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Basic Fundamentals of Holding Runners and the Pick-off

Some of the most effective measures that a pitcher takes when holding runners on base can be accomplished without even throwing the ball. The pitcher's primary objective when holding runners on base is to keep them out of rhythm and uncomfortable, not to pick them off. Upsetting the timing and comfort of a runner can go a long way to prohibiting them from stealing bases, taking extra bases and being in positions to disrupt defensive plays. Some techniques that a pitcher can use to achieve this are as follows:

  • Vary the amount of time the pitcher holds the ball when he comes set prior to delivering a pitch.
  • The pitcher should have a quick delivery time to the plate - in the range of 1.4 seconds or less.
  • For runners that represent a base-stealing threat, the pitcher may want to come to prolonged holds and step off without making a throw.

There are several reasons that a pitcher may want to attempt a pick-off move, the most obvious being an attempt to get an out by either tagging the runner or catching him in a run down. But pick-off attempts can be used for other reasons as well, such as attempting to get the offense to tip off a bunt play. Pick-offs in these situations can often be called by a coach.

Right-handed pick-off to first base:

  • By rule, the pitcher must "gain ground" toward first base.
  • Implementation of the "jump pivot" is the most efficient use of time and energy.
    • The pitcher will take a small jump with both feet at the same time and use his right foot to pivot towards first base.
    • The pitcher will then take a short step towards first base with his left foot while simultaneously making a short, quick throw to the first baseman.
    • Once he disengages the rubber, the pitcher is committed to making the throw or will be charged with a balk. He should walk towards first base after making the throw so as to continue to "gain ground" in the eyes of the umpire.

Left-handed pick-off to first base:

  • By rule, the pitcher must "gain ground" towards first base.
  • Left-handed pitchers may throw to first base out of their delivery meaning they can mimic a leg kick to the plate and then deliver the ball to first base for the pick-off attempt.
    • The pitchers' leg kick during a pick-off should mirror his natural delivery to the plate as closely as possible.
    • The pitcher will continue the motion of their leg kick and step toward first base, followed by a quick throw to the first baseman. 
    • As the pitcher becomes more comfortable with his pick-off move, he can work on varying looks between home plate and first base to confuse the runner.

Pick-off to second base:

  • A pitcher can employ two different pick-off moves to second base.
    • With a spin move, the pitcher will execute a 180-degree jump spin towards second base. While this move allows for speed and surprise, it requires athleticism or it's prone to an errant throw.
      • The pitcher will come set and execute a jump spin similar to a right-handers pick-off at first base. However, the jump spin here is a 180-degree turn, not a 90-degree turn.
      • Be sure that the pitcher uses his non-throwing hand/arm in concert with his legs to allow him to clear his front side and make an accurate throw.
    • Another pick-off move at second base is a spin move off of the pitchers natural leg kick from within his delivery.
      • The pitcher will come set and begin his delivery to the plate. Once he reaches his leg kick he will pivot on his foot that is engaged with the rubber and spin towards second base to make the throw.
      • The pitcher must "gain ground" towards second base when making this throw.
      • As with a left-handed pick-off at first base, the pitchers' leg kick during a pick-off here should mirror his natural delivery to the plate as closely as possible.

Runner on third base:

Pick-off attempts of a runner at third base are extremely rare. The pitcher will want to be mindful of the runner in the event of a squeeze play or a straight steal (if working out of the windup). The catcher can often control runners taking overzealous secondary leads at third (or all other bases) with a back pick of his own.