Major League Baseball is balking at some pitchers' pickoffs
By Rob Biertempfel
Published: Thursday, April 11, 2013, 10:54 p.m.
PHOENIX — It's not easy for a 6-foot-7, 245-pound pitcher to be sneaky, but Jared Hughes tried.
During every season in the minors, in every spring training, Hughes practiced one of the oldest trick plays in baseball. With runners on the corners, he'd fake a throw to third base, then whirl and throw to first.
Hughes got pretty good at it, not that it matters anymore. Starting this season, that play will be called a balk. No warnings will be issued.
“It's a little frustrating because I put so much time into trying to perfect it,” Hughes said. “I've got a certain strategy with it, and I use it to control the running game. It definitely changes my approach because it's not allowed anymore.”
Technically, the play always has been a balk because the pitcher is intentionally trying to deceive. However, it rarely was enforced by umpires and eventually was accepted as part of the game.
“There were some gray areas,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “It is a complicated read for the umpires, where they are positioned, (to see) whether the (pitcher's) step is proper, and there is an arm fake involved.”
The players' union used its veto to prevent the rule change from being implemented last season after it was approved by MLB officials and the umpires. However, the collective bargaining agreement gave MLB the power to enforce the new rule in 2013 after a one-year wait.
Joe Torre, MLB's vice president of baseball operations, said a vast majority of managers and umps support the fake-to-third, throw-to-first ban. Still, the rule change is unpopular among pitchers and catchers.
“I'm not going to say (second) now is a gimmie base, but it definitely has to make the runner more comfortable at first base,” catcher Michael McKenry said. “He can lean a little bit more, try to get a better jump. I don't necessarily like it, but it's part of the game now.”
Steve Blass, who pitched for the Pirates from 1964-74, doesn't mind the new rule. He said the fake-throw play didn't have much impact.
“I saw it work once,” Blass said. “Mike Fetters got somebody at third base, and it was like a headline. It should've been a headline because it was so rare.”
Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon likes the new rule because it could create more offense. But he differs with those who say the fake throw was a waste of time.
“People thought it was a worthless move that had no significant meaning, and that's the furthest thing from the truth,” Maddon said, noting it kept runners honest at first base.
The fake-throw ban will force teams to tweak their defensive strategy.
“You might see some actual pickoffs to third base now,” Hurdle said. “And you can still disengage and do it — you can step back (off the rubber), become a fielder and look to third and throw to first. Some teams might consider that.”
If nothing else, it will force guys like Hughes to concentrate a bit more when there are runners on the corners.
“I think I'm going to have to remind myself the first time,” Hughes said. “I'll need a quick, ‘Hey, don't do that. Don't go to third and then go to first because it's going to be a run scored.' Maybe I'll mix something else in. Maybe I'll step off, fake a full throw to third, then go to first.”
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Ex-Pirates great Parker’s long wait for Hall of Fame could finally end
- Breaking down the Pirates’ needs entering winter meetings
- Bucs acquire catcher and designate McKenry for assignment
- Pirates make offers to 7 players at arbitration deadline
- Film about former Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis in prestigious festival
- Pirates’ Snider talks about surgery, rebuilding swing