If you are a pitcher, it’s time to learn how to stop aggressive base runners in their tracks. Let’s take a look at three key variables you need to master to prevent stolen bases.
1. Holding the Runner to an Honest Lead
The pick-off move is the simplest way to hold a runner to a normal or short lead. Whether the runner is at first or second base, a good pick-off move will do a lot to keep him there. Your main goal is to get the runner to stop his momentum toward the next base. If you get him out, that’s a bonus.
A few pick-off attempts can force an aggressive base runner to shorten his leads by a step or two. If he decides to steal, he’ll have to make up the extra step.
You can vary your pick-off move depending on where the runner is headed.
To First Base
Quick Move. The quick pivot, or jump move, can be done when coming set or after coming set. Simply turn your feet, hips and torso in one quick motion toward first base and give the first baseman a solid throw around knee height.
Slow move. Some coaches teach pitchers to use a quick move all the time. Others advocate a slow move as well. This is done just like the quick move, only at a slower tempo. The idea is to show the runner different variations of your pick-off move.
Step off. You do not always have to make an attempt on the runner. After coming set, hold your position for four to six seconds, then quickly step your back foot off the rubber, pull the ball from your glove to a throwing position and turn your head toward the runner. Was he leaning toward second base? If so, he just tipped his hand and told you he is looking to steal.
To Second Base
Spin move. The spin move to second base is similar to the quick move toward first, except you turn a full 180 degrees to throw to second.
Inside move. This is more of a deceptive pick-off attempt. Begin your leg kick like you would start your pitching motion. At the top of the leg kick, instead of shifting your weight toward home plate, turn toward your glove side and bring your foot over the rubber to step toward second base.
Step off. Same as the move to first base, but turn your head toward second base to look the runner back.
2. Preventing a Good Jump on the Pitch
Once you have the runner’s lead checked, make sure he doesn’t get a head start when you throw the pitch.
As I mentioned in a previous article at STACK.com, successful base stealers do not have to be the fastest athletes on the field. They can learn and take advantage of a pitcher’s tendencies. As a pitcher, you need to recognize your movement patterns and vary them to keep runners guessing and uncomfortable.
Frequently change your hold time in the set position. After coming set, stay in the set position for different lengths of time so the runner cannot pick up a pattern. Most pitchers like to come set and wait for two or three seconds before delivering the pitch. Use a variety of hold times—both longer and shorter. You can also combine this technique with your pick-off move to give runners different looks on that front as well.
Come set and hold until the hitter or runner calls timeout. A good base runner will be on the balls of his feet, gradually gaining ground toward the next base. As he is inching ahead, he is reading your every move and waiting for you to step toward home so he can take off. Holding the set position can cause him to stop his movement and begin to shift back on his heels, lessening his ability to get a quick first step. Nobody likes to hold a squat position for a long time. This is especially true for runners who want to take the next base. Chances are also good that the hitter will call timeout, because he’ll be impatient standing in the batter’s box waiting for the pitch.
3. Delivering to the Plate
The final piece to controlling base runners is having a good delivery time to the plate. In the stretch position, pitchers should keep in mind how long it takes to deliver a pitch to the catcher. A good time is 1.3 seconds or faster.
A delivery with a normal leg kick (knee comes waist-high or higher) slows down your delivery. Speed things up with a slide step.
The slide step is typically used by right-handed pitchers, but some lefties can use it successfully as well. Most pitchers use it only when a runner is on first, but it can also help hold runners at second base.
To execute a slide step, come set with your back leg pre-loaded. This allows you to make the pitch without having to shift your weight back during delivery. Lift your front foot just enough to begin your stride down the mound. You are taking out your high knee lift. Once your stride begins, your normal pitching motion should take over.
Don’t feel that you need to use the slide step all the time when you’re pitching from the stretch. Mixing up your delivery with your normal leg kick and the slide step can help disrupt the runner’s timing—and the hitter’s, too.