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Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Did new rules cause big spike in MiLB steals?

Back in March, Major League Baseball announced that it was instituting rule changes to the four full-season levels of the Minor Leagues. At High-A, all pitchers are now required to step off the rubber fully before attempting a pickoff move. Meanwhile, Low-A hurlers are allowed only two pickoff attempts per plate appearance. These were done specifically to increase the potential for stolen bases, leading to more exciting movement around the diamond. They were also isolated to their respective levels to better study whether the specific changes were having their intended effects….

The data is clear. High-A teams are attempting 50 percent more stolen bases than their 2019 counterparts with attempts up from 1.19 per game two years ago to 1.79 through the early going. It’s easy to see why. With pitchers needing to step fully off the rubber, runners are extending their leads and getting better jumps than ever, once they know the man on the mound is actually delivering the ball home.

Those leads and jumps have led to a sharp dropoff in caught-stealing rates as well. Pretty steadily, catchers were throwing out between 32.6 and 32.8 percent of opposing baserunners over the previous three seasons. That has dropped to 20.9 through the first two weeks of 2021.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: May 19, 2021 at 11:07 AM | 45 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: minor leagues, rules experiments

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   1. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: May 19, 2021 at 01:26 PM (#6019656)
This sounds like a change in the right direction.
   2. John DiFool2 Posted: May 19, 2021 at 01:32 PM (#6019657)
Isn't it harder to step off and throw if you are a LH? [Flip side of the previously default pickoff move being more deceptive if you are a lefty]
   3. Darren Posted: May 19, 2021 at 02:16 PM (#6019672)
What happens after the second pickoff attempt? Can the runner just take off for the next base and the pitcher is not allowed to step off?
   4. SoSH U at work Posted: May 19, 2021 at 02:18 PM (#6019674)
I hate this. Developing a good pickoff move, from either side, is one way one of those soft tossers is able to close the gap between him and the stuff guy. If you don't like the parade of 95-MPH relievers, neutering the clever is not the way to go.

Also, caught stealings are even more exciting than stolen bases.

   5. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: May 19, 2021 at 02:21 PM (#6019675)
What happens after the second pickoff attempt? Can the runner just take off for the next base and the pitcher is not allowed to step off?
I think the pitcher can throw over, but if it's unsuccessful it's a balk.
   6. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: May 19, 2021 at 02:22 PM (#6019676)
Also, caught stealings are even more exciting than stolen bases.
It's the other 49 pickoff throws for every successful one that are somewhat less exciting.
   7. SoSH U at work Posted: May 19, 2021 at 02:26 PM (#6019677)
It's the other 49 pickoff throws for every successful one that are somewhat less exciting.


I was talking about caught stealing from the catcher. But holding runners on is part of the game.
   8. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: May 19, 2021 at 02:33 PM (#6019681)
But holding runners on is part of the game.
Begs the question. It doesn't have to be, and it certainly doesn't have to be unlimited.
   9. SoSH U at work Posted: May 19, 2021 at 02:38 PM (#6019685)
Begs the question. It doesn't have to be, and it certainly doesn't have to be unlimited.


Taking skill out of the game is not a fix for the game.

   10. Steve Balboni's Personal Trainer Posted: May 19, 2021 at 02:50 PM (#6019689)
Are there any studies available that show the frequency of pickoff throws over the years? It would seem to me that in the 1970s through the mid-1980s, for example, there would be more pickoff throws, because the likelihood of a stolen base attempt (and the use of one-run strategies, in general) was much more prevalent than, say, today.
   11. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: May 19, 2021 at 02:53 PM (#6019691)
Taking skill out of the game is not a fix for the game.
The majority of pickoff throws involve no real skill - many if not most are just halfhearted tosses. Stepping off the rubber certainly involves no skill.

But even saying, for the sake of argument, that there is skill there, that doesn’t give it a free pass if it’s bad entertainment. Which it is.
   12. SoSH U at work Posted: May 19, 2021 at 03:02 PM (#6019696)
But even saying, for the sake of argument, that there is skill there,


That's ridiculous. Of course there's skill there. Mark Buehrle, Andy Pettitte, Terry Mulholland, Chris Carpenter and many other pitchers have developed outstanding moves to keep runners close. Nolan Ryan, Greg Maddux and many others were indifferent to that part of the job. Much of the job of keeping CS rates low is on the pitcher, not the catcher. There are no arguments to be saked.

that doesn’t give it a free pass if it’s bad entertainment. Which it is.


