This season, MLB is experimenting with some new rules in the minor leagues.
There are some really interesting ideas on the table, and many of them have the potential to work out at the MLB level.
However, some have flaws.
In particular, a rule designed to limit pickoff attempts, which is being used across all full-season leagues in the minors this year, has some issues.
Here’s what to know.
The Big Issue With The Rule
Sal Maiorana of the Democrat and Chronicle did a nice job of explaining how the rule works.
“During the course of each at bat with base runners aboard, pitchers get two free chances to control the running game, either with pickoffs, step offs, or a combination of the two,” Maiorana wrote. “The pitcher can attempt a third, but if the runner is not called out, he is automatically awarded the next base.”
For the sake of discussion, let’s assume the rule does indeed end up making it to the majors.
Here’s the big issue: By limiting pitchers to two risk-free pickoff attempts per at-bat, you’re effectively telling pitchers they can only throw over ONCE per at-bat.
Obviously, after throwing over once, pitchers would only have one more risk-free pickoff attempt at their disposal for the remainder of the at-bat.
That second pickoff attempt figures to be rarely, if ever, used.
(And the third one — which obviously carries a huge risk — figures to be used even less.)
If a pitcher were to use both risk-free pickoff attempts during any given at-bat, that would allow base runners to take absurdly large leads, causing the pitcher to have to either (a) live with it or (b) use that extremely risky third pickoff attempt.
That sounds like a nightmare.
Therefore, exhausting both risk-free pickoff attempts would not be wise, as base runners would have a huge advantage following the second throw over.
So, now we’re talking about pitchers effectively having just one usable pickoff attempt per at-bat.
Doesn’t that seem like an unnecessarily drastic change?
Pickoff attempts are such a crucial part of keeping base runners honest, and MLB would be throwing a massive wrench into that aspect of the game if the league were to adopt the rule.
.@TeamUehara has announced his retirement.
Was this the best pickoff ever? pic.twitter.com/SEavrFCFQE
— MLB (@MLB) May 20, 2019
Anthony Bass was so casual about this slick pickoff move! 💯👁️
— Bally Sports Florida: Marlins (@BallyMarlins) August 11, 2021
The incentive behind the rule idea is to improve pace of play.
Would it be worth it?
The Issue Of Habit
In addition to the issue we just discussed, one minor league manager has a separate concern about the rule.
“The thing that is concerning to me is the stepping off and throwing over when you don’t realize you’ve already (done it twice),” said Matthew LeCroy, who manages the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings.
For pitchers who have gone their entire careers without having to deal with pickoff restrictions, such a sudden change takes some getting used to.
That’s the reality for many minor league pitchers now, and it could also end up being the reality for MLB pitchers in the near future.
Of course, most MLB players would adjust eventually, but every now and then, we’d probably see pitchers forget how many times they’ve stepped off/thrown over and commit a costly mistake as a result.
If MLB wants to adopt some sort of rule that limits pickoffs, that would be fine, but it doesn’t seem the league has found the right solution yet.