Friday, February 25, 2011

Left Handed Pitchers – Runner at Third Base

With a base runner at first base, left-handed pitchers have a great advantage. Facing the runner, a lefty can watch the runner and try to gauge whether or not the runner is thinking of attempting a steal. But with a runner on third, left-handed pitchers have a disadvantage. 

The disadvantage of the lefty is a bigger deal than that of the right-handed pitcher. A runner advancing from first to second may lead to a change is strategy, but a runner scoring from third can change the game. 

Because the threat of stealing home is significantly lower than an attempt to steal second base, the third baseman typically doesn’t hold the bag and wait for a throw as a first baseman does. Not only does a left-handed pitcher have his back to the runner, but there usually isn’t the threat of a pickoff, which allows the runner to get a bigger lead. 

There are two potential game-changing situations that a left-handed pitcher should be aware of with a runner at third base. 

The first is an attempted squeeze bunt – which occurs when the runner from third base breaks for home in the middle of the pitching motion and the batter attempts to bunt the ball. If it works, the runner will score easily and the only play will be at first base. 

If a squeeze play is attempted on a right-handed pitcher, they can catch a glimpse of the runner and attempt to alter the pitch. Hopefully the batter will miss the pitch and the runner will be out at home plate. 

But for a lefty, you can’t see the runner break. You have to rely on your teammates to alert you. And if a squeeze is executed properly, it will be too late. The only chance you have is if the runner doesn’t do his job. 

A runner trying to steal home is the second situation. And while I have only seen it happen twice, a runner stealing home can change the outcome of a game. The swing in momentum can be too large to overcome. 

It is really only a concern if you have a fast runner on third base and the left-handed pitcher is pitching out of the windup. As soon as the pitcher takes a starter step, he is committed to throwing to home and this can give the runner a tremendous head start. Again, not being able to see the runner, the pitcher must hope his teammates alert him. 

But here is the difference. On a squeeze, you should try to throw a pitch that is difficult to hit. When a runner is trying to steal home, you shouldn’t throw a pitch out of the zone. Throw a strike. 

Why? Two reasons. 

If the runner has a head start - he may be close to home plate by the time the ball reaches the hitting zone – and we throw a ball out of the zone (especially with a right-handed hitter up), our catcher probably won’t have time to catch it and put the tag on before the runner scores. 

Secondly, a hitter isn’t going to swing with the runner attempting a steal of home. It is an extremely dangerous play. Throwing the pitch that was called and take your chances.

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