Baseball Magazine

Shortstops and the 5.5 Hole

By Meachrm @BaseballBTYard
One of the toughest defensive plays in all of baseball is when a shortstop has to go to his right to field a ground ball.  This is especially true whenever the batter/runner has a good amount of speed.  For some hitters who can fly, just making the shortstop move to his right even a little increases the odds of being safe at first base.  Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn made a career out of hitting this spot and referred to this area as the “5.5 Hole.”  The play is a tough one for the shortstop for three reasons:  1) backhanding balls are harder to do than fielding balls in front, 2) the shortstop’s momentum is moving away from first base, and 3) the distance of his throw to first base increases the more he moves to his right.  Put all these together and it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out the advantages of a hitter practicing hitting to the 5.5 hole, especially if they have a ton of speed.

Shortstops and the 5.5 hole

Handling balls in the 5.5 hole is what
separates the men from the boys.

Aside from learning the proper way to backhand balls, there is something else a shortstop can do to address this challenging play.  I call it “reverse double-play depth.” 

With a runner on first base in a possible double-play situation, the shortstop will play at “double-play depth” which, generally speaking (there are some exceptions),  means playing “two in and two over.”  This means that the shortstop takes two steps in towards the plate and then two steps over towards second base.  The number of steps can vary depending on the fielder and the situation but the principle of the give-and-take is the same: give up a hit in the hole to allow the fielder to get to the bag on time for a double-play.  “Reverse double-play depth” has the shortstop play two steps in towards the plate and then two steps over towards third base.  This allows the shortstop to not only get to more balls in the 5.5 hole but also allows him to cut them off quicker in order to be able to throw the ball to first base sooner.    Of course, this obviously leaves the middle of the field more open for ground balls to get through.  However, balls hit to the shortstop’s left are a bit easier because they are glove-side, their momentum is heading more towards first base, and the throw is generally going to be a little shorter.  

This positioning by the shortstop is certainly not used for every hitter.  As a former shortstop, I mostly used it on a left handed slap hitter who commonly tries to hit the 5.5 hole and beat out the throw to first.  Another time it may be used is when the shortstop lacks some arm strength and wants to make sure more balls are hit to his glove side.
Properly handling the 5.5 hole is another "separator."  Separators are those plays in baseball that are routinely made at the major league level but not so much at the lower levels.  The play separates the men from the boys.

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