Black Jack

The art of the third to first move

Watching the College World Series this week brought back some nice memories from what is now a lifetime ago! It also brought me some head shaking for having to listen to Steve Phillips ramble on after a righthanded pitcher attempted the third to first pickoff move about how "that move never works."
 
The common refrain from every announcer covering baseball today is the same. It doesn't matter what level we're seeing, what the situation is on the field or who is doing the move.
 
"That move never works."
 
Well, as most Sox fans know from watching me during the 90's, that move not only works...when done properly, but is statistically superior to any other pickoff move/attempt. I will now show all the naysayers the full extent of their ignorance. 
First let's get something straight, any pickoff move is used primarily as a deterrent to stealing. Righthanded pitchers will go an entire season without actually picking a runner off first base.
 
So why then, when they constantly throw over to first base in an attempt to keep a runner close or disrupt their timing, do we not hear the announcers saying, "that move never works?"
 
Disrupting timing is the #1 reason for throwing pickoffs to bases! It's no different with the third to first move. Even with the worst execution and halfhearted attempts that today's pitchers show, a runner still cannot just go on a pitchers first move!
 
When stealing on a righthanded pitcher, runners are taught to focus on a pitchers right heel. It would have to raise off the ground to spin and throw to first. But when a pitcher fakes to third, his heel remains on the ground while his "motion" to home supposedly begins.

How about lefthanded pitchers? How many times will they throw to firstbase with runners on compared to how many actual pickoffs they will have? It's a cat and mouse game that the pitcher tries to turn into a guessing game. No different with the first and third move.

Secondly, if the move is done correctly, and the runner has to wait and see whether you are faking to third or actually going home, his secondary lead will no doubt be altered and become later and shorter.
 
Why is this important you ask? If you can induce a groundball and the lead runner from first base is a step farther away from breaking up a double play with a hard slide because he had to wait for a possible third to first move, then was the move "effective" and actually worked????
 
If a runner can't go from first to third quite as easily on a base hit because his secondary lead was altered, then didn't the move WORK!!!  These idiots are just parrots who keep repeating a phrase without the knowledge to back it up.

But the point all of the pitchers and coaches are missing these days is that, done correctly, it can actually get outs and stop rallies. This is a move that has to be practiced, refined and worked on which makes it too much for some players to put there lazy heads around.
 
When I began refining this move in college at Stanford, I first had to become aware of what my normal mechanics were when I was out of the stretch and went home. Ask any lefthander what he must do to have a great pickoff move and they will tell you what I just told you. Our pickoff move has to mimic our move to home in order to freeze and fool the baserunner.

A good third to first move is just a mirror image of a lefthanders pickoff move to first. You must lift your leg the same way as in going home, keep your body posture the same and look the same all the way through the move. Righthanded pitchers are allowed a 45 degree angle  to fake to third just as lefthanders are while throwing to first.
 
The reason so many righthanders have crappy third to first moves is because they just pick their foot up and quickly put it down. There's no stealthness at all, just this hope that the runner is going on your first move.
 
THAT IS WHY THAT MOVE DOESN'T SEEM TO WORK, NOT THE MOVE ITSELF!
 
They need to work on it and nobody is teaching it properly and with the reasons  I've laid out here.

After my first few successes with the move in the Majors, first base coaches would always remind their runners that I had that move when they were in a third and first situation. Many times I would still pick runners off of the base which would leave both the coaches and players befuddled.
 
Here's why I could do it and here's how ANY righthanded pitcher could if they put the work in:

If you can put yourself in the shoes of a runner on first base here's how things work. While a pitcher is on the rubber taking signs you have about 70% of your full lead and your eyes are glued on the pitcher.
 
When the pitcher comes to the set position your eyes are still glued to the pitcher. But when the pitchers motion begins home a runners eyes will obviously shift toward the catcher and the hitting zone to respond to the batter and what happens with the pitch. That leaves the pitcher in the runners peripheral vision line.
 
Now picture those horrible moves that the righthanders show these days. They straighten their posture up and just pick their foot up, place it down quickly and turn toward first base. This looks completely different to a runner even in his peripheral focus and they will react accordingly by easily getting back to first. It all happens so quickly that the runner doesn't even have time to begin his secondary lead which is what you want.

When I executed this move I would go through my entire throwing motion as closely as I could and completely fake a pitch. This is where I won the game. While the runner followed THE SAME MOTION ALL THE WAY THROUGH THE PITCH in their peripheral motion, all it took was a split second of them freezing and wondering why the ball hadn't reached homeplate and I had already spun around and thrown to first.
 
