Most "steals" in the game of baseball are on the pitcher, not the catcher. You and only you control the running game. That's because you have the baseball. So you have to take ownership, and you have to work on it, just as you do every other aspect of the game.
Three ways to stop the running game:
1. be quick to the plate
2. have a quick move to first
3. vary your looks and holds
But before I describe some of the tips and tricks I used to keep runners from stealing on me, I want you to know that for a right hander, the term "pickoff" can be misleading. That's because 99 out of 100 times you're not actually going to be able to pick off a runner. After all, your back is to him when he's at first base. That's already a strike against you. But that's OK. Picking guys off shouldn't be your goal. Your goal should be to make the runner STOP. Keep him from leaning or walking toward the lead bag. Don't allow the runner to develop momentum toward the lead bag. See that he stops.
Then, you should be quick to the plate, so if the runner goes, your catcher can possibly throw him out.
You need to get the ball to home plate in 1.3 seconds or less. It's pretty quick, I know. But it's doable. So it's something that you're going to have to work on, because it's expected that you can do that at the college and professional levels.
But it's easier to do than you may think. Come set with your weight favoring the back leg 60/40, and maintain a slight bend in your back leg. That bend in your back leg is helpful because it's the one you'll push and pivot off of, if you make a throw to first base. It's also the leg that you're going to "load up" on when you make your pitch to the batter. By coming set 60/40, you're weight is already shifted into position.
I'm also big advocate of using JUST ONE PICKOFF MOVE, ALL THE TIME. I know there are plenty of baseball coaches out there who teach their right handers to use pickoff moves of varying speeds, in order to "trick" the runner. (You know the scenario, right? You do a "slow" move first to "lure" the runner farther off the bag, in order to use your "fast" move in the hopes of catching him off guard.)
But remember: the "pickoff move" for a right hander is NOT actually meant to pick off the runner. It's meant to keep him from leaning or walking toward the lead bag. Your goal simply is to make him stop. So, USE YOUR BEST MOVE, ALL THE TIME. And make it quick by using jump pivot.
As you jump pivot, keep your feet close. Pretend you have a 12-inch stick between your feet that you have to take with you when you jump pivot. Don't separate your feet wider than that imaginary stick, as it'll slow you down.
The rules say you must "gain ground" toward the base you're throwing to, but I used to cheat by jump pivoting in the same place, keeping the pitcher's rubber directly underneath my body. Most umps don't check. And if you follow your throw by walking off the mound, you can "hide" where you stepped. This may shave off only a fraction of a second from your time to first base – but every second counts. (Note: this is harder to get away with in pro ball than it is in college ball.)
Remember, you can't "fake" a throw to first base without stepping behind the rubber before doing so. But something that's equally effective as throwing the ball over to first base with a quick move is NOT throwing the baseball at all. You can use this move to peek if a runner is giving any indication that he may be stealing on the next pitch.
This is where varying holds and looks come in. I used to utilize 1, 3, and 5 second holds. I'd vary them with runners on base. Sometimes, I'd hold the ball for 5 seconds, quickly step back off the mound, and then peek over to see which direction the runner was leaning. This is how to see if the runner's cheating on you toward the lead bag. But you really have to sell it. Be deliberate. Hold the baseball for five seconds and step back hard. If you see him leaning toward the lead bag, throw over. The key is to make the runner STOP. You must make him stop on both feet.
On throws to first base, make a good hard throw and aim for the first baseman's knee on the inside part of the bag, so he can make a quick tag. The inside part of the bag is where the runner will be diving back. So that's where you should put the baseball. Don't throw it high or wide, making your first baseman have to lean in one direction only to have to switch directions to make a tag. The better you become at making good strong throws to your first baseman's inside knee, the better chance you have at picking someone off – not that that's your goal, remember? :-)
What do you think?
Now it's time to hear from you:
Are there any additional tips that I missed?
Or maybe you have an idea of how I can make this article even better.
Either way, leave a comment and let me know.