That's an opinion, and one I don't share (and as Steve notes, it seems there are fewer throws over now than the past). But I find a good pitcher/baserunner matchup to be quite interesting.
   13. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: May 19, 2021 at 03:14 PM (#6019697)
That's an opinion, and one I don't share (and as Steve notes, it seems there are fewer throws over now than the past). But I find a good pitcher/baserunner matchup to be quite interesting.
The consensus is overwhelming that it’s bad entertainment, judging from fans’ reactions.
   14. SoSH U at work Posted: May 19, 2021 at 03:17 PM (#6019699)
The consensus is overwhelming that it’s bad entertainment, judging from fans’ reactions.


Well, judging from fans' reactions, visiting pitchers are routinely balking when they don't throw to second.
   15. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: May 19, 2021 at 03:41 PM (#6019702)
Well, judging from fans' reactions, visiting pitchers are routinely balking when they don't throw to second.
Yep, ban that nonsense too. Terrible entertainment.
   16. SoSH U at work Posted: May 19, 2021 at 03:43 PM (#6019704)
Yep, ban that nonsense too. Terrible entertainment.


All we need are dingers.
   17. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: May 19, 2021 at 04:03 PM (#6019710)

Are there any studies available that show the frequency of pickoff throws over the years? It would seem to me that in the 1970s through the mid-1980s, for example, there would be more pickoff throws, because the likelihood of a stolen base attempt (and the use of one-run strategies, in general) was much more prevalent than, say, today.


You're almost certainly right, but data doesn't go back that far.

https://www.mlb.com/news/mlb-research-stats-questions-inbox-february-2020

There were 0.07 pickoffs per team game in 2019, which is where we’ve seen them plateau in recent years. Overall, they’ve gone down -- there were 0.08 per team game in 2015 and 0.09 per team game in 2012. The last time there were 0.1 per team game or more was in 1997.

That’s pickoffs -- not the attempts. Pickoff throw tracking goes back to 1995. The 14,971 pickoff throws by pitchers in 2019 were the fewest in any season in that span. The highest total in that span was in 1998, when there were 23,781 pickoff throws by pitchers.
   18. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: May 19, 2021 at 04:09 PM (#6019712)
All we need are dingers.
"Stuff that wastes time without moving the state of the game forward at all" is not a good entertainment proposition.
   19. SoSH U at work Posted: May 19, 2021 at 04:26 PM (#6019717)
"Stuff that wastes time without moving the state of the game forward at all" is not a good entertainment proposition.


The matchup between the pitcher and a good baserunner is often quite entertaining. Does that result in some less-entertaining stuff? Sure, it does, just as the matchup between the pitcher and batter results in some less-entertaining stuff and pretty much everything else in the game.

But the successful pickoff, however rare, is one of the game's best plays, particularly when it's been done by a master of the craft. You want to eliminate that because you're borrrrred.

I would love to see more SBs in the game. But I don't want to do it by making it too easy for the baserunner. And I sure as hell don't want to do it by removing the good pickoff move from those pitchers who have developed them, particularly as those guys tend to be the less dominant types.

And SBs are only exciting if there is risk attached to them. If half of the successful SB attempts result in no throw, you haven't created a more entertaining game.

   20. Mellow Mouse, Benevolent Space Tyrant Posted: May 19, 2021 at 04:33 PM (#6019719)
I want more stolen bases and like that MLB is tinkering with the game in order to see what works. I am not the biggest fan of the current MLB leadership, but I am more than OK in general with tinkering in order to improve the product.
   21. SoSH U at work Posted: May 19, 2021 at 04:40 PM (#6019723)

I want more stolen bases and like that MLB is tinkering with the game in order to see what works. I am not the biggest fan of the current MLB leadership, but I am more than OK in general with tinkering in order to improve the product.



