GUEST POST | BY DUSTIN PEASE
Dan’s Note: I want to thank Dustin for taking the time to share his insight on left handed pick off moves. This is a topic that is under-appreciated, and is best taught by a southpaw who has lived it. He and I were opponents in college, and had similar journeys through Independent and, for Dustin, affiliated minor league baseball. Dustin finished his career as an accomplished reliever, reaching and succeeding at the Double-A Level with the San Diego Padres.
The batter laid down a perfectly placed drag bunt to my right side with our third basemen playing back, by the time I picked up the ball the runner had already touched 1st, I thought, ‘man he’s pretty quick…” First pitch to the next batter, I come set, hold, stare down the runner directly in front of me, who looked as if he was going to run based on how his lead leg was opened slightly toward second while sporting generous lead, continued holding, then lifted my leg to deliver the pitch.
He went slightly before my first move and was standing on second about the time the pitch reached the catcher’s mitt – not even a throw down to second. The pitch was a strike. I thought, ‘Ok this guy has some serious wheels, and well he basically bunted a double’. He reached second base on two pitches. I came set ready to deliver the second pitch of the at bat, held, checked the runner, who had a hefty lead but was standing perfectly still, I lifted my leg to deliver and the runner was off for third. Catcher threw down and he was easily safe standing up. At this point I’m thinking, Am I really that slow to the plate? Or is this guy riding a rocket around the bases?
On Both steals, he left a second early before I lifted my leg, he had a serious read on me. This fella reached 3rd on three consecutive pitches… Within the next 2 pitches I ended the inning with a strikeout stranding him on third. I escaped unscathed but I learned some valuable lessons facing a baserunner of his caliber. This was in High A in 2011 while playing for Lake Elsinore Storm. The opposing team was the Bakersfield Blaze. The baserunner’s name was Billy Hamilton, one of the fastest Major League Baseball players in the game today.
Capitalize on Your Natural Advantage
As a left handed pitcher, it is completely expected to have an advantage on the running game, because of our ability to see the baserunner in front of us, as well as our ability to pick off after starting our pitching motion. I will say this, the advantage can work to the highest levels of the game, however the baserunners do get better, their reads get better, and therefore the ability to control the running game becomes more difficult regardless of your move.
I had what many scouts, coaches, and players believed to be a great move to first base. It’s a constant game of adjustments and making correct reads yourself. Moving into collegiate and the professional baseball, you begin facing certain game plans from the opposing teams or certain runners, and it takes some solid intelligence to be able to adjust within the game. Through my years I was able to add many variations to my pickoff move in order to adjust as best I could to the running game.
The 6 Essential Pick Off Moves
So, I’m going to share my list of the different first-base moves and variations that a left handed pitcher should have in his pick off arsenal.:
1. Snap Throw
- The snap can happen at any point while coming set, or from the set position.
- The throw should be shorter and quicker than your average arm circle / action.
- Quickness is key
- Coordinate your arm action with your step off foot.
- Snap fakes are effective.
- Make an accurate throw, start slow and get a feel for the shorter arm action.
- This is the only move to first where you are allowed to fake a throw.
2. Standard up and over
- This move is not meant to pick guys off
- Lift leg should lift and then step in the direction of first base, follow your throw.
- More effective if your lift leg allows to travel back down, less effective if you travel to first from the top of your leg kick.
3. Standard 45 degree
- This move is meant to pick guys off, although it is not a sure thing.
- Body position, head movement, and step direction all play key roles.
- 45 Degree mark can be eyeballed from mound where secondary baseline starts.
- Telling yourself mentally that you are going home helps your move look more deceptive.
- Lift legs that allow for the foot to travel all the way back down make this move more effective.
- Lift legs that travel down are hard to read foot direction as it is closer to the ground. This illusion is very hard for the baserunner to determine your direction.
- Head movement can be used in a variety of ways. Looking in different directions through your leg kick help sell the move.
- Evaluate your mechanics to see if they allow for proper lift leg to work more deceptively.
- Most of all have fun, perhaps the most fun a lefty can have is a runner on first base.
4. Slide pick
- Slide step to first base.
- Step straight to the base.
- Incorporate however you have developed your slide step.
5. Slide pick 45
- Utilize 45 degree angle by slide picking to that angle.
- Slide picking is hard for baserunners as you are moving and releasing the ball quicker to first base.
- Runners can get caught off guard quicker with slide picks.
- Slide picks are extremely deceptive as your lead foot is so close to the ground, making it hard to runners to determine the direction of your body.
6. Directional Throw Drill
- Come set, do your standard leg kick and land the foot exactly where you had it set and throw to first base.
- This drill keeps your shoulders square while forcing you to throw with square shoulders.
- Shoulders should remain very square to home in this drill.
- This drill helps train your mind to step in one direction and throw in the other direction.
- Eventually work your step out to the 45 while maintaining shoulders as best possible.
Within the standard moves you can implement a hang at the top of your leg kick to read. I have found this to be successful to a certain degree depending on the skills of the baserunner. Base runners that consistently are trying to read your move will be in the most trouble when it comes to implementing a hang at the top of your kick; they will have the highest probability of getting picked off.
From my experience, as you face better runners, they are doing one of two things against lefties: they are stealing, or they are not. When they are not stealing, they are jab stepping back to the base regardless of your decision to pick. If they are stealing they are going on your first move. If you are considered a lefty with a great move, I find this to happen on more occasions. I was able to pick up a technique that helps guard against first movers. It is called “slow toe”.
- From set position, peel your heel to your toe off the ground while maintaining contact with the ground.
- You want to “start” your motion and give the illusion that you are moving.
- If they steal while you are still engaged with the ground you can make a quicker throw to first with a quick step.
- If you disengage too soon you find yourself stuck in your leg kick too long or could balk.
Lastly, when evaluating your mechanics, there are two big things you need to be aware of:
- The pace of your motion in regards to your time to the plate
- Whether or not your leg lift allows for your foot to come back down in front of you as discussed above.
The pace of your motion will help you make more educated decisions on how / when to implement slide steps, slide picks, and just how much you are helping your catcher should you decide to go home and the runner steals. Working with your pitching coach to help you find your times can start the discussion.
I hope that I was able to shine some light from a lefty perspective on how to go about continued work on your pickoff move.
Dustin Pease, age 31, is a former professional left handed pitcher who is a native of Baltimore, MD. He was recruited and played four years at Division-I Mount Saint Mary’s University and continued his career for 6 + years of professional baseball. He is the owner of Lokation Nation, a brand designed to educate pitchers on the positive effects of command and location, and how it’s execution can lead to consistent success.