Inside Pitch Magazine, July/August 2020

The Hot Corner: Execution of the Cutoff and Relay System

The Infrastructure of a Team’s Defense 

By Sam Piraro

Sam PiraroOver the course of my 46-year coaching career, I have invested a great deal of time into my team’s cutoff and relay system. It was not unusual for us to spend a good chunk of time in the classroom, usually on the whiteboard diagramming our alignments and precise positioning of our personnel in every scenario. We then went out to the field and walked through our assignments, before going full speed. I would estimate that this exercise was performed a minimum of three times per week – a vital and significant line of defense for our club. Here are the basics of what we covered:

Communication Arts
We always felt that there were two methods of communicating with one another on the field. The first type of communication was deemed “direct communication.” This technique was verbally extending information from one teammate or coach to another. This communication required the timely relay of information as well as a loud and distinct voice/voices during the process. Here are a few examples of “direct communication” that we used at San Jose State:

1) “Get Over”...Encouraging pitcher to cover first base
2) “Ball Ball”...Determining possession of a batted ball
3) “Two Two”...Declaring what base to throw to
4) “Front Front”...Assisting with the location of the ball
5) “No No”...Discouraging a teammate from making a throw

“Indirect communication” can be utilized with or without direct communication, and comes in handy whenever noise is a factor. I strongly suggest that these two forms of communication be used in concert whenever possible. Obviously, in Major League Baseball, indirect communication is vital to getting information from teammate to another, but this can also come up when players are both sprinting to a ball during a play, or on windy days where it is much harder to hear. As always, any type of communication also applies from coach to player. Here are some examples of indirect communication:

1) Pointing on a batted ball in the air
2) Pointing on a pitched ball in the dirt
3) Pointing to a base where a play is to be made
4) Conveying signals to indicate coverages and specific defenses
5) Conveying signals to indicate pitch types and pickoffs

Remember, combining verbal assistance to pointing goes hand in hand with effective communication between teammates.

Purpose of a Cutoff/Relay System
An effective and fundamentally sound cutoff and relay system is designed to turn a negative situation into a potentially positive situation: “damage control.” Throwing the ball accurately and to the proper base will minimize the opponent from gaining extra bases and prevent your defense from being in a more stressful situation. The following points and guidelines were constantly emphasized when working on this area of our defensive playbook:

1) Pre-Pitch Preparation, such as positioning and speed of batter-runner and/or runners on base, situation/score of the game, etc. was always a focal point for our entire defensive scheme.

2) Verbal communication: usually initiated by our catcher, was encouraged within the first 3-5 seconds following contact. We didn’t necessarily want the call to originate too soon, once we established the proper throwing lane, we encouraged redundancy by other teammates. Being loud, clear and decisive were requirements. This direct form of communication set the chain of events for the desired alignment and deployment of our infielders.

3) Pointing will always be the classic example of indirect communication. All of our infielders, including the catcher, were expected to execute this basic fundamental.

4) We wanted our infielders to constantly have their heads on a “swivel” as they tried to gauge both the runner’s intentions as well as getting into the proper alignment. It was also vital to keep their ears open to hear their teammates assist them in the effort of getting lined up properly.

5) It was the job of the outfielders to get to the ball as quickly as possible, secure the ball and get rid of the ball as quickly as possible. Their assignment was to throw to the base...not the cutoff man. It was the responsibility of the infielder to be in the correct position.

Communication Vocabulary
Over the course of my coaching career, I have utilized several communication packages. I don’t think that there are any incorrect long as they are consistent and executed on time and with decisiveness. The following verbiage was executed by San Jose State over my last ten years there:

Go Go: the throw is strong and with carry, most likely one long hop or in air the entire time, and there is a play on the runner.

Relay: there is a play on the runner, but the throw is either off line or dying, or a short/in-between hop. Keep in mind that the cutoff man retains the authority to make the relay decision on his own.

Cut 2: there is no play on the lead runner, but definitely on an advancing trail runner. Once again, the cutoff man may exercise adlib power.

Cut Hold: there is no play on any runner. The ball is cut off and the defender checks each runner for a potential backdoor option. Do not force any unnecessary throw. The use of direct or indirect communication can be put into play here.

There is a timing factor involved when executing this system. The person who is the decision maker must use his eyes wisely and not be tardy with his call.

It is important to make sure that the pitcher is well versed in backup assignments and responsibilities. A pitcher cannot be pouting and feeling sorry for himself in this – it is critical they react quickly, with purpose, and in the proper direction. The key is to be in the correct position as the throw is being negotiated to its final destination. It is important to note that when a pitcher is covering home plate, the only time he should break to the first base side is on a base hit to left field. Every other situation should require that he break to the third base side and adjust from there. Getting as deep as possible is the goal. Protecting against the ricochet should be taken into consideration. You can always move forward to the ball and prevent it from going into “dead ball” territory or out of play.

Infielders need to react quickly and with urgency to estimate proper alignment and depth. They want to establish “inside position”: the ability to keep the ball on the inside part of their body at all costs. This will allow them the proper footwork and timing technique to catch and release quickly. It is the infielder’s responsibility to react to the throw and make the proper adjustments necessary to execute the relay – they cannot get short/in-between-hopped by the throw! 

We want the outfielder to throw through the cutoff man, not to the cutoff man. We encourage a strong throw, chest-high with carry, and with one long hop capabilities. We do not want an “airmail” throw to a base, which allows backside runners to easily advance to the next base.

The Relay
To discourage the overthrowing of a cutoff man, we want the infielder to establish enough depth to allow the outfielder to make a strong throw with carry. The infielder can always move up (toward the ball) to make either the relay or redirect of the throw. The objective of the outfielder is to provide one long hop to the designated base. The cutoff man’s goal is to be at proper depth and in precise alignment. Remember, staying inside the ball is a crucial fundamental.

The Cutoff Man
The cutoff man should have vision on the entire play. He needs to see the runners, check his alignment and watch the outfielder go through his process. He then needs to read the play – but listen to his teammate make a call as well. This takes constant practice.

If the call is “G0-Go,” the infielder should provide decoy actions such as slapping the pocket of his glove, shifting his body into a throwing position and executing a full throwing motion at any backside runner. This is designed to freeze any trail runner from advancing. This is extremely important on an “airmailed” throw from the outfielder.

Although the objective of a cutoff/relay execution is to find an out on a careless or over aggressive baserunner, it is critical in keeping runners out of scoring position, force outs intact, and in a perfect world, the double play in order.

It was not unusual for our team to record anywhere from 20-25 outs per season (56 games) by utilizing our cutoff system, not including our double-cut alignment on extra base hits. We were equally efficient in that area of the game as well.

If you willing to invest the time and effort in classroom work and practice, your players will carry those fundamentals and concepts into game competition. I certainly hope your team experiences that same success that we did! IP

Before retiring in 2012, Sam Piraro was the head coach at San Jose StateUniversity for 25 years. He won more than 800 games as the skipper of the Spartans, who finished with a record below.500 only five times in his tenure. SJSU won three WAC championships and made a pair of NCAA Tournament berths, advancing to their first-ever College World Series in 2000. Piraro is currently an assistant coach for his brother, Stuart, at Lincoln High School in San Jose, and serves as Director of Coach and Player Development at Sirious Baseball, Inc.

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