Way of the arm

Sometimes the strength and accuracy of an outfielders' arm has a major impact on a game. When enough runners have been thrown out, a reputation is born.

By Joanne Korth,Times staff writer
Published May 9, 2007

Runners beware!

In the American League, even the speediest baserunners think twice before trying to take an extra base against these rifle-armed outfielders:

Ichiro Suzuki CF, Mariners

The first Japanese-born everyday position player in the major leagues, Ichiro, 33, is widely considered to have the strongest, most accurate throwing arm in the AL. Since he posted 34 assists from 2003-05, few have tested the six-time Gold Glove winner.

Delmon Young

RF, Devil Rays

A former high school pitcher clocked at 96 mph, Young, 21, has thrown out eight runners since making his MLB debut in August 2006, including four this season.

Vladimir Guerrero

RF, Expos/Angels

The 31-year-old's right arm has lost some of its zip in recent seasons, possibly the result of chronic back problems, but 112 career assists serve as a warning.

Best ever?

Baseball experts love to talk about five-tool players, those who possess the ability to hit, hit for power, run, field and throw. Throughout the game's history, rare is the outfielder whose lasting reputation includes a strong throwing arm:

Roberto Clemente

RF, Pirates, 1955-72

Famed broadcaster Vin Scully once said, "Clemente could field the ball in New York and throw out a guy in Pennsylvania." Clemente, a Hall of Fame member and 12-time Gold Glove winner, had 266 career outfield assists. He once gunned down Cincinnati's Lee May at home trying to score from third base on a single.

Willie Mays

CF, Giants/Mets, 1951-73

The "Say Hey Kid" is famous for "The Catch, " his sprint toward the wall and over-the-shoulder catch in the 1954 World Series. But he also spun and threw to prevent two runners from scoring. The Hall of Fame member and 12-time Gold Glove winner had 195 career outfield assists.

Andre Dawson

OF, Expos/Cubs/Red Sox/Marlins, 1976-96

Early in his career, "The Hawk" played centerfield in a hard-throwing Montreal outfield that included Ellis Valentine. Bad knees later forced Dawson to rightfield, but the eight-time Gold Glove winner continued to be a throwing threat with 157 career assists.

More than just a strong arm

Arm strength is considered a natural gift, but there's more to throwing out baserunners from the outfield than just raring back and letting it fly. Rays manager Joe Maddon recently shared the fundamental mechanics that enhance distance and accuracy. Instructions are for right-handed throwers; for lefties, interchange the words right and left.

The ground ball

"The key words are quick, gather, quick, " Maddon said. "Get to the ball quickly, gather and play quickly through it." Charge the ball aggressively to field it as close to the infield as possible. Stay under control while receiving the ball, picking it up with the left foot forward. Step with the right foot while bringing the ball up, crow-hop on the right foot and stride with the left to release the ball. All movement should be forward. Do not hop too high because it breaks momentum.

The fly ball

To throw out a runner attempting to tag on a fly ball, get three or four strides behind where you anticipate catching the ball so you can be moving forward when you catch it. Receive the ball at chest height and toward the right side, keeping your right hand close to the glove for a quick transition into the throwing motion. Do not reach up for the ball.

Off the wall

Always give yourself room for an unexpected bounce. Young said he goes no closer than the depth of the warning track.

Hit the cutoff

A fly ball with a runner trying to score from third is the only time an outfielder has the green light to "airmail" the ball to home plate. With multiple runners, it is imperative to hit the cutoff man for the chance to throw out the lead runner, redirect the throw toward other runners, or hold runners in place. Missing the cutoff can lead to a big inning for the other team by allowing trailing runners to advance.

Joanne Korth, Times staff writer