on the head. This has unfortunately happened to me while going for a ball in the outfield and I can promise you it’s not a great feeling.
4) Catching A Fly Ball
To catch a fly ball, the player needs to keep the glove up and open with the wrist positioned over the elbow. The opposite hand needs to be ready to cover, grab, and throw as soon as the ball hits the glove.
It is also easier to catch a fly ball if standing slightly to the side and back. Not every catch will be an ideal catch, but the ideal catch you’re going for is where you catch the ball at your head with your glove on the throwing side of your head.
For example, an ideal catch for a right-handed player would be just off to the right of the player’s head. This allows the throwing hand to be in a better position to quickly throw the ball if needed.
Also while the ball is in the air, players should position themselves so their legs are staggered, with their dominant leg slightly behind their non-dominant leg (right leg back for right-handers). Catching the ball in this position allows fielders to quickly make the throw after the catch.
A one-handed catch should only be out of sheer desperation, such as sliding or diving for a ball. This should only happen when the feet, despite all efforts, could not get to the ball fast enough. Lazy one-handers lead to unforced errors and they should be avoided if possible.
5) Throwing After Catching A Fly Ball
When throwing a fly ball, it is best to have an idea where it needs to go before the hit has even been made. While the ball is in the air, players need to listen to their teammates because their teammates will be telling them where they need to throw the ball.
After the ball is caught, the typical hop-step (or crow hop), aim, and throw should get the ball to its target. Infielders may not need a hop-step if the play is close enough, but it’s best practice for outfielders.
A straight throw will reach its intended target faster than a rainbow arch. So it’s important for fielders to also practice throwing to increase their arm strength and accuracy.
Types of Fly Balls
There are three main types of fly balls in baseball and players who are going to catch fly balls need to be aware of them:
- Line Drive
- Bloop hit
Each type of fly ball has its own challenges. For example, pop-ups are often considered the easiest, known as a can of corn, but there are also the ones most likely to get lost in the sun or cause collisions between teammates.
Line drives are usually the hardest to judge, and it takes practice to learn how to utilize the brim of the cap to assess the ball’s trajectory better.
The difference between a fly ball and a line drive is the speed and angle the ball travels. Fly balls are hit high into the air, giving players more time to catch the ball. Line drives are hit closer to the ground, but travel at greater speeds than fly balls. Line drives usually lead to more base hits.
Bloop hits are a term baseball players use to describe a weakly hit fly ball, which often falls for a single. These are usually the most difficult to catch because you see the batter take a full swing, hear the crack of the bat, but then the ball doesn’t go as far as you’re used to.
If you’re looking to practice your throwing, make sure you know the 3 fundamentals of throwing a baseball.
Coaches and players need to care about proper fly ball fundamentals before taking the field on game day. Without regular practice, drills, and proper footwork, players can more easily miss an easy fly ball.
Learning and maintaining proper fundamentals when catching fly balls can eliminate bad habits, such as backpedaling or catching with one hand.
For more information on drills, read about the 14 best drills for any outfielder and the top 11 outfield drills for youth baseball players.