Sports Outside the Beltway

The King of Pick-offs

Some off-day reading for y’all -

Inspired by a conversation with my father-in-law about Andy Pettitte, I decided to try to discover who has the best pick-off move in history (via stats). Bear in mind though, pick-offs have only been recorded since 1956, so we don’t know about some of the great pitchers before that time (e.g. Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove, etc.).

Going by total career pick-offs, Andy Pettitte ranks second to Steve Carlton. No surprise that southpaws top the list. Both Pettitte and Carlton are quality lefties, and both had/have pretty lengthy careers. The main reason Carlton bests Pettitte is longevity: he threw roughly twice as many innings, and hence has about twice as many pick-offs. That’s not really fair to Pettitte, who has a better pick-off-per-inning rate than Carlton.

Pettitte picked off a runner every 31 innings. Carlton every 36 innings. The ‘King of Pick-offs’, though, might just be Darold Knowles, who nailed a base runner every 24 innings. He isn’t higher on the list because he threw just 1092 innings, primarily as a reliever for nine different teams during the 60′s and 70′s.

That’s the not the conclusion though, because Carlton and Knowles pitched in more pitcher-friendly eras (meaning they generally had less base runners, hence less pick off opportunities). The real stat we need to find is pick-offs-per-base runner. We find this by adding hits and walks, subtracting home runs, and dividing by pick-offs. I’m not going to account for hit-batters and double plays as they roughly cancel each other out.

Carlton picked off one of every 42 base runners.

Pettitte: one of every 39 base runners.

Knowles: one of every 32 base runners.

Again, Knowles is the best, but we’re not quite done.

Who was the best at keeping runners from stealing – who put the most fear into base runners?

We can find this by calculating total base runners, then dividing by attempted steals.

Carlton: one of every 11 base runners attempted to steal.

Pettitte: one of every 15 base runners attempted to steal.

Knowles: one of every 28 base runners attempted to steal.

So now we can make the educated assumption that Darold Knowles is one of, if not the best pick off artist of the last 50 years.

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