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Wednesday, June 15, 2022

How the pitch clock can revive the stolen base

When we talk about speed with regard to the pitch clock, we are typically talking about the pace of game. In this first season of use throughout the Minors, the pitch clock—a 14-second timer with no runners on base, 18 seconds (or 19 in Triple-A) with runners on—has cut the average game time by 25 minutes, from an even three hours in 2021 to 2:35 at last check.

But the pickoff/step-off rule paired with the pitch clock has injected speed of a different sort into MiLB. Last season, an experimentation with pickoff and step-off limits at the A-ball level and larger bases at the Triple-A level contributed to a rise in both stolen-base attempts and the stolen-base success rate.

This year, with the mound disengagement limits, pitch clock and bigger bases imposed across the full-season Minor Leagues, the uptick in action on the basepaths has continued:

YEAR: SBA/G (SB%)
2019: 2.23 (68.2)
2021: 2.52 (75.7)
2022: 2.85 (77.6)
No MiLB season in 2020 due to pandemic; 2022 figures reflect totals since April 15th, when ball-strike penalties began to be enforced

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: June 15, 2022 at 08:27 AM | 38 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: pitch clock

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   1. The Duke Posted: June 15, 2022 at 11:05 AM (#6081891)
The era of the stolen base and good base running, in general, is upon us. Fewer Earl Weaver's (the three run homer ) will put a premium on "manufacturing" runs. I saw a team bunt a runner from 2nd base to 3rd base which was then followed by a sac fly the other day. Haven't seen that in years. Also the outfielders are playing so deep now that first to third and scoring from second on a single have become easier.

I may be biased because my team is a fast team in a big park, but I've thoroughly enjoyed the arrival of small ball.

And then we have Matt Carpenter on the other side.
   2. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: June 15, 2022 at 12:52 PM (#6081914)

Interesting. I wasn't aware of this rule change. A limit of 2 pickoff attempts per plate appearance seems pretty low to me. It makes it very difficult to hold a fast player on base. Maybe it will result in pitchers working more on their pickoff move, since you have to make those throws count more than you used to.
   3. The Duke Posted: June 15, 2022 at 01:27 PM (#6081916)
I don't think the pickoff attempt rule will make it to MLB in the short term
   4. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: June 15, 2022 at 01:39 PM (#6081919)
Nope. And the pitch clock will have a bunch of loopholes and be set so high that it has very little effect anyway.
   5. Cris E Posted: June 15, 2022 at 02:01 PM (#6081923)
A limit of 2 pickoff attempts per plate appearance seems pretty low to me. It makes it very difficult to hold a fast player on base.

At least reset the counter if the guy steals the base. You more or less make it impossible to keep him near second or third. And the balk on the third throw-over should only be called if you don't get him. There's no reason to stay within 40 feet of the base if it a throw is an automatic free base, at that point go stand where you'll interfere with the SS positioning.
   6. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: June 15, 2022 at 02:08 PM (#6081925)
Well, this isn't the pitch clock reviving the stolen base. It is a 2-pickoff maximum rule that is reviving the stolen base. And I agree its dumb that it doesn't reset after a steal.

I doubt it will be implemented this way in MLB.
   7. cHiEf iMpaCt oFfiCEr JE Posted: June 15, 2022 at 02:53 PM (#6081930)
This scheme seems needlessly complicated. If the goal is to incentivize the stolen base attempt, then just make the first, second, and third base bags 50% larger.
   8. sunday silence (again) Posted: June 15, 2022 at 03:25 PM (#6081934)
Also the outfielders are playing so deep now that first to third and scoring from second on a single have become easier.


what is your basis for saying that? You can look up "XB" on baseball ref and will tell you that its been at 40% for the last two decades. It was about 45% from 1970-200. It was a higher still in the 1960s about 48% or so.

Im guessing it was the natural grass fields that dominated until the era of cookie cutter stadiums that accounts for the higher rate pre 1970. Not sure what is going on the last 20 years, are there just more roided up fat guys on the basepaths these days? no idea.
   9. the Hugh Jorgan returns Posted: June 15, 2022 at 05:48 PM (#6081987)
A limit of 2 pickoff attempts per plate appearance seems pretty low to me. It makes it very difficult to hold a fast player on base.


Mark Buehrle laughs at your silly limitations.
   10. Doug Jones threw harder than me Posted: June 15, 2022 at 06:06 PM (#6081989)
A limit of 2 pickoff attempts per plate appearance seems pretty low to me. It makes it very difficult to hold a fast player on base.