I'm good with tinkering. I think it's good MLB is using the minor leagues for this stuff.

I just loathe this particular approach, as it removes the good pickoff move from the game entirely. There has to be a better way to get movement on the bases than this.
   22. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: May 19, 2021 at 04:41 PM (#6019724)
The 14,971 pickoff throws by pitchers in 2019 were the fewest in any season in that span. The highest total in that span was in 1998, when there were 23,781 pickoff throws by pitchers.

2019: 14971 throws / 3112 SBA = 4.81 throws per SBA
1998: 23781 throws / 4789 SBA = 4.96 throws per SBA


   23. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: May 19, 2021 at 04:43 PM (#6019725)

I just loathe this particular approach, as it removes the good pickoff move from the game entirely. There has to be a better way to get movement on the bases than this.


Triple-A has larger bases this year, which slightly reduces the distance between them, will be interesting to see if there is any effect there.
   24. SoSH U at work Posted: May 19, 2021 at 04:51 PM (#6019726)
Triple-A has larger bases this year, which slightly reduces the distance between them, will be interesting to see if there is any effect there.


That's the tinkering I've been yammering about for five years now. Not just bigger bases, but shorter distances between the bases. I think that would accomplish two things: make putting the ball in play more valuable (and, thus, swinging and missing more costly), and also encourage more chances on the bases but not in the skill-neutering way this method does. Couple that with some homer-suppression tactics (deader ball, bigger fields, thicker bat handles, etc.) and you've got a healthy run environment but through more active means.
   25. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: May 19, 2021 at 05:07 PM (#6019731)
And I sure as hell don't want to do it by removing the good pickoff move from those pitchers who have developed them, particularly as those guys tend to be the less dominant types.
Just to clarify, I support the limit on throws far more than the full-step-off rule. That would allow pitchers with good pickoff moves the opportunity to take advantage of them, within reason, but get rid of the tedious, rote "check on the runner" crap.
   26. Jay Seaver Posted: May 19, 2021 at 05:16 PM (#6019737)
The matchup between the pitcher and a good baserunner is often quite entertaining. Does that result in some less-entertaining stuff? Sure, it does, just as the matchup between the pitcher and batter results in some less-entertaining stuff and pretty much everything else in the game.

But the successful pickoff, however rare, is one of the game's best plays, particularly when it's been done by a master of the craft. You want to eliminate that because you're borrrrred.


That's the same argument that's often used for the pitcher hitting - 99% of the time it's a snooze, but 1% of the time you get some fluke home run, and "keep the far more common bad thing because of the rare good thing" isn't a great argument to me. With pickoffs, the pitcher holding the ball, waiting forever, and then throwing to first, repeat ad nauseum, is frustrating as heck, and as a bonus, sometimes it leads him to make some twitch that's imperceptible from the stands but which has the umpire awarding everyone a base. Or even a run! FANTASTIC entertainment, that. Nothing better than sitting in the bleachers and seeing the game change because of something invisible!

Which isn't to say I'm not skeptical of these rules - the stolen base is fun in large part because it feels daring, and shifting that too far in the direction of the baserunner would take that away, even if I'm not sure how you tweak the rules without making it completely unbalanced one way or the other.
   27. SoSH U at work Posted: May 19, 2021 at 05:26 PM (#6019740)


That's the same argument that's often used for the pitcher hitting - 99% of the time it's a snooze, but 1% of the time you get some fluke home run, and "keep the far more common bad thing because of the rare good thing" isn't a great argument to me.


I don't find the other 99 percent of the time a snooze.
   28. Bhaakon Posted: May 19, 2021 at 06:07 PM (#6019748)
The pitcher occasionally getting a hit has never been the interesting part of his presence in the lineup. It's the tactical decisions that have to be made around his presence that make it interesting. There's a reason why a glaring weak spot and the tradeoffs made around protecting said weak spot are a key aspect of many games, from chess on up.
   29. Doug Jones threw harder than me Posted: May 19, 2021 at 07:47 PM (#6019771)
Just to clarify, I support the limit on throws far more than the full-step-off rule. That would allow pitchers with good pickoff moves the opportunity to take advantage of them, within reason, but get rid of the tedious, rote "check on the runner" crap.


