Holding runners on and controlling the run game is so important at the youth levels and the high school level. As you get to the higher levels, you will see some pitchers get away with things that you just can’t get away with at the youth levels. It’s always easier to keep guys from running if the pitcher throws 95 mph and the catcher pops a 1.8 right on the bag.
For players in our program, we are purposely going to leave out a few things that we teach because an element of surprise is essential for them to work in a game situation. We will teach them in our training sessions, just not online.
Some Key Points
Even if the other team knows what you’re doing, there is not much they can do about it if you have a pitcher who can hold the runner close to the base, a catcher who can back pick at any time and a pitcher – catcher combination who can both be quick and accurate. Combining a variety of things together with a talented pitcher and catcher is key to controlling the run game.
Lower Levels – 14u on Down
We want to completely stop the other team from running if possible. The reason for this is that there are too many extra bases taken at the youth levels.
High School Levels
Depending on our pitcher & catcher combination, we might have 2 different thoughts. With our studs, we almost would want to dare them to run because they will just run themselves out of innings. With our guys who are not as talented, they need to do a great job at minimizing the run so we don’t give up 6, 7, 8 or even more extra bases during a game.
Holding runners on 1st base is so important. At the youth levels, stealing second is almost a given if the runner is fast. However, even if you don’t have a star catcher to throw guys out, the pitcher can do several things to slow down the run game. If you have an awesome catcher who can really throw, then you can be the team who actually shuts down the run game, which is something very hard to do from high school on down. Below are some of the things we teach our pitchers.
Pick 1st Pitch & Pick Often
Most good coaches want to get their fast guy into scoring position as soon as possible, so they will steal 1st pitch. If your pitcher has a good move, you can pick off some of these guys right out of the gate. Even if they know we’re picking, it will usually help to shorten their lead, which gives your catcher a better chance to throw him out.
Slide Step After Your Picks
Use the crash slide step to be quick to the plate. After 1 or 2 picks, the crash slide step is a great way to prevent them from getting a great jump. You still may not throw out the fast guy, but if it’s a close play, you may prevent the coach from stealing with his average runners.
From my experience, when an opposing team shuts their team down from stealing, they are an easier team to beat. You aren’t going to get beat very often at the youth or high school level by the 2 or 3 run home run that you will see at the big league level.
Set up the Back Pick
We will usually call some outside fastballs with a righty batter to set up the back pick. We don’t want that runner getting comfortable at all over there at first base. Being able to throw a pitch accurately just off the plate will help the catcher get that ball down to 1st base more quickly.
Vary Your Timing
Don’t always pick over to 1st base with your best move and don’t always hold the ball for the same amount of time. Mix it up. One one thousand, go to the plate. One one thousand, pick. Three second hold, then to the plate. 4 seconds hold, then step off or go to the plate. Mix it up so they can’t just time you and take off.
4 Second Hold
With some players, you need to make them do a 4 second hold and then they can do whatever they want after that. Some pitchers just go and they don’t think about what they are doing. Putting a 4 second hold in is a great way to make them slow down and change it up. With a fast runner who is running, 4 seconds is like eternity over there and many times at the high school level on down, you will see them twitch or do something that shows us they are going. Great time for the 1st baseman to say Ball or Now to get a quick pick. Runner doesn’t do anything, a slide step home will work well too. For many pitchers, holding for 4 seconds is weird for them and they will just step off and re-focus.
In our program, we have a saying for runners on 2nd base. 3rd base isn’t free! However, many of our pitchers still think 3rd base is free and they just let them steal at will. We have to be just as good with a runner on 2nd base, however, we go about it a little differently.
Show the Big Leg Kick Inside Move
They have to see that we have an inside move. If they don’t see it, they will just steal on our big leg kick. We like to show the inside move fairly often with better runners on base.
Mix in a Slide Step After a Pick
A lot of youth and high school coaches will put a steal sign right after an inside move pick play attempt. The reason is simple. They are just guessing that we wouldn’t pick twice in a row. We could put a pick play in here, but it may not work. If a runner gets a bad jump to 3rd base, we are thrilled. It’s a free out. We just throw the runner out and say thank you. (We don’t actually say Thank You:))
Glove Side Pick
You can also set up a quick turn glove side pick. At times, this is the best way to actually get an out at 2nd base. Most of our picks to 2nd are just to control the run. However, at times, you can actually get a guy out and any time you can take a guy out of scoring position, we will gladly take it. Timing has to be important here with the pitcher and shortstop. We aren’t going to go over some of the things that we do here sign wise, but having the pitcher, shortstop and 2nd baseman working together with some type of sign so they know the play is on and the timing of this has to be just right for it to work.
The shortstop can also just flash his glove open and take off to the bag. The pitcher turns and picks to the bag.
At 3rd base, we don’t pick as much, but there are some key times when we do it. Mixing in an occasional pick off a high leg kick is essential in keeping the runner close and occasionally, it works to get an out. For us, it’s important to keep this runner as close as possible when we play on youth fields with short backstops. Some coaches are a little too aggressive at the youth ages and we can catch them making little league mistakes, but only if we keep that runner close. If the runner gets off big, it still may be hard to get him out on a play at the plate with a wild pitch. If we can keep him close though, we can prevent a run from scoring on a passed ball or wild pitch.