Mark Buehrle laughs at your silly limitations.


Jon Lester asks: How about 0?

Seriously - 2 pickoffs is about right. The thing is, the second pickoff attempt will almost never be used, because if it is the pitcher loses the threat.

The fact that pitchers can currently throw over an unlimited amount of times is a relic of the time when, as Bill James said, "the clock was the sun", and there was a huge peer-pressure driven incentive not to waste time. Obviously such pressure is completely gone now.

I look forward for a pitch clock of 12 when no men are on base, as it says in the rules, and perhaps 15 when men are on base.
   11. the Hugh Jorgan returns Posted: June 15, 2022 at 06:36 PM (#6081997)
I look forward for a pitch clock of 12 when no men are on base, as it says in the rules, and perhaps 15 when men are on base.


And let me repeat myself.....

Mark Buehrle laughs at your silly limitations.
   12. Der-K's tired of these fruits from poisoned trees Posted: June 15, 2022 at 06:43 PM (#6081999)
Seriously - 2 pickoffs is about right. The thing is, the second pickoff attempt will almost never be used, because if it is the pitcher loses the threat.

That's why I prefer 3, but - details.

How do we feel about super high sb%?
   13. SoSH U at work Posted: June 15, 2022 at 06:47 PM (#6082002)
How do we feel about super high sb%?


People think they want them, but I don't think they'll be very appealing in practice. The fun of the stolen base comes in the possibility of getting caught. If you have half the SB attempts producing no throws from the catcher, for example, that's not exciting. It's Little League.

   14. Der-K's tired of these fruits from poisoned trees Posted: June 15, 2022 at 07:13 PM (#6082010)
for me, you couple this with the robozone (eventually) which allows teams to have catchers that can't frame but have cannon arms.
(i get why people might not like this.)
   15. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: June 15, 2022 at 08:41 PM (#6082026)
How do we feel about super high sb%?
I have always understood the limits on pickoff throws to refer to unsuccessful ones. So if a runner gets a big enough lead that a steal is virtually guaranteed, the pitcher could pick him off regardless.
   16. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: June 15, 2022 at 09:41 PM (#6082045)


Esteury Ruiz already has 41 steals in 56 games!

The SB numbers are gonna be a lot lower in the big leagues though, due to the quality of catchers, right? There are just a lot more old, slow guys too. I'm not expecting a return to 1985 or anything.

And the balk on the third throw-over should only be called if you don't get him.



My understanding is this is how it operates, otherwise there is no reason for the runner to stay anywhere near the bag, as you say.
   17. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: June 15, 2022 at 10:10 PM (#6082054)

I look forward for a pitch clock of 12 when no men are on base, as it says in the rules, and perhaps 15 when men are on base.


Isn't 12 or 15 the current (never enforced) rule?
   18. Misirlou cut his hair and moved to Rome Posted: June 15, 2022 at 11:39 PM (#6082071)
Is the pickoff throw limitation only for throws that are initiated with a pitcher's foot on the rubber? Can he step off first and then throw without it counting?
   19. Pat Rapper's Delight (as quoted on MLB Network) Posted: June 16, 2022 at 12:21 AM (#6082078)
Not sure what is going on the last 20 years, are there just more roided up fat guys on the basepaths these days? no idea.

I suspect it's more likely risk aversion on the part of teams not being as aggressive sending runners, similar to how SB% is currently at historically high numbers too generally only running with high-percentage base stealers.
   20. sunday silence (again) Posted: June 16, 2022 at 04:42 AM (#6082108)
Pat: well maybe.
   21. KronicFatigue Posted: June 16, 2022 at 09:58 AM (#6082123)
It should be: the first 2 pick off attempts are free, but after 2 it counts as a ball if you don't successfully pick him off. Or, get 2 per batter and a couple extra per inning or something.
   22. pikepredator Posted: June 16, 2022 at 10:38 AM (#6082132)
KF I like the first sentence a lot. That way you can actually choose to "waste" a ball or two - similar to a pitch-out. Adds an interesting bit of strategy.
   23. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: June 16, 2022 at 02:49 PM (#6082184)

This scheme seems needlessly complicated. If the goal is to incentivize the stolen base attempt, then just make the first, second, and third base bags 50% larger.

They did increase them 20% in the minors.
   24. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: June 16, 2022 at 02:52 PM (#6082187)

Seriously - 2 pickoffs is about right. The thing is, the second pickoff attempt will almost never be used, because if it is the pitcher loses the threat.

