Breaking Down the Tandem Relay

Our overarching goal as a defense is to get 3 outs as fast as we can so that the opposing team doesn’t score runs. To score runs the offense tries to take as many extra bases as they can so to prevent runs from scoring we need to limit the number of bases the offense gets. We can’t control where they hit the ball but we can attempt to control some runners and batters taking more than one or two bases on any given play. To prevent multiple bases we utilize the tandem relay, or sometimes referred to as a double cut.

Tandem Relay video courtesy of MLB

What is a tandem relay?

A tandem relay is when two infielders go out to be the cut off/relay man on a throw from the outfield. In a tandem relay situation the defense determines where the play will be made based on the base runners, location of the hit ball, and/or the batter who is now also a base runner.

How to perform a tandem relay?

Lead Man and Trail Man roughly 10 yards apart. Video courtesy of MLB

In a tandem relay situation there are two roles. You’re either the lead man or the trail man. The lead man will be the infielder closest to the outfielder making the throw. The trail man will be trailing the lead man by roughly 10 yards in line with the target base. The infielder’s must work in unison. If the lead man goes out 2 steps, the trail man goes out 2 steps in the same direction. If the lead man moves to the left 1 step, the trail man moves to the left 1 step. Each man is lined up by their teammates as if they’re the only relay man involved in the play.

The depth of the tandem relay can be debatable. Some say to make the tandem relay make the long throw while the outfielder makes the shorter throw. Others will say to have the outfielder’s make the long throw and the relay man make the shorter throw. I think it’s more important know the arm strength of your teammates making the throw to you as the infielder. Align your depth so that your teammate’s average throw would be a perfect throw to make a relay.

As the lead man you receive the ball if it reaches you in the air without making an extra effort to catch a high throw. If the throw is high, let it go. If the throw is low, let it go. By letting the high throws go they’ll end up being perfect throws to the trail man. By letting the low throws go they’ll be a perfect long hop to the trail man. Don’t try to be a hero as the lead man in a tandem relay. Trust that your teammate will make a play behind you.

Normally the lead man and trail man will be in line with the outfielder and the target base. However, there is one exception to that and it comes on a ball hit down the left field line into the corner with a runner on 1B. If the tandem relay is in line with the ball and home it leaves the relay men without a throwing lane. If the base runner at 1B tries to score they’ll be rounding the base in foul territory. If the ball and runner are in foul territory the relay men must set up a staggered tandem relay. The tandem relay men will be lined up in fair territory by a few feet. This allows the relay men to have a throwing angle inside, or along, the baseline to home clear of the runner rounding 3B.

Why do we use a tandem relay?

Tandem relay situations tend to be high leverage situations. They’re used in situations that can determine to the outcome of a game. So these situations are high stress and high pressure. When performing in high leverage situations throws can be rushed leading to some inaccuracies in either direction or strength. Using a tandem relay will allow for a greater margin of error in the throw from the outfield while still placing the defense in a position to make a play for an out.

When do we use a tandem relay?

We use the tandem relay in 2 game situations; with no runners on or with a runner on 1st. If you see the outfielder’s back going after a ball that’s hit the ground in these situations you’ll use a tandem relay. With a runner on 1st, the tandem relay will more times than not be lined up to make a play at home. With no runner’s on base, the tandem relay will more times than not be lined up to make a play at 3rd base. Obviously, these are generalizations. Read the ball and the base runners to make adjustments in the alignment if necessary.

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