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The right "pick" for the right-hander.

A right-handed pitcher with a good pick-off move can give his team a real edge. When used sparingly and at the appropriate time, he can be devastating.

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The move I refer to is the slight buckling of the front knee prior to the pickoff at first base. Not surprisingly the most frequent question about it is: Is it or isn't it a balk?

The answer: It is not a balk unless the umpire calls it a balk. Taught and executed properly, it becomes very difficult to discern any trickery in this movement.

One of the better major leaguers to use this move is Ryan Franklin of the Cardinals. He is seldom, if ever, called for a balk, even by an umpire right behind first base. On the high school and college level, the umpire is positioned between first and second, making the move more deceptive to see, let alone call.

The difficulty of the move is exacerbated by a running team. The running provides the kind of instinctive and competitive edge that separates great coaches from their counterparts, and gives the runners decided advantages. Coaches do not win games, players do. But great coaches consistently place their teams in a position to win.

TEACHING THE TECHNIQUES

1. First, deception is the by-product of making one thing look like exactly like another, but is really very different. We begin by teaching our right-hander the stretch position with his hands high at the letters. This will help him deliver the ball to first more quickly.

2. Quick feet are essential in all pick off moves. If your athletes do not initially possess such quickness, they can achieve it with agility drills and jump pivots.

3. With the feet spread wide enough (parallel and pointed at home plate), the runner should jump quickly and land with the stride leg pointing at first base. The term "jump" implies height, but it's quickness that we want. So we tell our pitcher to jump just enough to get his feet off the ground as quickly as possible.

4. As the pitcher begins his jump pivot, we want him to take the ball out of his glove and bring it up to the area of his ear. Coaching point: Do not allow the pitcher to drop his arm prior to bringing it to his ear. Have him just take the ball out of his glove and go to the ear with it.

Repeat this drill until the action becomes quick, smooth, and fluid.

Once this is accomplished, the pitcher will be ready to practice putting his pickoff move together. With everything working in unison, he should be able to throw to first base less than one second. There is no excuse for a right-hander not to have a quick move to first base.

5. Having perfected a quick and fluid move to first, the pitcher is now ready to learn the advanced version. Remember, deception is the perception of similarity--everything looking the same.

Well-coached base-runners are reading the pitcher's feet. When the front foot lifts, the pitcher must pitch, when the back foot pivots the pitcher must "pick." Our deception gives the runner a false read. We begin by teaching the pitchers to lift the front heel off the ground.

6. Push down hard with the toes; this will enable the heel to lift--maximally off the ground.

7. Push the toes down, wait until the heel is completely off the ground, then jump pivot, get the ball to the area of the ear, and once the feet land, throw the ball to first base. (There is just a fractional delay between lifting the heel and executing the jump pivot.)

Practice lifting the heel and pivoting the back foot, lifting and spinning repeatedly, while preparing the ball for the throw to first base. It is the only way to attain fluidity and competence in this movement.

Practice against live base-runners once the pitcher's movements become confident and competent.

Push down hard with the toes. This lifts the heel and causes the knee to slightly buckle. Then jump pivot and throw to first base repeatedly until perfected.

Remember, from the runner's perception: when he ever sees that heel lift, he will assume the pitcher is pitching and he is running. The runner is out if he is running or fakes the steal.

All we need is one false step from the runner to get him out on an accurate throw.

SUMMARY

Deception can be a great tool in your teaching methodology, especially in your handling of the pitching. An astute coach can give his staff a tremendous advantage by equipping them with the knowledge and instincts of how to work the hitters and baserunners.

The best coaches have such instincts because they are innate and the coaches are into the game. They see and hear the game differently than their contemporaries and are always placing their team in a position to win.

The players have the responsibility to watch everything and see that everyone accepts the coaching. When this occurs, the game becomes a thing of beauty. The best coaches and players have this special glow.

By Marty Berson, The Lab, MVP Baseball/Softball Academy Fullerton, CA
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Title Annotation:BASEBALL; baseball pitching
Author:Berson, Marty
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2008
Words:870
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