Even if you’re a casual fan of baseball you’ve seen a relief pitcher come into the game and go directly into pitching from the stretch, but have you ever wondered why a pitcher pitches from the stretch? Is there some type of advantage to pitching from the stretch or is this more of a widely accepted norm for pitchers? I found myself wondering the same thing so I went on the hunt for answers.
Why do pitchers pitch from the stretch? Pitching from the stretch position prevents runners from stealing during the delivery of the pitch. Pitchers will pitch from the stretch when there are runners on base or when they are more comfortable pitching from the stretch.
So there are, in fact, some advantages to pitching from the stretch. Let’s take a closer look into what those advantages are and how they can help improve a pitcher’s chances of winning the game.
What is Pitching From the Stretch?
Baseball is full of jargon and pitching is no exception. If you’re not familiar with pitching jargon then you might be wondering – what does pitching from the stretch mean?
In baseball, pitching from the stretch means the pitcher starts their stance with their glove-side shoulder facing the batter and their back foot parallel to the rubber.
To deliver the pitch, pitchers only need to lift their front leg, plant it, and throw the ball.
The other way to deliver a pitch would be from the wind-up, which means a pitcher begins their stance with the front of their body facing the batter.
Advantages of Pitching Out of the Stretch
When pitching, most pitchers would prefer to start from the windup. This is due to pitchers being able to get a higher leg kick and helping with the pitcher’s overall rhythm of the delivery.
But at some point, pitchers will allow runners on base and need to change their strategy.
When runners are on base, pitchers will pitch from the stretch to gain an advantage and prevent runners from scoring. Let’s dig deeper into what those different advantages are.
Decreasing the Delivery Time
The biggest advantage pitchers have when throwing from the stretch is the amount of time it takes to deliver the pitch.
When pitchers traditionally start their delivery from the wind-up, they are making their first move with their stride foot (the left foot for right-handers) by placing it somewhere towards the side of the rubber. The next move would be to bring the stride food all the way up to around their chest and then make their final stride towards the plate.
If you’re a baserunner and you see a pitcher throwing from the wind-up, you have a much easier time stealing a base on the pitcher’s first movement. This gives the runner an advantage because it takes the pitcher a lot longer to deliver the pitch from the wind-up.
When delivering the pitch from the stretch, the pitcher does not have as much movement as he would during the wind-up.
Another advantage of starting from the stretch position is the pitcher is already positioned with his front shoulder toward the batter. This allows the pitcher to start his movement by raising his stride leg towards his chest and making the final stride towards to plate to complete the pitch.
Since pitchers do not have as far to move during the stretch, runners have less of a chance to steal a base.
To see a great example of a breakdown between a pitcher pitching from the wind-up and pitching from the stretch, take a look at the video below. When watching, notice how much longer it takes the pitcher to deliver the ball from the wind-up and imagine how many more steps a baserunner could get if a pitcher always pitched from the wind-up.
It’s Easier to Pick-off Runners From the Stretch
Another great advantage of pitching from the stretch is the ability for pitchers to pick-off the baserunner.
When pitchers start from the wind-up, they are still able to perform a pickoff move, but it typically takes longer to release the ball. Pitching from the stretch allows pitchers to quickly make a move to a base.
Therefore, making a pick-off attempt from the wind-up position takes a lot of time, is very recognizable by runners, and is very rarely successful. So the best way to have a chance at picking off a baserunner is by starting your pitching position from the stretch.
When pitchers take their position from the stretch, they do not need to first step off with their pivot foot in order to attempt a pick-off move. Pitchers are able to attempt a pick-off move by simply stepping and throwing to the base.
If done successfully, the baserunner does not realize the pitcher is throwing to their base and the pick-off attempt results in an out.
There are also some rules pitchers need to adhere to in order to ensure there is no called balk during their pick-off attempt. We won’t go into all the details about balks in this article, but for more info about balks check out our article on how many ways a pitcher can balk (with examples).
Pitching from the Stretch is More Comfortable
Sometimes, pitching from the stretch has more of a natural feel for pitchers. I don’t have a lot of experience with pitching, but the times I have pitched I have been most comfortable throwing from the stretch, which results in more strikes.
Pitching takes a lot of mental energy and if you focus on perfecting the wind-up when you don’t feel comfortable in the wind-up, you’ll be doing a disservice to yourself.
Even though starting your delivery from the stretch with no runners on base may seem like an uncommon move, this type of delivery seems to be gaining more and more traction with pitchers.
For these pitchers, the reasoning is quite simple: pitching from the stretch utilizes much simpler movements so it is easier to perfect a pitch from the stretch. Why try mastering two pitching styles when you can focus and perfect just one?
Should You Pitch from the Wind-up or Stretch When a Runner is on Third?
This is a hot topic depending on who you ask. The issue is that when there is a runner on third, he is far less likely to steal home because that is exactly where the pitcher is throwing the ball.
Since the pitcher is already delivering the ball home, does it really matter that the pitcher takes an extra second or two while pitching from the wind-up?
The argument for pitching from the wind-up with a runner on third is twofold:
- The pitcher is already throwing home so the runner will less likely to steal home
- Pitching from the wind-up means going for the strikeout
The first argument probably makes sense to most people: if the pitcher is already throwing the ball home then the runner on third is far less likely to steal home.
However, I’ve actually stolen home because a pitcher was pitching from the windup. Every situation is different and pitchers need to ask themselves if there is a possibility of that runner stealing home when I’m pitching from the windup.
The second argument is valid for people who would much rather deliver the pitch from the full wind-up. If you are the type of pitcher who pitches harder from the wind-up and is more confident of his pitches from the wind-up, then it would make sense to use that strength to your advantage.
You always want to look for ways to increase your chances of getting outs.
On the other hand, people who prefer to throw from the stretch with runners on third:
- Don’t want to take the chance that a runner will actually steal home
- Don’t want to allow the runner to get a great secondary lead, potentially leading to a score on a past ball or a groundball
- Can still make a pick-off attempt to third base
Some runners are fast and most of us can find examples of players who have stolen home. Who would want to be the pitcher that allowed a runner to steal home on him? For this argument, some pitchers would prefer to keep pitching from the stretch with a runner on third.
In addition to not wanting players to steal home, some pitchers will pitch from the stretch with a runner on third to prevent that runner from getting a good secondary lead.
With a good secondary lead, a baserunner has a better chance of scoring on a passed ball to the catcher or on a ground ball to an infielder. So the point of pitching from the stretch is to decrease the chances of that runner scoring!
One more point to be made is that a pick-off attempt is a lot more likely when pitching from the stretch rather than from the wind-up. If you’re a right-handed pitcher with a good pick-off move to third, don’t be afraid to use your gift!
In short, when a runner is on third base it is a safer option to pitch from the stretch. Pitching from the stretch prevents the runner on third from getting a good secondary lead while it also gives you the opportunity to make a pick-off throw at third.