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Balk Question

posted May 18, 2011, 6:52 AM by Dante Sabatucci   [ updated May 18, 2011, 7:15 AM ]
Q:  Can you balk to second base? I always thought you could turn & not throw to second base & it wasn't a balk?

A:  Yes you can balk to second. But the situation you described does not sound like a balk. You can turn to second but you don't have to throw. It just depends on what the umpire was calling him for. Technically, the umpire can call a balk if he feels that the pitcher tried to deceive the runner which is a judgment call.

The two primary ways to throw to second base in an attempt to pick off a runner are the "inside move" and the "spin move".  The inside move is when the pitcher lifts his knee and then turns his body towards second base and throws to the waiting fielder.  This move is effective against runners who tend to move to their secondary lead as soon as the pitcher lifts his knee.  It is not meant to be a quick move and in this case even though the pitcher is still on the pitching rubber, he DOES NOT have to throw the ball.  Per the rules, the only base a pitcher cannot fake a throw to from the pitching rubber is first base.

The second primary move is the spin move.  In this case, the pitcher steps quickly off the back of the pitching rubber and spins (glove side) for a quick throw to second base.  This is meant to be a quick move for when a runner gets too far off base and is typically coupled with the "daylight play" where the shortstop will break quickly to second base if there is daylight between himself and the runner, assuming the runner is too far off the base.  When the pitcher spins, he will lose sight of the base for a split second but he will be in a much better throwing position and it will be quicker than if he rotates inside.  Since the pitcher steps off the back of the rubber before his spin, he is technically a fielder which means he does not have to throw the ball (this is why a pitcher does not have to throw to first base if he steps off the pitching rubber first).

A final word on balks.  After the pitcher comes to the set position, he must pause before pitching the ball and he cannot move any part of his body (except his head) unless he either steps off the pitching rubber (with his back foot) or lifts his front foot to either throw home or fake a throw to an occupied base (a pitcher cannot throw to an unoccupied base).  So in the question above, the umpire may have been calling a balk because the pitcher moved his shoulder or hands prior to lifting his foot and turning to second base.  There are many other nuances to holding runners and the avoiding balks.  I hope this helps.

Coach Dante 

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