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MLB could be changing the way pitchers pick off baserunners

Scott Levin's picture

Despite its general ineffectiveness, it is a move used by right-handed pitchers to deceive baserunners. And if Major League Baseball gets its way, the move will no longer be allowed.

The MLB Playing Rules Committee is ready to bring an end to the fake-to-third, throw-to-first pickoff move that is used by some pitchers. Baseball executives and umpires are on board with the plan to outlaw the move.

With baserunners standing at first and third base, a right-handed pitcher will sometimes begin his motion and step directly to third base. After bluffing a throw to that base, he will turn around and take a look at first base, throwing to the base if the runner has wandered too far from the bag.

The point of the move is to catch a lazy baserunner at first base who tries to steal second base the moment the pitcher starts his motion. The move very rarely works and almost always elicits a sarcastic groan from the crowd when the visiting team employs the maneuver.

Under current rules, the fake-to-third, throw-to-first is not a balk. In the baseball rule book, Rule 8.05 (c) states, "It is possible, with runners on first and third, for the pitcher to step toward third and not throw, merely to bluff the runner back to third; then seeing the runner on first start for second, turn and step toward and throw to first base. This is legal."

But the Playing Rules Committee is proposing a balk should be called in future seasons. Proponents point to the fact that lefties cannot make the same move to first without being called for a balk. If the new rule passes, a pitcher would have to step off the pitching rubber before executing the pickoff play. As it stands, a right-handed pitcher can keep his right foot on the rubber and step directly to third base to bluff the throw.

Opponents of the rule change cite the fact that it has little impact on the game. The pickoff move in question is rarely used. It is not considered a tough play for umpires to call, and catchers and pitchers believe it is a useful tool to prevent a runner at first base from getting a massive jump for a stolen base.

The rule was originally brought up for discussion last year, but the players' union voted to discuss it further before implementation. When a one-year waiting period expires, MLB can institute the rule at their own discretion, regardless of the players' opinion.

The move used successfully can be viewed below. Angels reliever Jordan Walden fakes a pick off to third, looks back to first, notices Yankees runner Curtis Granderson off the bag and throws to second to retire Granderson and end the game.

Video Source: MLB.com
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

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