We examine how the new pickoff rules in 2023 will adversely affect the Atlanta Braves’ Charlie Morton.
Atlanta Braves players will be operating under some new rules in 2023. Yes, there are big changes looming such as restrictions on the shift, a pitch clock, and bigger bases. However, today we will focus on the potential impact of the new pickoff rules on Charlie Morton.
How will the pickoff rules change in 2023?
Starting in 2023, pitchers will only be allowed to disengage the rubber twice per plate appearance. If they exceed two disengagements the pitcher will be charged with a balk and the runner will advance. The pitcher can only attempt a third pickoff move if it results in an out.
If a pitcher attempts to pick off a runner twice, he basically won’t be able to hold them anymore. The runner will have the freedom to run knowing there won’t be another move to hold him.
Pitchers will also have to be more judicious with their pickoff attempts since each failed attempt gives the runner more confidence they won’t throw over again.
How will these rule changes affect pitchers with slow delivery times?
In Major League Baseball the difference between a 1.3 second time to home plate and a 1.5 second time can be all a good baserunner needs to know they can go. A fast baserunner will take around 3.3 seconds to steal second base. The average MLB pop time (the time it takes for a catcher to get the ball from his glove to the fielder’s projected receiving point) is 2.0 seconds. That doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for pitchers to be slow to the plate.
What are the Braves’ catchers’ pop times?
Travis d’Arnaud averaged 2.0 seconds and William Contreras finished at 1.97 in 2022.
Quick Math: if it takes a runner 3.2 seconds to break from his lead and reach second and it takes a catcher 2.0 seconds to get the ball there, the pitcher has to have a 1.3 delivery time to make it close.
In an article at Baseball America, Anthony Gose (77 MiLB steals in 2011) said that stealing bases “has nothing to do with the catcher. It’s on the pitcher and his times.”
The article continues on about the importance of the pickoff move in the math that goes into stealing a base. Essentially, a pitcher with a good pickoff move can delay a runner by a tenth or two-tenths of a second.
How important is two-tenths of a second?
Most teams want their pitchers at 1.3 seconds or less time to home. A slow pitcher will clock in at 1.5 seconds to home.
"“If you hear 1.5-1.6, don’t even worry about a good jump, just go. Regardless of if the catcher has the best arm in the world, if it’s a 1.75 they can’t get you,” high Class A Lake Elsinore outfielder Rico Noel said. “I’d say 95 percent of the time you are stealing the bag off the pitcher. You’re not worried about the catcher. If he’s above 1.3, you’ve got it.”"
In 2016, the Angels were leading the league in pickoffs. Mike Trout informed us that they had to attempt more pickoffs than other teams because their starting pitchers had a lot of slow delivery times.
Pickoff attempts help slow runners on the base baths.
Why Charlie Morton Will Give up More Steals with 2023 Pickoff Rules
I can’t find any good data on pitcher delivery times to the plate on AM Radio, the Dictionary, or the internet. Statcast does have some pretty interesting data on pitcher tempo if you want to give that a look although it isn’t exactly what we are looking for here. So, I decided to take a look at which of our starting pitchers gave up the most steals, which was Charlie Morton. Then, I used a very scientific method of using an actual stopwatch to time a few pitches from Uncle Charlie.
Hey… it’s what third base coaches use. Their accuracy on delivery times and stopwatch usage can be the difference between a stolen base and an out at second. That’s at least one reason they shouldn’t drink alcohol in the dugout between innings anymore. Full disclosure, this was the first time I used a stopwatch since I was a gym teacher in the 80s and I was consuming alcohol the same as when I was a gym teacher.
Charlie Morton gave up 10 stolen bases in 2022 with just two runners caught stealing. He did manage three successful pickoffs. Kenley Jansen was Morton’s equal in terms of giving up steals, but A) Kenley is widely known as a stolen base waiting to happen because of how slow to the plate he is, B) has bigger problem with the impending pitch clock, and C) isn’t likely to be a Brave next year.
I took August 21st against the Astros as a sample. Morton gave up two steals in that start. Kyle Tucker earned his 19th steal of the season. In the at-bat, Morton threw over to first once. Next year, the threat of a second pickoff attempt will be illegal, unless it results in an out.
Morton took 1.5 seconds to deliver the ball to home with Tucker on first. One of Morton’s strengths as a pitcher is his curveball. He throws it a lot, as you know. The curve takes longer to get to the plate than a fastball and is a part of the reason he’s easier to steal on. He finished tied for 20th in the league for most steals against. Morton’s 1.5-second delivery plus 2.0 seconds for catcher pop time gives a good baserunner 3.5 seconds to get to second.
If you’ve ever seen a stolen base, fractions of a second are what decides the outcome. Morton gives runners that fraction. Without the ability to step off the mound, Morton should find himself in more situations where the runner can take advantage and swipe a bag in 2023.
Get out your stopwatches!
Let me know what you think in the comments. Will Morton give up an excessive amount of steals next season due to his reliance on the slow looping curve?