First base pickoff situations: Basic to advanced defensive tips for holding runners on first base.

First basemen must know how to hold runners close to the first base bag when they take their leads. This includes:

  • Knowing the proper set up
  • Learning how best to apply a tag
  • Getting to a good fielding position when the ball is thrown home, and
  • Being able to shift your mind from taking the throw from the pitcher to becoming a fielder.
How to hold a runner on first base.  Technique and tip for first basemen picking off runners at 1st base.

Yankee Jorge Vasquez receives the throw from the pitcher as the base runner dives for safety. Image by Frank Lauri.

Feet Position.

Keep both feet in fair territory. The rule is that all players except the catcher must positioned in fair territory. Your foot can be on the chalk line, but cannot be outside of it.

— Right Foot

Most of the time you will have your right foot up against the side of the first base bag. This can change slightly depending on a few factors. If the pitcher is a little erratic with his throws and you don’t want to get tangled up with the runner, or you feel that the pick off attempts are more for show than to get an out, you can move your foot a little closer to the pitcher. This will give you a little more clearance away from the runner and a better chance to catch the ball. Remember the further away from the bag, the more difficult to make a quick enough tag to get an out.

— Left Foot

The position of your left foot depends what is comfortable for you.  Personally, I like having my foot on the chalk line, so my chest is facing the pitcher. Have a comfortable and somewhat wide base.  From this stance, I feel ready to react in any direction. Some like to have their left foot in line with the pitcher.  In this position it is easier to make a tag.  But if the throw from the pitcher is off target, this foot position may limit your side to side range.  How you position your feet is a personal preference with your own comfort.

Holding a slow runner

If you are holding on a slow runner or someone who is not going to steal and want to be in a better position to make a play on a hitter, have both feet in a normal ready position facing the hitter. Be in the area where you would normally want to end up after your shuffle steps and start there. This way you are close enough if he decides to take a big lead you can still pick him off, but you are in a much better defensive position.

Making An Efficient Tag

When making a tag on a runner from a pickoff attempt, take your glove directly to the front part of the bag where he will be sliding in.  A common mistake is trying to tag the runner up high where he can maneuver around the tag and get a body part into the bag before you can tag him. Remember the runner has to get back to the bag, so blocking it with your glove and letting him slide into you is the best way to make your tag.

Shuffle Steps.

Once you are sure that the pitcher is throwing the ball home, it is your job to gain as much ground as possible towards 2nd base. Try to get 2 shuffles from where your left foot is planted towards second base.

Be in a ready position with your feet on the ground when the ball crosses through the strike zone. If you can’t get 2 shuffle steps before the ball crosses home plate it is better to just take one and be in a good fielding position.

If the ball is hit to you and you are not in a good fielding position, you will not be quick enough to make even a routine play. Depending on how quick the pitcher is to the plate, sometimes you may take 1 shuffle and sometimes you may take 2. The bottom line is to make sure you are in a good ready position when the ball is in the strike zone.

About Author

Doug Bernier, founder of Pro Baseball Insider.com, debuted in the Major Leagues in 2008 with the Colorado Rockies, and has played professional baseball for 5 organizations (CO Rockies, NY Yankees, Pirates, MN Twins, & TX Rangers) over the past 16 years. He has Major League time at every infield position, and has played every position on the field professionally except for catcher. Where is he now? After batting .200 in 45 at-bats and fielding .950 during 2017 spring training with the Rangers, Doug was assigned to the Ranger’s AAA team the Round Rock Express. You should click to watch this great defensive play by Bernier

4 Comments

  1. Chris Oswalt on

    Is it illegal for the 1st baseman with his right foot to completely block the base before he gets the ball while holding on a runner? I thought that the runner has to have some place to put his hand or it is considered interference if the defensive player is set up before the throw to attempt the out.

  2. Runner on 1st. Breaks for 2nd for what appears to be an attempted steal. What does the 1st baseman do upon the pitcher’s release of the ball?

    • Proceed as normal by shuffling off ready to field a batted ball (HIT&RUN). Make sure to sound off by yelling the word “Runner!” which lets the middle infielders know to cover 2nd base and is especially useful to the catcher if there is a left handed hitter obstructing the catcher’s view of the runner stealing from 1st base.

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