Major League Baseball recently announced the fake-to-third-throw-to-first pickoff move is now a balk. Technically, the play could been considered a balk, since it involves deceiving the runner. From the Official Rules of MLB:
Umpires should bear in mind that the purpose of the balk rule is to prevent the pitcher from deliberately deceiving the base runner. If there is doubt in the umpires mind, the intent of the pitcher should govern.
The removal of the pick off could have been to speed up the game. The average time of a baseball game has increased from 2.5 hours in the mid 1960’s to almost three hours today. There are a number of factors that have contributed to the rise, including the amount of pick off throws, mid inning pitching changes and the time taken between pitches.
One of the great aspects of baseball is that the game is not played according to time. As the late Earl Weaver said “you can’t run out the clock in baseball.” The Earl of Baltimore was correct, but 3.5 to four hour games put fans to sleep and the average pick off move adds an estimated 40 seconds to the length of each game.
Since the first to third move was not used often, making the play a balk would seem to have a nominal effect on the average length of a game. The question is, what changes can baseball make that would not affect the integrity of the game?
MLB should attempt to avoid the interminable delay caused by infielder meetings at the mound during coach and managerial visits. Participants at a mid inning mound conferences should be limited to three, manager/coach, pitcher and catcher. Unfortunately, baseball is going in the other direction, now allowing interpreters to mound visits.
Sometimes when I’m watching a mid July game, extended spring training breaks out during the top of the eighth. If the shortstop and third baseman don’t know how to run the wheel, call another play. And an interpreter, come on. Does John Farrell really need the Rosetta Stone to tell Koji Uehara to pitch Robinson Cano carefully? The last I checked one finger meant fastball in English, Spanish, Japanese and any other language a pitcher may converse in.
The only mid inning conference that was mildly entertaining was in the movie Bull Durham. If the goal is to speed up the game by reducing unnecessary delays, the mid inning infield meeting/strategy session seems like a good place to start.