No matter how talented a youth baseball team's infield is, fielders are bound to rush a throw to first base or bounce a ball into the dirt just before the bag. When this inevitably occurs, a skilled first baseman with the right baseball equipment can make the play.
Not many studies have been completed to determine just how valuable a superior first baseman with the ability to scoop low throws is. In 2009, Mitchel Lichtman conducted a study for FanGraphs which found that the MLB first basemen who picked throws the best only saved about two to three more runs per every 1,000 throws than the worst defensive first basemen.
"So before you start opining about how your favorite first baseman is so great defensively because he 'saves so many errors,' consider that scooping ability is probably worth less than a quarter of total defensive ability or value at first base," Lichtman wrote. "Fielding grounders is at least 75 percent of the package and 'scooping' is the rest. But, every little bit helps."
Still, that "every little bit" referenced by Lichtman could refer to a ninth-inning scoop of an off-line throw that prevents a game-tying run from scoring. A coach who loses a game because of a dropped ball at first base is likely to understand the importance of scooping abilities.
As such, coaches should insist that their first basemen regularly practice pick drills. During practices, coaches must stress the importance of first basemen looking the ball into their baseball gloves as they stretch out to grab the ball. A throw that is short-hopped can change direction quickly and unexpectedly, so a fielder could miss it if he takes his eyes of the ball. First basemen should also use their non-gloved hand to guide the ball into their high-quality Rawlings baseball gloves.
Coaches can find additional fielding drills at YouthBaseballPlans.com.