Most of my third to first pickoffs were of this variety. It was not a case of a runner stealing and guessing wrong, but actually getting fooled on the similarity between the move and my pitches toward home.
 
This art is gone but I hope you now can understand how full of crap all these baseball geniuses are who downplay this move.

So next time you hear the naysayers ridicule this on the air, just realize that is not the truth. The truth is above!

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10 Comments

Murph said:

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Jack, I remember you using that move with great success. In fact I think you were the best I have ever seen at executing it. I can remember watching you pitch, sitting with friends or the local tap, hoping for men on first and third and then going, "ut oh" that guys in trouble! Lastly hope you had a wonderful Fathers Day!

Brian said:

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Hearing anything Steve Phillips has to say leaves most people shaking their heads. It's hard to believe that the Mets had any success with Phillips as their GM.

I don't know where Clayton Richard picked up his move to first, but he is keeping runners honest with it. Is this something the coaches and pitchers work on in spring training or is it up to the pitchers to work on pickoff moves by themselves? Because his move to first was not this good last year.

Thanks, Brian

Jack McDowell said:

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Any lefthanded pitcher who doesn't have a pickoff move that is a weapon is lazy and a waste of my time. Andy Pettitte has had a great pickoff move since he broke into the majors. It has been a huge weapon for him. This is not a talent issue. It's not like some guys just can't physically have a pickoff move! It takes work. A lefthanded pitcher should work on it as soon as he starts playing baseball. To me it's just basic mechanics and a building block of baseball. But there's so many damn kids who are coming up to the big leagues who can't even field a bunt and throw to a base it's ridiculous.

J-bird said:

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What up smokey? First, cool blog, I like the fact that you ruffle feathers. Second, I get a kick out of these t.v. personalities, current managers or players for that matter, who like to extoll the virtues of our national pastime and damn all those who dare challenge their knowledge or decision making. (Obviously that was an Ozzie dig).

Look, anybody who's played the game or coached it in a competitive manner whether it's little league, high school, college or the pro's, knows that it's a thinking mans game. It's a game of strategy. At it's core an intellectual sport. Yogi Berra said it's 90% mental, 10% physical and I fully believe that.

Now I know that the physical attributes and talent of a player are for the most part what gets them to the show but the athletes ability to learn, retain information and the wanting to be coached is every bit as important. For Steve Phillips to say what he said basically reveals that he himself has no confidence in the coaches to teach that move properly or for the player(s) to execute it correctly.

And it's like you said Jack, it's not necessarily about picking them off per se' rather it's about keeping them off balance, holding them on to roll a double play and get out of an inning and most importantly, preventing the other team from scoring, hence the strategy of the game. Hence the intellectual portion of coaching. But if the coaching staff can't coach that move you get these kinds of comments.

So basically what Phillips is saying is this; "The coaches in this league are to inept to properly teach and have their rotation correctly execute this move, therefore it never works and I, Steve Phillips, don't truly understand why it's done anyway, I better go lay in the sun because I'm not tan enough." But I digress.

This comment and the thinking behind it for me is no different than the stock and science given to a pitch count. You know Jack, if you're pitching well and you feel good let me pitch. I'll let you know when I'm fatigued, sore or hurt. But no, the pitcher goes 6 innings and his count is at 80 to 90 pitches you got to pull him. It's nonsense. But again, I digress.

See you next weekend,
Jbird out!

Jack McDowell said:

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besides all of that fodder, dude, I like beer

JB98 said:

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Jack, didn't you pick Devon White off THIRD once? I'm pretty sure you were in a first-and-third jam, and White assumed you were just faking over to third with the intention to throw to first. Instead, Ventura snuck in behind White, and you snapped a pickoff throw over to third and got the out.

Is my recollection correct?

I get stupider every time I listen to Steve Phillips talk. Sometimes I wonder how these guys end up with jobs in baseball.

Jack McDowell said:

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We also got Bernie Williams at third as well. He had just hit a triple, and Buck Showalter was coaching third...told him "hey they have that move over here"...Buck spent the rest of the game telling Robin, "you heard me tell him, right?"

J-bird said:

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I hear that. I'm bringing my appetite.

chisoxmike said:

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The Sox did it to Sosa too in one of those early crosstown series at Comiskey

dcrosko said:

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Amen Jack

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