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.
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.
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.:
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”.
Lastly, when evaluating your mechanics, there are two big things you need to be aware of:
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.