Shields: Keeping running game in check
Rays right-hander discusses the importance of holding runners
The pick-off move is definitely a big part of my game. Maybe not so much the move itself, but the ability to keep the running game in check as it relates to the bigger picture. It allows you to identify the leads the runners have, and any time you can limit the number of bases guys get, it gives you a better chance to win. Keeping runners at first base puts the double play in effect and keeps the runners out of scoring position.
When I got drafted in 2000, I ended up with the Hudson Valley Renegades in 2001. Dick Bosman was my pitching coach up there, and he was very big on identifying leads at first base and controlling the running game. I incorporated my own style into the things I learned from him. I think it's a very important part of the game. I think some of the pitchers up here underestimate the importance of it. I think keeping the running game in check saves you some pitches and, at the end of the year, a bunch of runs.
Every time we travel and I'm pitching, I always check out the cutouts at the stadium. Every field has a cutout. On average, they're about 12 feet. Some can be bigger, around 13 or 14 feet. This gives me an idea about how far the runner is off first base when I'm on the mound. It's not that I'm always trying to pick guys off. The main idea is to keep the running game in check. That way I can still focus on the hitter and make quality pitches.
When you get set as a pitcher, you really only have your peripheral vision to check on the runner. The rule is that a pitcher can't turn his shoulders once he gets set. To counter this, I always check the runner with both eyes before I set myself. That way I can judge the distance of the runner from the bag. With the peripheral vision, you can really only judge movement.
Once I see the runner, I can go back to focusing on the batter. A lot of pitchers don't know what's going on over there, and that can take away focus from making quality pitches. I think what you see now is the evolution of everything I've learned. I think it's somewhat like Mike Mussina. His is a little bit different, but the closest to my style.
I think most people know that I have a good pick-off move. I think quick feet and a short arm stroke allow you a better chance of picking off the runner. But I don't think having a good pick-off move necessarily equals the ability to identify leads. There is so much video out now that everyone knows how long it takes you to throw to home or what your signature moves are.
Left-handed pitchers definitely have it a bit easier. When they come set they can see what's going on there. Even when they lift their leg, they can fully see the runner. That being said, there are things that you can do as a right-hander that will help hold the runner at bay.
Right-hander James Shields won 16 games for the American League Wild Card-winning Rays in 2001. He has won at least 11 games in each of the last five seasons.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.