There are very few things that get me as excited than a baserunner getting thrown out at second base by my catcher, unless that is picking him off first before he has a chance to steal. Left handed pitchers have a massive advantage when it comes to pick-off moves, holding runners closely, and controlling the running game. Much of this hinges on our angle to look directly at the base runner when he is leading off, and more importantly the sneaky and sly movements we are allowed to implement in our move to first base. This blog will visit the ins and outs of many of the pick off options for leftys, drills to work on improving your pick off move, as well as an intriguing way to defend against first move steal strategy.
Within the blog you will see some explanation of ideas through text, as well as video of myself elaborating on some of the motions, patterns, or strategies. Much of the content has stemmed from my personal experience, coupled with other awesome lefty lefty discussions throughout my career. I’ve developed some useful patterns to help others learn. Also, for what it’s worth, I did possess a quality pick off move in my playing career, but struggled to control the running game in my latter pro years as best I could have, since I rarely adopted a slidestep in my motion, relying solely on my best move. I want to help guide lefties in the right direction, and to broaden their run game control. It can make all the difference in run prevention.
Lets first discuss the various moves we can implement on our journey to first base. We have snap throws, leg kick straight to first, leg kick 45, slide step to first, slide step 45, as well as a quick pick which I’ve yet to see called for a balk. Depending on the shapes and sizes of our pitching mechanics we may be aligned to use all of these options or just a few, but I figured its good to see all that’s available to our disposal. We can then pick and choose how we want to improve our arsenal of moves to first base.
Lets start with the easier moves and move to the trickyness as we go. The first option is simply a snap throw. Snap throws are simple in nature and can be done in a super quick fashion depending on how much we practice and sync our step with our throw. Its can be a quality move. We are simply trying to step off the rubber while getting our arm into position to make the throw to first base. Snap fakes can be utilized well as well. Example below.
The next move is essentially two types of moves, one being a better more deceptive version of the other. Leg kick straight to first. Leg kick utilizing a 45 degree angle to first base.
Listen in while I describe more about where I see lefties struggle in terms of deception and aesthetic (the way we appear when throwing to first base) and the drills to follow the explanation, reason for them, and how they can help improve our move.
To follow up on this explanation, we can utilize a pattern to help us work on our aesthetic, as mentioned in the above video, motion direction toward home while arm load / throws to first. These patterns are called straight striders / lungers. The longer the stride the more difficult the throw, however the longer we can stretch our actual 45 move the more deceptive it may appear, and draw the runner into his secondary prematurely. Have a look below of what the pattern phases looks like below, while the video directly following will be how if should phase into a 45 degree angle with the same design.
Another really cool way to work on the feel of using a quality 45 move is a pattern I’ve coined as 45 walkers. Essentially we are walking in a 45 degree trail implementing a throw to first base in stride. This pattern also phases with three lengths of stride distance to allow us to build the aesthetic (the way our move looks pertaining to its deception) to the lengthier and more difficult stride. The longer we stride the tougher the throw is to coordinate. This pattern helps create a throw in coordination of the task. Within this pattern I feel its important to stay in stride after the throw to help design a foundational aesthetic. You can implement head direction in this pattern as well even though mine is facing forward for the demonstrations. Aligning head direction toward home on the throwing stride will add to the degree of difficulty.
Some of the tell tale signs of a poor move or less deception is foot proximity in relation to the ground. This being said, if an individuals pitching mechanics are aligned with low foot proximity to home, this can greatly aid pickoffs to first, and also allows you to use poor proximity to demonstrate a bad more or a “B” move to first base coaxing comfortability from the runner deeming he may have you figured out, without having seen good foot proximity. Ideally we want good foot proximity, as the closer to the ground our lead foot is, the tougher the angle is for a base runner to determine the direction of your foot (straight to first, 45, or home). It becomes a tedious task to determine direction for the runner. You be the judge of the deception in relation to foot proximity.
Adding to the slickness of foot proximity, slide picks can be deadly if utilized well and still coupled with upper body aesthetic (appearance of motion to home). Slide picks are awesome because 1. They are quicker and the ball is out of your hand faster, AND 2. Your foot is low to the ground, therefore a poor split second decision can leave a runner out to dry in a hurry. We can go straight and 45 with these as well. Have a look.
How else can we really try to cheat these base runners into thinking we are going home? Head fakes. These are really tough and add to the intricacy of the move as quality head fakes and movements can create a wicked aesthetic to the runner in which he decides you are committing to home. There are a variety of different fakes and combinations we can use. The one I talk about in the video is one of my favorite combos. Listen in.
Now that we’ve talked a good amount about how to create the best version of our move, lets talk about when the other team has created a better strategy of how to run against you. At some point, if your move becomes good enough, players and coaches will gameplan a running game that at least forces the out to be at second base rather than first. Stealing on first move of lefties is widely known and utilized in the baseball community to combat lefties in general, as well as lefties with awesome moves.
As if the chess game between the pitcher and batter aren’t enough, the cat and mouse between lefties and base runners looking to steal first move are also just as tasty a match up. As lefties we need to be just as savvy as we are sneaky, this game is about adjustments and if we can recognize first move strategy is being implemented, we should look to improvise and combat it. Listen to me speak on a slick technique called slow toe to work against first movers.
A full lefty pickoff arsenal wouldn’t be complete without one last wrinkle of sneakiness. This pickoff which I’ve witnessed countless times by lefties through my career and a few times by yours truly is called a quick pick. I’ve never been called or have seen a balk called on this move but it imperative that you DON’T come to a full stop en route to set and then en route to first base (similar to how a RHP can go right into a pick while coming set.).
How does a quick pick work? Essentially you are giving the illusion you are coming set, but you are actually floating your foot to the standard set area, not landing it, and floating it right into a pickoff utilizing a straight stride or 45 angle.
- It’s another look that will could surprise a baserunner getting too comfortable watching you come set.
- Try to really sell that you are coming set.
- DON’T land your foot at its standard set location before picking.
- Foot proximity is typically low in this pick for deception.
- It’s a continuous motion.
Here’s what it looks like.
Finally, what should our follow through look like on our pickoff move? Plenty of opinions on this, however in my opinion there is no exactness to it, and certainly not a “right” way to finish. Walking off MAY assist in umpire discretion, but much of the time a halted finish that leads to a pick has the umpire following the throw not your foot. Listen in as I talk about the follow through and our approach to the release point to first base on a pick play.
Hope all my lefties, coaches, and maybe even baserunners 😉 enjoyed this blog on lefty pickoffs. The video below is the out-takes video that didn’t make their way into the rest of the blog. Would love for any and all to share this blog on social media tagging @lokationnation (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) as well as leave a comment if compelled to do so! Thanks for taking the time to read and watch, as well as allow me to serve you in this way. Good luck and get to work!