Pick-Off Plays from the Catcher to the Infielders [ARTICLE]
Pick-Off Plays from the Catcher to the Infielders
The key as to whether or not a pick-off play should be attempted from the catcher to an infielder depends on the type of secondary lead that a runner is taking at a base. The secondary lead is the lead a runner has when the catcher receives the pitch. Each runner will have a different secondary lead, not only in regard to the distance he is away from a base, but in his weight distribution.
The quickness and baserunning skills of a runner will dictate how far he is able to get away from a base in both his primary and secondary lead. What is a good lead for one runner might be a poor lead for another runner. The catcher and the infielders need to determine whether a pick-off play is possible on a runner taking into consideration all the factors involved. If it is determined by both parties involved that a pick-off play should be attempted, the sign is flashed by one of them and then acknowledged by the other.
There are numerous factors involved other than just the distance of the secondary lead. A runner who has his weight leaning toward the forward base when the catcher receives the pitch, will have a very difficult time quickly returning to the base on a pick-off attempt. This especially is so if the runner's left foot lands in front of his right foot when the catcher receives the ball.
When a righthanded batter is at the plate, it makes for a more difficult pick-off throw on a runner leading off third base. With a lefthanded batter, the catcher will have a more difficult throw to first base. This does not mean that a pick-off can not be attempted in these situations but the catcher must be sure that he properly clears the batter when he is throwing to a base. Many times a baserunner is screened by the batter and does not see the catcher rise up to throw until it is too late to get back to the base.
The catchers need to understand that even though a pick-off sign has been flashed, they do not have to throw to the base. If the pitch received is one that makes it difficult to throw quickly and accurately to a base, then no throw should be made. Also, if the runner has made a quick recovery from his secondary lead, the catcher should not throw the ball. There must be a play on the runner before a pick-off throw is made.
It is also important that the catcher place a premium on accuracy on his throw anytime he is throwing to any base with a runner at third base. Too many baseball games are lost by an aggressive catcher attempting a pick-off play on a runner only to find the ball going into the outfield and a runner scoring from third base.
A team should never attempt a pick-off play at a base when there are two outs with a weak hitter at the plate who is behind in the count. Of course, if a runner takes a very large secondary lead and there is a great chance for an out to be made, a pick-off attempt could be made.
The catcher's arm must be taken into consideration in determining whether a pick-off attempt should be made. If a team has a catcher with a strong accurate arm they can attempt pick-off plays whenever a runner is taking advantage of the defense by taking an aggressive secondary lead. If the catcher's arm is weak and inaccurate the pick-off attempts should be kept to a minimum and only attempted whenever a runner can be easily picked off at a base. The defense must keep all runners honest in their secondary leads even if the catcher's arm is suspect.
There are four basic types of pick-off plays from the catcher to an infielder. Three of these plays would require the use of signs.
About the Author...
Legendary Mississippi State baseball coach Ron Polk, the winningest coach in any sport in the history of the Southeastern Conference, enters his third season as UAB's volunteer assistant coach in 2010. Polk came to UAB in the summer of 2008 after announcing his retirement from the Mississippi State program.