Runner on 1B:
A lot depends on the kind of lead the runner is taking. If he’s taking a max lead (usually not stealing). The runner is just trying to avoid getting picked off then focusing on getting a secondary lead when the pitcher commits to the plate
RHP–watch the feet.
right foot = "right back"
movement of the right foot means he’s stepping off or picking off
be mindful of the left knee as well, many pitchers employ a balk move (flex) of that left knee to freeze the runner (that many umpires do not see)
or even to get him to lean away from the bag and start his secondary lead a split second before an immediate jump turn move to first
LHP–right foot = "right at you"
if the right foot moves at you then he’s coming over
on a slide step, if he opens the gate he’s going home
on a leg lift, if the right foot crosses the plane of the pivot knee then he must also go to the plate.
The key on a lefty is to see it and not anticipate it.
There is not a single key to determining if the pitcher is picking off. It depends on the runners lead and the pitcher’s delivery tendencies.
Another general rule for my base runners is once a RHP comes to set, take another step.
Runner on 2B:
At second base, your lead is based on two things: how quickly can the pitcher get the ball to the bag and how quickly can the closest defender get to the bag. As long as you can beat either one of them, your lead is safe. In general, the runner can take a lead at least as large as the distance of the closest defender. Find the center fielder before getting too bold with the lead from the bag.
Watch the pitcher’s tendencies for his looks to 2nd base even before you get there, if possible. Does he look over once or twice? Does he mix it up? Does he attempt no-look pick-offs timed by a catcher’s signal? If you determine a pattern use it to get an extended lead when he turns his head to the plate.
Another thing about leads off second base is if you follow my rules above, no amount of dirt kicking, glove slapping, or clomping around by middle infielders should cause your lead to shorten up. I always preferred infielders to make a lot of noise when I was on base because I knew where they were. When I played middle infield, I always tried to be silent so the runner would have to swivel his head to find me.
Runner at 3B:
This is sort of a hybrid, but I look for cues like from first, but take my lead based on my rules for being on second.
Overall, I think runners give pitchers too much credit for their pick off moves and could probably get away with slightly bigger leads. The biggest reason the majority of runners don’t get all they can is no one likes taking the walk of shame back to the dugout after getting picked off. It’s baseball’s ultimate embarrassment. :oops: