cutoff man (definition and details)

Frank Abate abatefr at EARTHLINK.NET
Thu Sep 12 09:37:00 UTC 2002

Barry P posted (some days back):


   20 August 1929, NEW YORK TIMES, pg. 34:
   "The second baseman is usually the cut-off man because he's in a better
position to make the return throw to the plate if it's needed."


Please excuse all the baseball palaver that follows (or just hit "delete"
now), but I wanted to make sure that "cutoff man" was further elucidated, as
the NYT cite is misleading out of context.  Someone not familiar with
baseball might read the 1929 item and think that the second baseman is
"usually the cut-off man".  Not so.

The above NYT cite is probably in the context of a throw from right-center
field into the infield.  That is about the only situation in which the
second baseman would be the cutoff man.

In baseball (and softball), one of the things that is learned and practiced
early on (if a team takes their defense seriously) is how to set up a
cutoff, and who will be the cutoff man.  A "cutoff" is a defensive play in
which a throw from an outfielder, who has just fielded a base hit, is caught
by a player who is not at a given base, but who intentionally takes the
throw before it reaches the base to which it was directed.  Outfielders are
taught (though they often mess this up, even in the major leagues) to throw
the ball in towards the infield on a low trajectory, so that the ball can be
cutoff short of the base to which it is directed (usually, outfielders throw
the ball back to the infield in the direction of a particular base).  The
reason for having cutoffs is so the ball can be re-directed elsewhere, if a
runner is more likely to be put out somewhere other than at the base to
which the outfielder's throw is headed.  Additionally, having the ball come
back to the infield on a two-throw relay, instead of one long throw from an
outfielder, actually reduces the time for a throw to reach a base, esp. if
there is a play at the plate on a ball hit deep into the outfield, or on a
ball hit to a gap between outfielders (where the outfielder cannot get much
momentum behind the throw).

How and where a cutoff is set up varies depending on where a base hit has
gone in the outfield, viz.:

If the base hit is to right or down the first base line, and it is likely to
be an extra-base hit (double or better), then the cutoff man would be the
first baseman.

If the base hit is to right-center, the cutoff man would be the second
baseman, and the shortstop would "cover" (stand near/at) second base.

If the base hit is to straightaway center, left-center, or down the third
base line, the cutoff man is the shortstop, and the second baseman covers
second base.

One of the cardinal sins for an outfielder to make is to miss or overthrow
the cutoff man.  When you "miss the cutoff man", the baserunner(s) usually
have a chance to reach another base.

There can also be double cutoffs set up, on base hits that go all the way to
the outfield fence -- but enough already.

Frank Abate

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