I think it should get reset if the guy successfully steals the base. I also think that if the guy takes a lead beyond a certain distance, you should be allowed to attempt a pickoff without it counting against your allotment.
   25. Doug Jones threw harder than me Posted: June 16, 2022 at 04:36 PM (#6082234)
I think it should get reset if the guy successfully steals the base. I also think that if the guy takes a lead beyond a certain distance, you should be allowed to attempt a pickoff without it counting against your allotment.


I agree that:

a) There should be no penalty if the pickoff is successful

Having (a) precludes batters from taking enormous leads. It's basically the Jon Lester principal - baserunners still wouldn't take enormous leads because they knew he just might throw over there in that case. It also helps with the "reset" problem if the guy steals second, because again the baserunner wouldn't want to take too big of a lead.

Even with how biased the rule is now in favor of the baserunner, it's interesting that one is still only up to 2.85 SBA/game from 2.23. If I understand it, that's quite a bit more than the typical <1 SBA/game at the MLB level, but that is in general true even before the implementation of the rule. So maybe the rule even if suboptimal as isn't that bad anyhow.
   26. Ron J Posted: June 16, 2022 at 08:34 PM (#6082285)
#8 I think you'll find that some of the early studies than were done once we had access to more detailed information were influential here. In particular what we learned is that baserunning appears to have a generally negative affect on the hitter. It's more complicated than the early studies appeared to show, but the notion of baserunning as disrupting to the defense was generally disproved.

This always made sense to me because on a straight steal a hitter loses his ability to use his judgement on that pitch -- in other words he might be required to take a pitch he could drive.

Plus the general understanding of a high break even point made it into the game.

Also, the notion that steroid users would be inherently slow is silly. Sprinters are some of the more infamous users of steroids. And some of the more famous suspects were pretty fast.
   27. sunday silence (again) Posted: June 16, 2022 at 09:26 PM (#6082291)

Also, the notion that steroid users would be inherently slow is silly. Sprinters are some of the more infamous users of steroids. And some of the more famous suspects were pretty fast.


Seriously, are you trying to comprehend what I wrote? Clearly the modern game is based more on power then ever before. And clearly there are less balls in play and hence less emphasis on fielding. Perhaps players are not as fast today because power if more valuable than speed/fielding?

Is that a logical possibility?

Also can you provide a link or some reference to what you are referring to? You constantly refer to studies and equations and such with no reference whatsoever.
   28. Ron J Posted: June 16, 2022 at 11:17 PM (#6082330)
#27 I constantly forget that not everybody has been around since RSB. And sadly most of the studies I've mentioned were posted to rec.sport.baseball (and rec.sport.baseball.analysis) and searching for those posts has become really problematic in recent years.

But I'm pretty sure I've mentioned Doug Drinen's study More on hitting and the running game (long) posted to rec.sport.baseball ( a google search of site:groups.google.com "More on hitting and the running game (long)" will turn up the thread.

Subsequent studies have improved on this but the general conclusion holds up. While batters hit better with a runner on first base and second base open, they hit worse in plate appearances when a stolen base was attempted.

And as I've noted before here, the trend towards less speed predates sillyball, widespread strength training and may in fact have been one of the earliest major influences of Bill James. James pointed out that a pretty fair number of switch hitters had very large platoon splits.

And when I studied the issue (sorry, study's not online though I did comment on it a number of times in RSB -- it was published in on of the Big Bad Baseball annuals) I found a couple of interesting things. First, in the time period I studied fully 1/5 of the players who reached the majors as switch hitters either abandoned it it or were functionally platoon players.

And to get back to the topic at hand, a very specific type of player was being driven from the game. Fast, low power switch hitters. And that this factor alone explained a very large portion of the decline in stolen bases.

Wish I still had my studies and my data, but that's at least 4 computers gone. I have no real interest in repeating the studies.

If you can find a way to search rec.sport.baseball from the late 90s to the early 2000s you'll find this stuff. And I've told you how you can investigate this on your own, because the last thing I want is for somebody to just take my word for this.

   29. Ron J Posted: June 16, 2022 at 11:35 PM (#6082339)
Ah. Found my study in the 2000 Big Bad Baseball Annual. In 1987 20% of PAs went to switch-hitters and they attempted a stolen base 20.2% of the time they ere on first with second base open (neither is the highest seen but they're close and it's the highest combination of the two factors) while the league average was 11.2%

By 1998 (which is of course in sillyball) switch-hitters were down to 16.5% of the PAs -- not a drastic reduction -- but they only attempted a stolen base 12.1% of the time it was possible. While non switch-hitters were only down slightly -- to 10.1%.

