Judging the Royals

How to miss a fly ball in the outfield; an expert weighs in

Royals right fielder Jarrod Dyson missed a fly ball in the sixth inning Tuesday against Washington.
Royals right fielder Jarrod Dyson missed a fly ball in the sixth inning Tuesday against Washington. jsleezer@kcstar.com

In the first two games against the Washington Nationals, Royals outfielders Paulo Orlando and Jarrod Dyson both had balls hit over their heads and if you want to know how someone misses a fly ball in the outfield, you’ve come to the right place.

First, let’s start with positioning.

Mediocre outfielders want to play deep; that allows them to come forward on a ball, which is easier than going back. A bad outfielder can be positioned too deeply and if balls are dropping in front of him it will look like the pitcher’s fault. But if the pitcher is getting weak flares and bloops to the outfield, he’s doing his job and those balls need to be caught.

If — on the other hand — the pitcher is allowing deep drives over his outfielders’ heads, that’s his fault; not the outfielders.

The Royals outfielders tend to play shallow; they’re all athletic and don’t mind going back on the ball. Opposing outfielders — especially the bad ones — tend to play deep. They see all that room between them and the wall and back up.

So that’s one of the reasons balls were hit over Orlando and Dyson’s heads; they play fairly shallow because a whole lot more balls will fall in front of you than fall behind you, so you play the odds and accept that once in a while you’ll get burned.

Now let’s think about angle.

If an outfielder has the ball hit to his left or right, it’s easier to track speed and trajectory; you can see the ball’s arc and how fast it’s moving. But if the ball is hit right at you — and that’s what appeared to happen to Orlando and Dyson — for a while a bloop that’s going to land 20 feet behind second base looks just like a drive that’s going to land on the warning track.

One of the tricks for figuring out how far the ball is going to carry is to pay attention to the bill of your cap; if the ball is above it and you have to lift your head to follow the ball’s flight, that ball might be over your head so start back. If the ball remains below the bill of your cap you’re probably dealing with a low line drive and moving forward might be the right choice.

And finally, how about movement?

If you’re playing right or left field and a ball is well hit, it will have the tendency to hook or slice toward the line — and Tuesday night the ball’s movement appeared to victimize Dyson in right field.

He turned and went back on the ball with his right shoulder pointed to the wall while tracking the ball by looking back over his left shoulder. Then the ball appeared to slice back toward the foul line and out of his line of vision. So Dyson needed to get turned; now he wanted his left shoulder pointed at the wall and he wanted to be tracking the ball over his right shoulder.

Dyson faced a dilemma; turn to his right — chest toward the wall — and he could keep going full speed, but he’d momentarily lose sight of the ball and he was running out of room; would he have time to pick up the ball again before he hit the fence?

But if Dyson turned to his left — chest toward home plate — so he could keep tracking the ball, he’d be running backwards at full speed for a step or two and that’s a really easy way to fall on your backside.

Dyson tried option B and guess what?

He fell on his backside.

I’m not arguing that the Orlando or Dyson balls couldn’t have been played with better technique, but it’s always worth noting the difficulty of some of the plays we see made on a nightly basis. And next time we talk about the subject, I’ll tell you how to drop a fly ball by running on your heels.

Trust me, when it comes to missing fly balls, I’m an expert.

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