Monday, October 24, 2011

How To Hold Runners Close To First Base

By Jim Bain

There is a Cardinal rule, especially at the Major League level of play, that a runner steals second base off the pitcher, not the catcher. This rule basically means, by this skill level most, if not all catchers have strong and accurate throwing arms, which makes outrunning the ball to second base nearly impossible. Therefore, the runner must get a good lead off and running start off the pitcher's actions.

Left handed pitchers enjoy a huge advantage over their right handed counterparts when it comes to holding runners at first base, close to the bag. By virtue of their set position, they are looking directly at the runner, easily viewing their lead off, which in itself, limit's the runner's ability to creep too far off the base.

Even without a slide step, a modification to their delivery home, they can freeze a runner by briefly holding their leg lift, a position they can legally throw home or to first base, limiting a runner's attempt to steal second base. A left handed pitcher who does not have a good pick off move to first base is an abnormality, created either by poor coaching or an extraordinary delivery issue which can not be modified or risk negative affects to the entire pitching mechanics.

Unfortunately, for pitchers anyway, most hurlers are right handed, which poses an entirely different set of cat and mouse games between the pitcher and the runner attempting to steal second base. The lefty has a natural advantage, but with a little training and a strong mental game, a right handed pitcher can be just as effective holding runners close to first base as his counterpart.

Timing affects every aspect of baseball. You time your swing when hitting, time your leap when trying to catch a line drive over your head, you time your throw while completing a double play. Disrupt or somehow otherwise throw the timing off and the chances of successfully accomplishing your goal diminished.

Destroying a runner's timing is the first and easiest thing a pitcher can do in order to discourage a runner from stealing, but he must be conscious of what he's trying to accomplish. Pitchers have a tendency, especially if they're throwing well, to establish a pattern in their delivery. When they're in a groove, they want the catcher to get the ball back to them and they quickly go to their pitching position to throw again. There's no thinking, no caution, just get the signal and throw. Runners easily pick up on this routine and can gauge their leadoff and jump, based on the pitcher's pattern of actions.

When a hitter gets on base, and of course they will, the pitcher must make a quick mental adjustment in his delivery. It's important to note here, there's a fine line between being aware of the runner, and being consumed with the runner. The pitcher can not lose track of what he's attempting to do with the batter in an effort to keep the runner from stealing.

Should he make this mistake, he'll either walk the batter, now there's two runners on base, or serve up a fat Home Run pitch. Neither scenario is good.

After receiving the catcher's signal and coming to a set stretch pitching position, the pitcher simply holds the ball a varying amount of time before throwing to the plate. Although that sounds quite simple, it is extremely effective in "taking the legs" away from the runner.

Another method is, from the stretch position, hold the ball, then step backwards off the rubber with your right foot and break your hands apart. By doing this the pitcher can throw to first, fake a throw, pretty well do anything he wants, which forces the runner to retreat back to first base.

As a last resort, or first if it's a planned pick off play, a pitcher can throw over to first, forcing the runner back to the base.

The key to keeping runners close to first base is variance of pitching mechanics which will tend to destroy the runner's timing and limit their lead should they attempt to steal.

Jim Bain, former Minor league baseball player, who since retiring has dedicated his life to teaching baseball to youth, shares his advice on running baseball drills on his exciting info packed website:

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