Pretty clear evidence that the bulk of the decline in base stealing came because MLB no longer valued one particular type of player.
   30. sunday silence (again) Posted: June 16, 2022 at 11:46 PM (#6082341)
Yeah well thats a lot more to chew on there.
   31. Eric J can SABER all he wants to Posted: June 16, 2022 at 11:50 PM (#6082342)
Interesting. I wasn't aware of this rule change. A limit of 2 pickoff attempts per plate appearance seems pretty low to me. It makes it very difficult to hold a fast player on base. Maybe it will result in pitchers working more on their pickoff move, since you have to make those throws count more than you used to.

This sounds like a benefit, not a drawback. (With the caveat that I agree with some of the modifications proposed here - the count resets on a successful steal, and successful pickoffs are not penalized.)

Under the current rules, a pitcher can decide to make a pickoff throw not because there's any chance of success, but in hopes of marginally reducing a runner's lead. A rule of this type would virtually eliminate these no-chance pickoff attempts, which are one of the most boring plays in baseball.
   32. sunday silence (again) Posted: June 17, 2022 at 12:10 AM (#6082348)
Is the idea to speed up the pace of play in baseball or to increase SBs for the sake of SBs? Cause if the idea is to speed up the pace of play this stuff just seems like a deliberate distraction to keep fans from focusing on the real issue: the clock. This is the feeling I get. Why does MLB keep coming up with this weirder and weirder ####? Zombie runners? WFT?
   33. sunday silence (again) Posted: June 17, 2022 at 12:23 AM (#6082352)
the decline in XB seems to begin in 1996 dropping from the previous 44%, and goes back and forth until by 2004 it is stuck at 40%.

I guess that roughly corresponds with the modern trend in more HRs.
   34. TomH Posted: June 17, 2022 at 09:39 AM (#6082399)
just some simple math with #s provided in the intro

YR SB/g CS/g
19 1.52 0.71
21 1.91 0.61
22 2.21 0.64

almost 50% more successful steals; virtually no change in CS.
   35. Doug Jones threw harder than me Posted: June 17, 2022 at 11:10 AM (#6082420)
Just a further thought:

One of the flaws in baseball, given the current (MLB) rules, is that there is no penalty, in general, for actions that waste time.

So, from a game-theoretic approach, if you are a pitcher with a man on base, and a pickoff throw has even an infinitesimal chance to generate an out, well, since there is no penalty other than the mental one from the desire to avoid tedium, the logical choice is to attempt a pickoff throw. The pitcher indeed has ZERO incentive NOT to attempt a pickoff. One could imagine, if one put a robot pitcher out there who had simply been programmed to evaluate every action from game theory, the robot pitcher would throw over to first base an infinite number of times.

Hence, a penalty for attempted pickoffs makes perfect sense from a game-theoretic point of view.

Of course you need to add a pitch clock or some other mechanism to make the batter get into the box and the pitcher throw the ball.

   36. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: June 17, 2022 at 11:17 AM (#6082422)
The pitcher indeed has ZERO incentive NOT to attempt a pickoff. One could imagine, if one put a robot pitcher out there who had simply been programmed to evaluate every action from game theory, the robot pitcher would throw over to first base an infinite number of times.
Well, there’s the risk of a wild throw. But your general point is true.
   37. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: June 17, 2022 at 11:24 AM (#6082427)
For all the concern about wear on a pitcher's arm, having him snap off meaningless pickoff throws doesn't square. I understand its not a pitch, but it is some level of stress.

   38. The Gary DiSarcina Fan Club (JAHV) Posted: June 17, 2022 at 03:55 PM (#6082524)
People think they want them, but I don't think they'll be very appealing in practice. The fun of the stolen base comes in the possibility of getting caught. If you have half the SB attempts producing no throws from the catcher, for example, that's not exciting. It's Little League.


The question that arises is: What constitutes a super high SB%? I think I'm good with anything below 85%, but would be happy with 75 - 80%. And while I acknowledge Ron J's points above about stolen base attempts having a deleterious affect on the batter, I would hope that an increase in stolen bases AND stolen base success rate would have a positive impact on balls in play; i.e. hitters will be more likely to take a balls in play approach to a plate appearance and/or more fast, good contact hitters will arrive in the big leagues since they'll be more valuable than they are currently.

I don't foresee this having a negative effect on the amount of action in the game.

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