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Zach Plesac still looks elite at pickoffs

Leading off against Zach Pleasc is still a very bad idea

Cleveland Indians Summer Workouts Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images

Zach Plesac did a thing against the Pirates over the weekend.

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This is a lightning-quick move, @z3plesac.

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That is, indeed, lightning quick. It’s something people have picked up on previously, and Plesac credits Akron pitching coach Tony Arnold with helping him to get the move right. But Plesac’s pickoff isn’t just lightning quick, it is already elite in his young career.

In his rookie season, in 115 innings pitched, Plesac picked off six runners. That put him alone atop the leaderboard for all of baseball. Out of the 831 players that threw a pitch in 2019, 168 of them picked off at least one batter, which is twenty percent. Only 52 players picked off more than one batter, however, which is just 6%. To be above the 90th percentile of anything in major league baseball is astonishing, but to do it in your rookie season is even more impressive.

But Plesac’s accomplishment is even more impressive when considered on a per-innings basis. Sure, six pickoffs in 115 innings is awesome, but what about guys who throw out of the bullpen or got injured or had an even more abbreviated season than Plesac? Well, he still beats them. In pickoffs per innings pitched, Plesac still dominates. His .052 rate was almost a tenth of a percent better than number two, Drew Smyly, and still best in the league.

2019 Pickoff leaders

Pitcher IP PO PO/IP
Pitcher IP PO PO/IP
Zach Plesac 115.2 6 0.052
Drew Smyly 114 5 0.044
Josh Taylor 47.1 2 0.042
Blake Snell 107 4 0.037
José Suarez 81 3 0.037

In more historical context, his pickoff per innings pitched rate was 25th among all pitchers with at least 114 innings pitched in the Wild Card Era (1995-on). Likewise, his raw pickoffs were seventh most in team history and his pickoffs per innings pitched rate ranks third in team history, the best in almost 100 years.

Indians pickoff leaders

Pitcher Year IP PO PO/IP
Pitcher Year IP PO PO/IP
Fritz Coumbe 1918 150 9 0.06
Sherry Smith 1923 124 7 0.056
Zach Plesac 2019 115.2 6 0.52
Rick Sutcliffe 1983 243.1 12 0.049
Bob Owchinko 1980 114.1 5 0.044

It’s hard to take anything from the summer camp games, but Plesac’s pickoff being in midseason form is at the very least encouraging. And he’s not the only member of the staff with an effective move. Mike Clevinger had six pickoffs in 200 innings in 2018 and three in 121 innings in 2017; Shane Bieber had two in 200 innings last year.

We can’t hope for much in a 60-game season, but Tribe pitchers have at least given runners reasons to think twice about their lead. Combined with Roberto Pérez’s above-average poptime (1.97 sec, average is 2.01), guys who reach first against Cleveland may stay flat-footed in 2020.