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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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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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August 23, 2009 10:43 am

Keeping Them Honest

32

Dan Malkiel

Repeated pickoff attempts may be an exercise in tedium, but what are the real costs and benefits to keeping the runner close?

We're all familiar with the chorus of boos that often rains down on a pitcher making repeated throws to first base. To fans, such throws are an annoyance, serving to slow down an already slow game. To pitchers, however, they are a valuable means of curtailing the running game. In his New Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James proposed a rule he hoped would resolve this conflict: each team should be allowed two unsuccessful throws to the bases each inning, with all subsequent unsuccessful throws counting as balls.

I've always been fond of this suggestion, which is based on the simple and logical idea of assigning a cost to a resource that seemingly has none (or very little). But is this the case? That is, what is the benefit of throwing to first, and what, if any, is the cost? Regarding the first question, James refers to a study by STATS Inc. that found that throwing to first reduces the number and the success rate of stolen bases, and that throwing repeatedly is more effective than throwing once. He provides no details of the study, however, which by now is at least a decade old; it therefore seems worthwhile to revisit the issue.

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