Limits on the # of pickoff moves make sense from a tactical balance standpoint. If the pitcher is allowed to throw over as many times as he/she wants, then the pitcher has an advantage, limited only by the tolerance the pitcher (and his team) have for tedium - not a great enforcement mechanism if one is trying to create a spectator sport.

It should be noted that the rules regarding pickoff attempts have ALWAYS been a flaw in the rules of baseball, only hidden to some extent by convention and peer pressure, which of course modern analytics would naturally target and take advantage of. The issue it seems to me is "what should the limit be" and "what should the penalty be for exceeding it". Crediting a ball to the count might be a better penalty than calling a balk, though in some sense the runner "earned" the base rather than the batter "earning" the ball. It might also make sense that making the penalty extra severe (e.g. a balk) would help limit the violations, as in the case of offensive holding in football, where if they changed the penalty to 5 yards, well then probably everyone would hold on every play (don't they do that now, though?).
   30. Zach Posted: May 19, 2021 at 08:08 PM (#6019775)
The full stepoff rule might be overkill.

Larger bases or a softball style double first base seem like minor tweaks (and any change to the bases that reduces collisions is a good idea).

If you want to encourage steals, you've got to give the baserunner some durable advantages, or they're just going to stand there and wait for a dinger.
   31. Walt Davis Posted: May 19, 2021 at 08:47 PM (#6019786)
How about a rule where the pitcher can throw over only if the runner is more than X feet off the bag. Give the umps one of those spray cans that soccer refs use.

So sure, you want to get rid of pointless, perfunctory throws to first to keep Yadier Molina honest. But if there's a real SB threat at first, the pitcher needs a weapon. If the guy is so freaking fast (Hamilton?) or the pitcher so slow to the plate (and C so slow, etc.) that he can easily steal with a lead shorter than X feet then good on him.

But none of it makes a damn bit of difference. Fans boo pickoff attempts -- by the opposition.** Those 6 pickoff throws per game (I really can't believe it's that many, I've got some doubts about those cited numbers) add a couple of minutes to game time.

** I can imagine home fans might have occasionally booed the home team if Rickey was on first.
   32. Space Force fan Posted: May 19, 2021 at 08:48 PM (#6019787)
This is an area that requires a careful review of potential unintended consequences. If SB are too easy, then the current TTO dynamics might be skewed in an even worse way. If a walk becomes a de facto double for a large numbers of players, this is likely to change their approach at the plate and the pitchers approach. Maybe the pitchers start taking more off the ball to throw strikes, which could lead to more HR since the batters will get more weak pitches. Batters will likely take more pitches since the baserunners need time to steal second which might lead to more strikeouts through the hitters taking strikes. Batters might be incentivized even more to only swing at their wheelhouse pitches since walks are more valuable then today Maybe hitters will start to shoot for the holes created during steal attempts and try to put the ball in play more than today. Maybe it won't change the pitcher/hitter dynamics at all.

I don't know if the cure is better than the disease or not. I do know that we can't look at it strictly from the point of view of just more SBs.

I'm curious what everyone thinks the consequences on the hitter/pitcher match-up, if any, will be from this change.
   33. Jay Seaver Posted: May 19, 2021 at 09:48 PM (#6019800)
Fans boo pickoff attempts -- by the opposition.**


I've certainly seen fans lose patience when the pitcher appears to be stalling, even if it's the home team.
   34. Adam Starblind Posted: May 19, 2021 at 10:07 PM (#6019807)
. The matchup between the pitcher and a good baserunner is often quite entertaining.


You keep calling it that ...
   35. SoSH U at work Posted: May 19, 2021 at 10:32 PM (#6019833)
This is an area that requires a careful review of potential unintended consequences. If SB are too easy, then the current TTO


C'mon, Cleveland, this is almost 3.5 pickoff throws per team per game. Who cares about unintended consequences when we're talking all that time wasted?
   36. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: May 20, 2021 at 07:41 AM (#6019879)
I doubt there were much fewer pickoff attempts in the 1900s, 1950s or 1980s, yet they managed to play much shorter games than today. It's not pickoff attempts dragging things out.
   37. Mellow Mouse, Benevolent Space Tyrant Posted: May 20, 2021 at 08:06 AM (#6019881)
That is what the minor leagues are for, to tease out unintended consequences. And why I applaud any and all experiments there.
   38. bunyon Posted: May 20, 2021 at 08:11 AM (#6019883)
Crediting a ball to the count might be a better penalty than calling a balk,

I like the idea of a pickoff throw being a ball. It's a throw and it doesn't cross the plate, thus: Ball.

