One aspect of Pitchers having trouble throwing to first base is Mindset. Think of what we call the move to first: “Pickoff Move”. The long used phrase ‘pick off’ by coaches (and players saying it/thinking it themselves) has morphed into the mindset that the purpose of this play is to generate an out – pick the base runner off first. Too often the result is pitchers trying too hard to ‘pick the guy off’ and firing the ball past the first baseman.
The pitchers’ actions become too quick, undisciplined and to some extent, out of control which leads to poor throws. Also, pitchers often try to throw the ball too close to the ground (where the first baseman would be in a better position to apply a tag). “Hey, I gotta throw the ball down by the bag, so we have a better chance to pick that guy off.”
Let’s ask ourselves the question, “what is the objective of throwing over to first base?” Are we really trying to generate an out? …or perhaps are we simply trying to ‘Hold the runner close’? …or disrupt their timing? …or to wear them down and slow their jump? …or create anxiety by sticking in their mind that, ‘Yes, the pitcher Will throw over’?
When I was a head coach in college we changed the phrase ‘Pick Move’ to ‘HOLD Move’. Our objective was to re-set our pitchers’ mindset when they threw to first base. We taught them that we are not trying to ‘Pick the Runner Off’, we are working to ‘Hold Them Close’.
Questions: 1. What percentage of throws to first base result in an out? I don’t have any stats, but I’ll suggest the number is less than 5%. 2. At the amateur/teen level of play, what is the percentage of balls thrown past the first baseman? …I don’t have a stat on that either, but I will suggest that the percentage of balls thrown past the first baseman is higher than the percentage of throws that result in an out.
We taught our college pitchers to throw to first base at the first baseman’s chest level, not low to the ground, near the bag. By practicing with this mindset our pitchers became very good at making catchable throws consistently.
Another question to ask (and this might be easier for those of us who were base-stealers in our playing days) is:
When a base-stealer is Picked Off, was it a result of the pitcher making a quick and awesome throw, or was it a result of the Runner ‘Getting Their Self Out’?
ie, they were ‘leaning’, or their first move was towards second base, when the pitcher threw over, and as a result they were late in getting back to the base?
We told out college pitchers, “Make consistently good, catchable throws to first base and give the base runner the opportunity to ‘get themselves out’”. Given this new mindset, our pitchers learned to coolly and confidently throw over to first more frequently. The more we threw to first, the greater the chances of the runner making a mistake and ‘getting their self out’. …no we didn’t throw over a zillion times each game ;) but we wouldn’t hesitate to make back to back throws to first in base stealing situations and counts.
We did not keep stats on this, so I can’t say it produced more outs, but I can confidently say that the occurrences of ‘throwing the ball away’ was very low.
Let’s teach our pitchers the mindset of ‘Holding the Runner Close’ on their throws to first rather than making a ‘Pick Off Move’ and we will reduce balls being thrown away and possibly, in the process, generate more outs by giving the base runners more chances of ‘getting themselves out’
Technique For (Right Handed) Pitchers Throws to First Base
Making consistent quality throws, for any position, and most throwing sports for that matter, is based on good Footwork. The process for teaching and training pitchers to throw consistently well to first base begins with Training proper footwork.
Step 1 – No Ball is Used
Pitcher comes to the set position, then makes a 90 degree turn (very low two footed hop) in the direction of their glove side. In the process they separate their hands and bring their elbows up to shoulder height to a throwing (power) position. At the end of the action, we want their feet to be wider than shoulder width and be able to draw a straight line from the tip of their right foot, through the tip of their left foot, to first base. The line from their back elbow, through their shoulders, to their left elbow also needs to be straight towards first base.
More than likely the pitcher’s feet and elbows/shoulders will not be lined up properly in their first try and likely not in many subsequent tries. The purpose of the drill is to train this action, so the pitcher is in a good throwing position and lined up properly to throw to first base, each time they execute the action…this is more than a one day process.
Note: this drill does not need to be done on the pitcher’s mound. It can be done along one of the foul lines in the outfield (leaving the infield area for position players to work).
This action is executed over and over with the pitchers and coach checking their body alignment after each repetition. – Do ten reps of the action.
Step 2 – Include the Ball
After doing this ten times without a ball, add the ball to the action, so the pitcher is finishing in a proper throwing position. – Ten reps using a ball.
Step 3 – Throw ‘to First Base’ From the Throwing (power) Position
Have your pitchers partner-up and stand the same distance apart as is the distance between the pitching rubber and first base. The pitchers throw to each other, from the throwing/power position, with the chest area of the ‘first baseman’ as the target (note: a first baseman is bent down some when taking a throw from the pitcher, lowering the target area slightly) – Ten reps
Step 4 – Execute the Entire ‘Hold’ Move
It is critical that we instruct our pitchers, in the early stages of training this skill, to practice the action at a Controlled pace….half to three quarters speed and with just a Firm toss to first base, not all out. – Ten reps
Progression of Skill Development
We put our pitchers through this routine for two workouts. It is critical that throughout the process we are constantly working on establishing the mindset that they are working on a ‘Hold Move’, not a ‘pickoff move’. We must monitor the pace of their actions. Kids naturally want to show how good they are at physical skills; they will try to go too fast, too soon. We Will have to remind them to work at a Controlled pace and explain to them that First they need to develop the muscle memory of the actions, Then, after they have demonstrated consistency in executing the actions, we will start to speed things up …on days 3, 4 and beyond.
Our objective is, by the end of the second workout, that the players develop some level of mastery of the actions and have been successful in making fairly accurate, catchable throws to ‘first base’.
On subsequent days of work, based on our observations, we direct the players to increase the speed of their actions bit by bit. It is likely that we will not reach full speed in the actions until Day 4 or 5. The progression of the group depends a lot on their age, how quickly they grasp the concept that they are not trying to pick the runner off and their level of focus and commitment to learning.