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Coaching Softball - Strategies for Pick-Off Plays

By Lee Ann Jarvis
Head Coach - Southwest Texas State University

In my current head coaching position at Southwest Texas State University, I put a tremendous amount of responsibility on my catchers to control the game through knowledge and confidence in their decisions behind the plate. I feel the many years I spent as an All-American catcher at Louisiana Tech and with the Raybestos Brakettes have provided me with keen insight into the catcher position.

Below, I outline strategies and key elements to use to teach your catcher how to execute an effective pick-off play.

Strategies of the Pick-Off Play:

  1. The element of surprise! In order to gain an advantage against the runner, don’t throw to the bases a lot. Carefully pick and choose when to use the pick-off move.

  2. Only call a pitch-out for a pick-off when you are ahead in the count. (0-1, 0- 2, 1-2). This will not put your pitcher in a bad situation to have to battle out of.

  3. Pitching out for a pick-off can help you and your team be more efficient. At least 90 percent of the time a pick-off should happen from a pitch out.

  4. Trust your instincts as a coach and teach your catcher to trust hers. When calling a pick-off, it is often based on a gut feeling.

  5. Know the tendencies of the opposing coaches: Are they aggressive or conservative? Do they have their base runners steal when the batter is ahead or behind in the count? Do their base runners take aggressive leadoffs or conservative ones? (Watch what the runner does after the ball has been caught by the catcher. i.e. dropping her head, walking back to the base, etc.)

  6. Watch the first base coach. Observe what he/she does when a runner gets on first or second. Is he/she watching the catcher or the positioning of the infielders?

  7. Make sure your entire defense is clear on their positioning during a pick-off play relative to the game situation. For example:
  • Runner at first base with no outs - second baseman takes the throw.

  • Runner at first base with one out - first baseman takes the throw.

  • Runner at first base with two outs - first baseman takes the throw.

  • Runner at second base - we don’t throw down to second

  • Runner at third base with no outs - shortstop takes the throw

  • Runner at third base with one out - shortstop takes the throw

  • Runner at third base with two outs - third baseman takes the throw.

Key times to use the Pick-Off Play:

  1. Bunt situation when the pitcher is ahead in the count. In these situations, base runners like to get a few steps ahead so they can be safe at the next base.

  2. Following a strike out where the batter swings, with less than two outs. In this situation, the base runner sees the batter start her swing and wants to get a good jump toward the next bag.

  3. Late in the game and you need a big out. If the catcher has not used a pick-off move but both you and the catcher have been observing certain runners that are taking big leads.

  4. On the first pitch of a first and third situation, pitch out and snap throw to third to see what the runners might be doing.

  5. When playing a team that is very aggressive on the bases, after the first batter gets on, throw a pitch out on the first pitch for a pick-off to establish that you are aware of their aggression on the bases.

  6. Many coaches with two outs, runner on first, leadoff hitter at the plate, behind in the count, will steal in order to leadoff the next inning with that hitter.

Each of these principles will be executed to varying degrees depending upon the skill level of your catcher(s). Remember that the strength of your team lies in the mental toughness and confidence your catcher displays behind the plate.

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