Make a successful pickoff throw a strike so there is some balance.

You won't get many pickoffs on the first pitch of an AB - advantage batter and runner. But if a pitcher gets ahead, the runner has to watch out. And, obviously, no pickoff throws on 3-2 counts. I freaking hate those. Basically, I've no problem with pickoff attempts. But the pitcher should be trying to retire the runner, not just going through the motions.

This is an area that requires a careful review of potential unintended consequences.

An excellent point and one we should all keep in mind. It's easy for us to throw out a rule change and say "X will happen". But we don't even know that X will definitely happen. We certainly don't know what Y and Z will be. Doesn't mean we shouldn't try stuff but everything in the game is interconnected.

It's not pickoff attempts dragging things out.

As every one of these threads does, it eventually comes to: ENFORCE THE PITCH CLOCK

If there were ten seconds between pitches, pretty much everything else we gripe about becomes a minor nuisance, if that. We only get annoyed by pickoffs and shifts because we have ten minutes to contemplate it from every direction.
   39. sunday silence (again) Posted: May 20, 2021 at 01:33 PM (#6019959)

How about a rule where the pitcher can throw over only if the runner is more than X feet off the bag


That could lead to more problems. Lets say the line is 10 ft. So Pujols and other slow pokes can now safely take a ten foot lead whereas before it was too dangerous. Giving a better jump to slower runners. Kind of interesting I guess, but also leading to some issues
   40. bunyon Posted: May 20, 2021 at 03:10 PM (#6019970)
I kind of like the distance thing but I would set it the same for all runners. Put cutouts in all fields or a line where the cutout would be. If the runner doesn't have a foot past the line (on the grass for fields with cutouts), the pitcher can't throw over. Gives a huge advantage to fast runners and a slight advantage to slow runners who now have a better chance of going to third on a hit or making it to second on a middling double play ball.

Remember, the idea is to give more advantage to the runners. If the SB% in a season is 90% or something, we can move it back a few inches.
   41. SoSH U at work Posted: May 20, 2021 at 03:26 PM (#6019972)
I think the distance argument is the best one I've heard of these.
   42. Tom Nawrocki Posted: May 20, 2021 at 03:38 PM (#6019973)
Implement the pitch clock, then make any pickoff throws take place within that time frame. If you can throw over to first and then throw a pitch to the plate within a total of 20 seconds, knock yourself out.
   43. Baldrick Posted: May 20, 2021 at 05:19 PM (#6019987)
Implement the pitch clock, then make any pickoff throws take place within that time frame. If you can throw over to first and then throw a pitch to the plate within a total of 20 seconds, knock yourself out.

Would love to see this tried out. No violation if you pick the guy off, obviously, but if not...better hope you can get the ball back quick!

Edit: I would potentially pair this with the elimination (or at least radical curtailment) of the balk rule. It feels like the time pressure would accomplish almost everything the balk rule is supposed to achieve?
   44. sunday silence (again) Posted: May 20, 2021 at 07:57 PM (#6020000)
How about a ball for the SECOND (and any subsequent) failed pickoffs? So you get one free pickoff attempt. WHich seems a better compromise than just flat out awarding a ball for the first pickoff.
   45. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: May 20, 2021 at 09:19 PM (#6020006)

I think the distance argument is the best one I've heard of these.


Meh, we've already seen terrible umpire calls on runners in baselines and interference, that's just another thing to screw up. I like the limit of 2 pickoffs, and you can only try a third time if you get him. This isn't really about reducing overall game time - that has a negligible effect. It's about reducing dead time, and I think more importantly, juicing up SB numbers, which it has in early results.

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