Today, I attended the Cal Ripken Baseball Coaches Clinic with 300 Massachusetts coaches. The program was very well run, entertaining, and reaffirmed some beliefs I hold in regards to baseball fundamentals. Many topics were covered, but I’d like to discuss pick-off plays in this post.
Many pitchers and catchers will attempt to throw the ball low and to the bag on pick-off attempts. This seems logical. Pick-off plays are usually bang-bang plays and as such there is little margin for error. By throwing the ball right on the bag, the fielder does not need to take additional time to apply the tag. As an infielder myself, I have trouble handling pick-off throws around the bag that are thrown at my ankles.
There are two major problems:
1. Because the ball and runner are arriving at the same time and in the same place, there is a good chance that the ball can ricochet off the batters leg or helmet (if the runner is diving into the base).
2. If you aim low, there is a greater chance you will miss low. This throw can skip into the outfield.
Both of these scenarios are much worse than the runner being safe on the pick-off attempt because they can result in the runner advancing a base.
My thoughts on this matter were echoed by Billy Ripken. Pitchers or catchers should aim for the infielder’s chest on pick-off throws. The ball will be easiest for the infielder to handle and a throw that goes off target will still likely be handled by the fielder rather than getting away.