New pickoff rule changes first-and-third dynamic

This guy better be ready - Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE

While fans rejoice at the elimination of the fake-to-third-throw-to-first move, baserunners salivate

As most know by now, the fake-to-third-throw-to-first pickoff move is now against the rules. Fans, including on this site, routinely complained about the move with the usual refrain of "it never works". Yes, old people, those whiny kids are too young to remember Jack McDowell.

And as is often the case with fans, they don't really know what they're talking about. While it was certainly nice that McDowell - and his able assistant at third base, Robin Ventura - actually made the move work, the point for the vast majority of pitchers was not for it to work. It was to keep runners at first base honest.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter is already alternately licking his chops at the possibilities this opens up on the basepaths for his offense while rueing the opportunities it simultaneously gives opposing offenses.

"Relief pitchers are really squawking about it," Showalter said. "I chuckle when these announcers always say, ‘Oh, that never catches anybody. Why do they ever do it?’ The things that keeps from happening were huge. These guys sit up there and say, ‘Why are they doing that?’ It shuts down the first and third. A right-handed pitcher had to have that move. Otherwise, you’re giving up 90 feet all the time."

The reason, once someone actually gives it some thought, should be obvious. With runners on base, the pitcher is of course in the stretch. So the runner at first base is looking at the right-handed pitcher's left foot to see when it raises. Prior to the outlawing of the third-to-first move, the right-handed pitcher would be doing one of three things: pickoff to third, fake pickoff to third or going to home plate.

Now, the second option is eliminated. And any baserunner worth his salt should be having a field day this season going on first move because once the pitcher raises his left foot, he's not coming to first base. He's throwing it somewhere else, either to third or the plate. A runner with even average speed will be able to take advantage of this to take second with relative ease.

"You’d better be able to defend the first-and-third offense this year," Showalter said. "That’s one of our points of emphasis. You’d better be able to offense it, too. It’s going to be a big play.

"There are ways to find out if they’re covering (second base on a steal) by some things you can do. It’s a gimmie bag in some cases."

So, what might Showalter’s Orioles do in an attempt to take advantage?

"It’s limitless," Showalter said.

While the White Sox aren't speedburners, you don't have to be for this. And the guys who will most take advantage of this won't be Alejandro De Aza and Jeff Keppinger - not with the big bats behind them. It should be Alex Rios, Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez.

On the defensive side, the White Sox may have a slight advantage because their starting pitching will likely comprise of at least three left-handers: Chris Sale, John Danks and Jose Quintana. Further, Ventura was a pretty good defender back in his day. While one of his favorite tricks is gone, last season the White Sox showed much more aptitude than in the past on disrupting baserunners and putting on plays on defense.

The baseball pendulum continues its long-term trend of favoring offense and it's a pretty safe bet that you're going to see some players/teams get comically exposed by this rule change, particularly early in the season. Hopefully the White Sox intend to spend some time in spring training to make sure it's them doing the victimizing.

UPDATE (11:28 a.m.): Perfect timing -- Jake Peavy made his displeasure about this development known to Mark Gonzales:

“To me, that’s a joke," said Peavy, who frequently employs the move before throwing to first base in an effort to nail a base runner. "To speed up the game by saying you can’t, you’re taking a rule away from a game. You got guys taking so long to get in the box. And you got all the antics that we have to deal with and take away a pick-off move to speed up the game?

"Give me a break. I’m out on that.”

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