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Franklin Morales commits the most obvious balk in the history of obvious balks.

There are rules in baseball that are somewhat imprecise in nature. The check swing, for example. Did he go? Could be! I don’t know! Another one along those lines is the balk. Sometimes the umpire sees a pitcher commit a balk, but no amount of slow motion video can make it clear whether he did or didn’t do it. Half the time it seems balks are imperceptible to even those calling them. If you look at a pitcher closely enough, you’re bound to see something.

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A proposed rule change could eliminate the fake-to-third, throw-to-first pickoff attempt as soon as next season, which makes this a good time to answer the age-old question: Does it ever work?

Yesterday, some news came over the wire that attracted slightly less national attention than Stephen Strasburg striking out 13 Pirates but slightly more than Clint Hurdle throwing batting practice to Hines Ward: Major League Baseball is considering a rule change that would prevent pitchers from keeping their feet on the rubber while faking a throw to third with runners on the corners. It's unclear what the impetus is for the proposed change, but the the significance is that the fake-to-third, throw-to-first—which my BBWAA membership stipulates that I refer to as ​the ol' ​fake-to-third, throw-to-first—is now an endangered species of pickoff attempt.

Currently, Official Baseball Rule 8.05 (c) states:

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Is there a way we can cleanly eliminate intentional walks from the game?

I've never been one to complain about the intentional walk. Sure, it's boring to watch and usually ill-advised, but it's never really bothered me as part of the game. I've always just viewed it as a tool that managers use sometimes.

I know there are plenty of smart, baseball-loving writers out there who hate the move. Rob Neyer, Joe Posnanski, and Tom Tango, for example, have all written about their hate of the intentional walk many times; they are certainly not alone. It's not a popular part of baseball, but, other than it being boring, I was never convinced that it needed to be fixed (the word "unsportsmanlike" is used a lot, and, frankly, that's not convincing). In fact, a couple of years ago I wrote an article called "The Intentional Walk Has to Stay." My main argument had two points: one, we harp so much on the value of getting on-base these days that a manager's willingness to give a team that positive outcome cannot be viewed as removing the offense's weapons and, two, that we shouldn't be removing something that's been around since the game's inception without good reason (and "I don't like it!" isn't a good reason).

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Visiting a historic ballpark, playing the Monster, and facing a knuckler is a difficult task, but the Twins' young outfielder helped his team on the ride to victory.

Ben Revere had never been to Fenway Park before Friday night, and he was still cherishing the moment the following day. The rookie outfielder started in left field for the Twins, and with Tim Wakefield on the mound he singled in his first at-bat and went on to score on a balk. It was a memorable game for the youngster, but simply playing in the historic venue was enough to have him smiling ear-to-ear when he recounted the experience the following morning.

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April 13, 2011 9:00 am

Prospectus Q&A: YOU Make the Call! Part II


David Laurila

Continuing a look at the nitty-gritty in the rulebook, checking in on what constitutes a catch and a balk.

Most baseball fans feel they know the rules, but many of them are actually misunderstood, at least their nuances and technical definitions. Even you are fairly well-versed in the rulebook, a primer never hurts, so BP asked the MLB Umpiring Department about 10 of them. Major League Baseball umpire supervisor Charlie Reliford, a 19-year major-league umpire, and Major League Baseball umpire supervisor Larry Young, a 23-year major-league umpire, provided the definitions and clarifications.

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A minor-league lefty discusses the mechanics behind the best pickoff move in professional baseball.

Derrick Loop has the best pickoff move in professional baseball. Not one of the best, the best. A 26-year-old left-hander, who recently signed with the Padres after two seasons in the Red Sox organization-Boston had plucked him out of an independent league-Loop picked off 17 runners last summer. Astoundingly, he did so in just 71 1/3 innings. Working primarily as a closer at High-A Salem, the deceptive southpaw appeared in 55 games and logged 18 saves to go with a 1.89 ERA.

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September 20, 2007 12:00 am

Schrodinger's Bat: Taking Advantage


Dan Fox

Revisiting baserunning metrics to see how much credit, if any, should go to runners when a pitcher makes a mistake.

"We don't have a 40 home run guy anymore... We have to reduce mistakes, take advantage of every opportunity we get... We need to improve on moving runners over from second to third and our base running. There can be an eight- to 10-game swing in a season just from base running."
--Syd Thrift, in 2001, when he served as the Orioles Vice President of Baseball Operations

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July 27, 2007 12:00 am

Lies, Damned Lies: Fixing It


Nate Silver

Could a Donaghy scenario happen in baseball?

Baseball must be toasting this week's sports pages over glasses of vodka and schadenfreude. Last Friday, NBA referee Tim Donaghy was implicated in a betting scandal. On Wednesday, Tour de France leader Michael Rasmussen, under heavy suspicion of doping, was kicked out of the race by his own team. And on Thursday, Michael Vick was scrambling away from reporters in a federal courthouse, rather than opposing linebackers on the field.

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June 4, 2007 12:00 am

Watching the Detectives


Mike Carminati

Kicking off a series of historical investigations on the impact of different umpires.

"Despite all the nasty things I have said about umpires, I think they're one-hundred percent honest, but I can't for the life of me figure out how they arrive at some of their decisions."
-A's manager Jimmy Dykes

"What the detective story is about is not murder but the restoration of order."
-Mystery writer Phyllis Dorothy "P.D." James

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Jonah Keri catches a pitchers' duel between the two Second City teams in this week's Game of the Week.

Sunday's game was different. Even right off the DL Prior is a constant threat to completely dominate a game. His opponent, Jon Garland, entered Sunday's game tied with Dontrelle Willis for the best record in baseball at 12-2. You can attribute some of Garland's win barrage to luck, no question--his .253 BABIP, for one, is well below league average, and when more balls in play start to fall in for hits, that'll hurt him. His strikeout rate of less than one every other inning also portends regression, as virtually no pitchers sustain success over the long haul at that level. Still, there's a lot to be said for terrific control, which is just what Garland has shown this year. At just over a walk and a half a game, Garland's been among the stingiest in baseball with the free pass. Even with a good but not great HR rate (11 in 108 IP), that's enough to achieve success. Broadcaster turned World Series-winning manager turned broadcaster Bob Brenly notes that "Garland has been the best pitcher in baseball up to this point," a point contradicted by several Baseball Prospectus metrics--Roy Halladay and a good dozen others can make a better claim. But Garland's still ranked a respectable 15th in the majors in Expected Wins according to BP's brand spankin' new Sortable Stats, 8th if you count only pitchers with 15 starts or fewer.

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