Pitching Professor: the pick-off move and balks


Pitching seems easy, until there’s a runner on first, who is causing you to lose your focus.

Knowing how to avoid a balk move and how to keep the runner close to the bag to give your catcher a decent shot at throwing him out at second, are critical to success.

Runners are taught to “time” the pitcher’s wind-up, so they can get a good jump on their dash to second base.

Umpires are taught to watch for balks; to be sure the pitcher comes to a complete stop before delivering the pitch and watch for a move, motion, or gesture intended to deceive the runner.

So, foil the runner’s attempt to time your delivery by varying the time that you hold the ball, when check on the runner.  If you just take one beat every time and then throw the pitch, the other team will rob you blind.  Instead, when you pause to check the runner, be sure to count the beats and pitch at differing intervals.  Also, look over at the runner a different number of times with each pitch.

How you “look over” to check the runner can cause a balk to be called.  If you turn your head, even slightly, some umpires will call a balk.  Although you may think that your head swivel was very slight, it may cause you to unknowingly turn your shoulders toward first and that will cause a balk call.

After you take your slide step back into your set position, set your head in a position where you can see the plate and first base from the outside corner of your left eye and do not move your head.  The only part of your body that should move is your eyes; shift them from the plate to first base.  Remember, vary the number of time you scan back and forth with each pitch.

To avoid a balk call, be sure that you step toward first base when you throw.  You must “disengage from the rubber” before throwing to first base.  For RHPs this means you move your back foot [the one touching the rubber] first.  Then, spin to squarely face first base and throw with your right foot pointing toward the bag.

Umpires vary on how the interpret the move to first.  Some will call a balk, unless your right foot is pointing exactly at the bag. Others will allow your lead foot to point slightly further toward the right of the bag.

If you KNOW you will make a throw to first base, before you start your pitching motion, use your 4-seam fastball grip; it is the one that should follow the straightest path to your first baseman.  When you see a first baseman miss a throw in the dirt, or high, or wide, it may be because the pitcher was holding the ball in the curve ball position, or splitter position; imagine trying to catch a knuckle curve at first base.

Interpretations of the balk rule by umpires frequently upset pitchers; don’t let it upset you.  The primary definition of a balk is “an intention to deceive.”  So, don’t get “cute ” and use a flinch or a fake on the mound; most umpires will call a balk.

If you follow these instructions about a pick-off move, you will avoid balking, but, that does not mean that some umpire will not call a balk.  Don’t let a minor setback turn into a major problem for you. Let the manager argue the case; remain on the mound, face center field and take a few deep breaths.  Have you ever seen a balk call reversed?  Accept the ruling and turn the page.

Take a breath, take your sign from your catcher, keep your eyes on his glove, and resume your normal mechanics.


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