Baseball Magazine

Pick-offs and Holding Runners at 1st Base

By Meachrm @BaseballBTYard
First of all, it needs to be said that picking off runners at first and holding runners close are not necessarily the same thing.  When a pitcher picks a runner off first base it clearly sends a message to future runners to be more cautious.  Obviously this is a good thing.  However, holding runners close involves a lot more than having a good pick-off move.  Follow these tips and you will hold more runners close and might just pick a runner off once in a while, even with an average move.  Note: These tips are primarily for right handed pitchers.  Tips for left handers will be a future post.

Pick-offs and holding runners at 1st base

Holding runners is much more than
a great pick-off move to first.
(Photo by

Be patient. One common mistake by pitchers is that they are too quick to throw to first base after coming set.  Many don't even come set before turning to throw.  Occasionally this can be effective but not if done all the time.  Coming set and holding there for a second or two allows the runner to get his full lead and get comfortable out there.  Be patient and give him time to get off the bag.
Mix up your timing.  One thing great base stealers look for is patterns with regards to timing after the pitcher comes set.  If you consistently come set, look once, look at home, and then throw the pitch, the runner will take off as soon as you look home because you established a pattern of never looking twice.  Mix it up.  Give two looks one time and one the next.  Throw to home after coming set for a second and on the next pitch, wait three seconds.  The point is, don't let the runner time you.
Vary your leg kick.  Every pitcher should have three different leg kicks to home plate.  A slow one, a medium speed one, and a slide step.  I'll dedicate a future post on how to do all three.  Again, the point is to not get into any predictable patterns in your delivery.
Come set low.  This is a very easy and often overlooked tip that can greatly benefit pitchers in a couple very important ways.  Another post will deal more extensively with this as well.  Coming to the set position with your glove at belly button level helps with pick-off throws.  If you come set too high - chest or chin - the ball has a longer distance to travel in the throw to first.  The ball has to exit the glove, procede downward, and then come up and around to throw.  If you start with the glove/ball lower, the ball does not have to come down.  It's already down.  One less step and less wasted time.
Short arm it to first.  First base is just a short toss from the mound.  There is no need to wind-up with a big arm circle to throw to first on pick-offs.  This long arm action takes more time.  Short arm the ball to first base as if you are a shortstop catching and throwing a double play feed.  Small arm circles are quicker.

Pick-offs and holding runners at 1st base

Great runners watch for
patterns and predictable habits.
Keep them guessing!

(Photo by Getty Images)

Work both sides of the pitching rubber.  This is another overlooked tip for pitchers especially if they don't have a tremendous move.  It will also make a good move even better.  Start by setting up as far as you possibly can on the thrid base side of the pitching rubber.  Come set, hold a second, and then give your best move to first base.  Safe.  Get the ball back and now set up as far as you possibly can on the first base side of the rubber.  Give him the same exact move.  Out.  Why?  Because you just decreased your throw by almost three feet compared to the first one.  The first move makes the batter think his lead is a safe one.  The second move gets the ball there three feet sooner.  There's that ByTheYard thing again!
Save your best move.  Don't use your best tricks and pick-off moves until you really need them.  If you show your best in the first inning, the other team knows what you have the rest of the game.  Mix your times up throughout the game but bring out your best with the game on the line and when you really need an out.
Know the situation.  There is no sense wasting time trying to hold a runner close who is not going to steal.  Runners with no speed do not require the same attention as fast ones.  Even fast runners probably won't steal if their team is down by a number of runs.  When you do all of the above to runners that are not going anywhere, you give more information to future runners who are watching from the bench.  All this requires a pitcher to be aware of the situation - who is running, the score, the inning, etc. You don't ignore any runner at first base but you do adjust your strategy depending on the situation.    

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