A common cause of fielding errors, especially at the youth levels of baseball, are from not fielding the correct hop. The most successful fielders find themselves fielding friendly hops. It’s not an accident that the most successful fielders never seem to get a “bad hop.” This is because they read the hop and pick out the hop they’d prefer to field.
Reading the hop of the baseball is the anticipation of the ball flight as it bounces on the ground. Hops are broken down into 4 categories:
- Short Hops (#1 Hop)
- In-Between Short Hops (#2 Hop)
- In-Between Long Hops (#3 Hop)
- Long Hops (#4 Hop)
The hop categories describe the type of hop directly before the fielder fields the ball.
Not all of these hops are created equal. There are friendly hops and then there are fielder’s worst nightmares. The friendly hops are the #1 and #4 hops (short and long hops).
The short hop is a hop that is fielded just after the ball bounces. These are the hops where the sounds of the ball hitting the ground and the ball hitting the glove are almost simultaneous.
The in-between short hop is a ball that is fielded while the ball is rising after the hop.
The in-between long hop is similar to the in-between short hop but it has slightly more time to travel. The in-between long hop is still fielded before the apex of the hop.
The long hop is fielded at the hop’s apex or even on it’s way back down to the ground.
Field the ball at the ceiling of its hop, the floor of its hop, or anywhere on its descent.
It’s important to remember that our feet must take us to these hops. The goal is for our feet take us to the #1 and #4 hops as often as possible so that we can use choose our glove action. When our feet don’t take us to the friendly hops, or more likely can’t, we must rely on our feet. For the #2 hop, we must attack the hop with our feet to turn the in-between short hop into a true short hop. These are usually fielded using one hand due to the need to reach to cut the hop distance down. For the #3 hop, we must give ground, increasing the distance from the hop, to turn the in-between long hop into a true long hop.
Now, there are times when the ball won’t allow us to field the hop we want. Sometimes the ball is just coming too fast to move our feet to field the friendly hop. This happens most often at the corner infield positions. Their close proximity to home plate tend to make these reactionary positions more so than their middle infield teammates. During these times when reaction time is decreased, we need to rely on our athleticism and instincts to field whichever hop is given to us.
Ninety percent of fielding is done with our feet and is 100% predicated on the hop of the ball. Recognizing the hop takes practice, experience, and anticipation. Setting up a training environment that focuses on hops will only improve the ability to read the hops. Isolate the hops in drills and then work your way up to reading the ball off the bat. The more hops you see, the better the recognition of those hops becomes. Rep, rep, rep!
See the Fielding Lanes & Hands post for more info on fielding these types of hops.