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The Stark Twilight, III First,
2003-02-06 13:34
by Mike Carminati

The Stark Twilight, III

First, the Elephants in Oakland boys have some high-larious comments on Jayson Stark at their site.

Second, my blog papa, David Pinto, posted a link to my Stark review of Jayson Stark's "rule changes" and received two emails regarding the issue. I sent him the email below regarding those emails:

I'm sorry to use you as a middleman, but I noticed the email from your readers re. my Stark comments and just wanted to pass on some thoughts. First to Daniel Shamah:

- First, David's comment re. the STATS research on pickoffs is very interesting. I was not aware of the study, but the results were not surprising. Even if you have a tremendous move to first like Pettitte or Carlton, you usually won't pick someone off without the element of surprise, which is lost after the first attempt. The first attempt usually moves the runner back to first as much as he is going to go. After that a good stare down at first seems as effective as a throw. And additional throws have negative byproducts: errant throws, wear on the pitcher's arm, the runner getting additional attempts to decipher the move, and the pitcher's focus shifting from the batter to the runner to the detriment of the next AB from the defense's point of view.

Most successful pitchers already know this. Some had to learn it the hard way, which they may not have been able to do if the choice was made for them to begin with by a rule. They would never learn to shift their attention to the hitter and wouldn't, perhaps, be as successful as they could be. Maybe I'm overstating it, but I think eliminating choices basically is detrimental to a player's development since he doesn't learn why the choice is a bad one.

- What would the penalty be? An automatic ball? A balk? Is a balk more exciting than a pickoff attempt? Does it get refreshed after each batter or is dependent on the runner? Do the used pickoffs follow the runner as he moves around the diamond or are the refreshed when the runner occupies a new base? Won't that get confusing especially if there is more than one man on base? What happens if you replace the pitcher? Does he inherit the pickoff totals from the previous pitcher? Could this increase the number of pitching changes, thereby slowing down games more?

- Is the play dead when the fourth pickoff is attempted? What if the pitcher throws the ball away or another runner steals a base, like home? Is the offense given the option to pick? What if the runner interferes with the play, is he excused?

- Will it be effective? The pitcher will not throw the fourth time, but he will still be preoccupied with the runner. He will stare over there, maybe stomp around the mound more, maybe he'll throw to second--or will that count against him as well? I would think that pitchouts after the third pickoff attempt would become de rigueur. Is that what we want?

One unexpected result could be a decrease in scoring. The first baseman will no longer hold the runner after the third pickoff attempt-what's the point. And he will move back to his normal defensive position. This may make the hit and run a little more difficult, especially if there is a left-hander at bat.

- Could it increase the number of pickoff attempts overall? This is maybe a bit nutty, but it is my experience that when you establish a threshold, it is only human nature to come as close as you can without exceeding it. At my first job, each person was entitled to as many sick days as was reasonable without a hard cap. It wasn't an issue for most people. One person was absent often, so the company, instead of dealing with that individual, capped everyone at 10 days a year. After that the number of sick days throughout the company went up as everyone became preoccupied with using up this new bounty before the end of the year.

Maybe they are not analogous, but I think that while limiting the number of pickoff attempts per runner, this rule may increase the number of pickoff attempts per pitcher. A pitcher who tries a lot of pickoffs is basically one who has difficulty balancing his attention between the runner and the batter. If you add the three-pickoff limit to the mix, his concentration would have to be affected. Maybe he'll try to get rid of those pickoff attempts more quickly so that he can then concentrate on the batter and forget about the runner. Just an idea.

- I think the basketball analogy is a poor one because of the inherit defensives between the sports. The 24-second clock was added to speed up the offenses and to ensure that the ball changes hands on a regular basis. The pickoff rule doesn't affect the offenses, just defenses. It may speed up the defense though. The three-point line was added to a) enable more excitement via more scoring and quicker comebacks and b) spread defenses. The pickoff rule wouldn't do either of those things.

These artifices needed to be added to basketball because it is basically an inferior sport to baseball. Baseball doesn't need gimmicks. Actually, the impetus for most rules is to eliminate gimmickry in the sport. An infielder lets an infield fly drop to get an easy double play? Let's eliminate that loophole. A batter bunts foul pitches he does not like until he gets one he does? Let's limit it to three attempts. Runners at third score on high flyouts? Let's make sure that they cannot leave the base until the ball is caught. These gimmicks all provided unfair advantages to teams. Throwing 10 pickoff attempts to first does not usually provide a team with any advantage. Managers and pitching coaches just have to provide more guidance to those individuals.

Next, to Tim Schultz:

I. Let's worry about it when it does actually become a problem. Right now the 2002 numbers are below the historical average. That closes the case on a change as far as I'm concerned.

II. The proposed rule is interesting, but it is basically a gimmick and see my point above about gimmickry in baseball. Then again maybe one can argue that the IBB is a gimmick.

There are still holes in it though. For instance, do the walks carry over to the next pitcher? If not, then you are going to see even more pitching changes. Even if they do get carried, you are going to see quicker hooks when a pitcher starts to falter in order to avoid the two-base walk. You'll see more faltering pitchers grooving pitches for fear of the two-base walk.

Can you still pitchout or is any pitch on which the catcher steps outside illegal? If not what prevents you from giving someone a free pass on 3-1?

How does the veto work? Does the count go back to 0-0 or does the last ball just not count (so 3-0)?

How jittery is a young pitcher going to be when he goes 3-0, 2-0, or even 1-0? He's going to try to ensure he gets one over the plate as early in the count as he can to get that monkey off his back. What does that mean? More meatball pitches early in the count and more early exists for pitchers.

How does this throw a wrench in the works: Instead of an intentional walk, what if you just plunked the batter on the rear? This may happen if the count is 3-0 and even though the pitcher hadn't meant to walk the batter would rather put him on than either give him two bases with another three balls or nice opportunity to hit with a big meaty strike.

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