1. Know the opposing team
Knowing the opposition can help a pitcher understand as to when the best times are to put more focus on the base runner(s).
First things first, which is learning each hitter and the opposing teams’ batting order. Typically the middle of the field defenders will be the best runners and have the best footwork around the bases, meaning they would be potential base runners. From here you can turn your attention to where each player hits in the lineup. Most lineups done by the book will have your 1, 2, 6, and 7 hitters as similar type of offensive players – players who are good with the bat and are great on the base paths. This goes primarily for the 1 and 2 hitters. The 8 and 9 hitters can be potential strong base runners as well but again revert back to their position on the field before making this assumption.
Rule of thumb regarding positions is that your corner guys tend to be slower on the base paths so a straight steal for them is highly unlikely but they may look at attempting a delayed steal trying to catch the defense and catcher off guard.
2. Know the count
Knowing the count and outs as a pitcher can be crucial pieces of information especially when you have an expected baserunner on base.
Typical baserunners will run either early in the count or on “hitters’ counts” such as 2-0, 3-1, or 3-2 counts and with less than 2 outs. When these “hitters’ counts” present themselves, baserunners and third base coaches know that the next pitch will more than likely be a fastball around the plate that the hitter can swing at. This gives protection to the baserunner.
Knowing these counts as a pitcher can play to your advantage as they are great counts to try and pick the runner, since they will be more anxious to steal.
3. Hold the ball
Holding the ball simply means that the pitcher can control the movement of the baserunner by simply holding the baseball. The Pitchers can simply come set hold the ball for a period of time and then step off the rubber. The other option would be to come set and hold the ball until the batter calls time. This would typically be done after the pitcher had to cover first or play a bunt on the previous hitter, and holding the ball until the batter calls time will give him those extra few seconds to catch their breath.
Anytime a pitcher can make the baserunner become flat footed the catcher will have a better chance of throwing out the runner or the runner will simply not make the attempt.
4. Alter your timing on the rubber
Pitchers are “creatures of habit” and like to be comfortable on the mound and repeat motions time and time again.
Pitchers should NEVER deliver pitches to the plate with the exact same timing. A pitcher should get comfortable with being uncomfortable in their timing with delivering pitches to the plate.
For example: After a pitcher comes set their first pitch could be a hold of one second then deliver to the plate, then the next pitch could be a hold of three seconds then deliver to the plate.
5. Alter Looks
With a baserunner on second base, pitchers need to get in the habit of changing looks or switching the looks they give to that runner which provides a mixture of look patterns to an anxious baserunner.
For example: The first pitch may be one look at the baserunner, the second pitch may be two or three looks. Then keep mixing looks from there.
*We had talked about reading pitchers and their patterns in our “Stealing third base” article.
Knowing these 5 keys will help you control the running game and help you in two ways…1. Your catcher will be able to throw out more baserunners and 2. Your team will be able to turn more double plays by keeping runners at first base.