Pickoffs are tricky. They must be practiced and perfected and not thought of as an insignificant part of the game. A bad pickoff move can do the very thing you are trying to prevent – base runners advancing. On most fields, a bad pickoff throw that gets by the first baseman will allow the base runner to advance to at least second base and possibly third base.
If you are a left-handed pitcher, you have a significant advantage. Not only are you facing the runner, but you also have four distinct moves, which are described in more detail in “AROUND THE MOUND.”
For right-handed pitchers, there are really two schools of thinking when it comes to pickoffs at first. You can try to pick off runners on every attempt. With your back to the runner, you are already at a disadvantage. More times than not, by the time you turn and get into a good throwing position, a good base runner has already taken a step back and has started his dive into first base. Remember, your chances of making a less than desirable throw increase.
The second philosophy is to simply keep the runner close and make him respect the chance of you throwing over to first base. You are not trying to pick him off although making the out would be a bonus. Instead, you want him to stay put for an extra second because he thinks you may throw over to first. If you are successful, you decrease his chances of a successful steal attempt.
If you adopt the second philosophy, as I did throughout my professional career, you have to understand the difference between a lazy pickoff move and keeping a runner close. In the second way of thinking, you still need to have a quick move. However, you are staying in control thus making sure your first baseman will be able to catch your throw.
If you become lazy – not throwing the ball hard to first base or not quickly turning into a good throwing position – you may hurt your chances of preventing the base runner from attempting a steal. If a runner does not respect your move, he may get a larger lead, knowing that, with a lazy move, he has time to get back.
Another idea you can use to help slow runners down from first base is to use different levels of moves. You do not have to show your best move the first time. If you think a slow runner is on base, you could choose to be a little lazier with a move. Then on a later move, either to the same runner or a quicker runner, you can use your good move and maybe catch the base runner off guard.
I want to point out that if you are going to use a lesser move, you want to do it in the first half of the game. You do not want to try to bait a base runner in the last inning. At that point of the game, the runner may attempt a steal and it is important that you use your best move to slow him down.
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