What is a Balk?

This article answers the question “What is a Balk?” and describes how to recognize when it happens.

What is a Balk?

In the simplest sense, a balk is when the pitcher tries to intentionally deceive the hitter or runner.  It can be a flinch on the mound after the pitcher gets set, a deceptive pick off attempt, or even just as simple as dropping the ball once you become set.  There are many actions that can result in a balk.  When runners are on base and a balk is called, all the runners move up one base.

Since the umpire can’t read the pitcher’s mind, certain movements are considered deceptive and will be called a balk.

Balk or Pick off Move for Left Handed Pitchers

Here is the rule for a pick off move for a lefty pitcher.  If the pitcher does not follow this rule, then it is called a balk.

First, when the pitcher starts his motion and his right foot crosses his left knee, the pitcher has to throw home.

If he tries coming to first he will be called for a balk. Some pitchers will cross over their right knee but not cross their right foot, this can sometimes confuse a base runner, and he can pick over to first base without a balk being called.

  • A pitcher must get to a set position, where he comes to a complete stop after he gets the sign but before he starts his motion home.
  • A pitchers right foot must go in the general direction he is throwing (see diagram).
  • An imaginary 45 degree line goes from the pitching rubber to in between home plate and 1st base.
    What is a balk? What are the rules for a balk? for pitchers and base runners

    The Pitcher's Mound

  • If you are pitching the ball home you must land your right foot on the home plate side of this imaginary line.
  • If you are throwing over to 1st base your right foot must land on the 1st base side of this imaginary line.
  • This rule prevents a pitcher from intending to pitch the ball home, being surprised by a runner stealing 2nd base, and out of desperation flicking the ball over to 1st base while your feet are in position to throw towards home plate.

Balk or Pick off Move for Right Handed Pitchers

  • The pitcher must come set by coming to a complete stop before he throws a pitch home.
  • Once the pitcher is set he can’t move his shoulders or move around unless you step off the back of the rubber.
  • Once you start your motion you must complete it, if you stop a balk will be called.
  • If the ball purposefully or not purposefully falls to the ground when the pitcher gets set, a balk will be called.
  • Any form of deception that isn’t a straight forward pitch or pick off attempt will result in a balk.
  • If you turn and make a pick off attempt to first base and do not throw the baseball without stepping off, a balk will be called.


  1. For years I have been trying to find the correct answer to this. When I played, i successfully used this move all the time, but when coaching recently, my pitchers were called for a balk. Does anyone have the correct answer?
    With a runner on second base, I would set up on the rubber in reverse. As a right handed pitcher, I would set my left foot on the rubber, look in for a signal, come set and then simply step off and and throw to second. Always worked. But is it legal?

    • Joe,
      To your first question you are mostly right. You need to disengage from the rubber when throwing to a base except when it comes to a lefty move to first base when he picks his right leg up or for a right hander on a similar move to third base. But if a runner leaves early you need to step off before you can make a throw to second base. Your second question. Im not sure if this is legal, I would think its not because you could be deceiving the hitter. But I don’t know for sure. I thought it was very creative and a little funny how you would pick people off setting up in reverse. You would think the base runner would know something was different and to be prepared for a pick off. But kudos to you, I may ask around to an umpire and see if that is legal or not. Thanks for your question.


  2. I have been unable to find an answer to this question: can a pitcher turn and, stepping toward second base, throw directly to second base in an attempt to catch a runner trying to steak second base?

    • My understanding was that a pitcher can not throw to an unoccupied base while engaged on the rubber. If a baserunner takes off early from first, the pitcher must properly step off the back of the rubber in order to make a legal throw to second. I used to use this play and teach it to my players.

    • Mike,
      If for example a runner is leaving early from first base, the pitcher needs to step back off the rubber before he can throw the ball to second base. If he were to turn and throw to second that would be a balk. In that situation the pitcher needs to disengage with the rubber to throw to an unoccupied base. Hope that helps. Thanks for your question.


  3. I was taught if the left handed pitchers right foot never passed behind the plane of the rubber, he could throw to first base regardless of the planting of the right foot on delivery. Is this true?

    • No. While the right knee or foot cannot cross the plane of the rubber, the 45 degree rule still applies.

    • Steve,
      Thanks for your question. If a left handed pitcher is attempting a pick off to first base his foot can’t cross the rubber but there is an imaginary 45 degree line that is drawn between the pitching rubber and home plate. The pitcher needs to step on the left side of this line to throw to first base and the right side of this line to throw home. If he steps on the right side of this imaginary line and throws to first base a balk should be called. Hope this helps. Thanks for the question.


  4. Scott Rogerson on

    When a right handed pitcher makes a pick off attempt to first base after coming set, is it ever permissible for his pivot foot to remain in contact with the rubber? Basically I was questioning a call in my son’s game. The pitcher came set, stepped towards first but his right foot didn’t come off the rubber. I have always been taught that the pivot foot must clear the rubber before a throw to first.

    Am I wrong?

    • Correct, you must clear the rubber regardless of whether left handed or right handed. Right handers must clear first. Lefties after.

      • If you pull your pivot foot from the rubber, you are no longer in the set position and you can throw to any base. If you don’t, you can only throw to the base you step towards.

    • Yes he can pivot to 1st if occupied. That’s the only time he isn’t clearing the rubber from a dismounted movement. He’s clearing with his heel. He will get best results without a balk call if he is on the edge of the rubber closest to 1st base. 2nd base he has a dismounted rear action or a wheeling pick. 3rd base he has a 45° plane while not disengaged from rear. In a windup position he disengages from rear with right foot backwards 1st

  5. Situation: Runner on third, pitching from the set position, pitcher makes a pickoff move toward third. Pitcher loses partial grip on the ball, with the ball coming off the tops of the fingertips with less than normal force resulting in a “weak throw” toward third base. The ball comes to rest more than halfway to third and is picked up by the third baseman.

    Is this a balk under 6.02(d)? Comment: A ball which slips out of a pitcher’s hand and crosses the foul line shall be called a ball; otherwise it will be called no pitch. This would be a balk with men on base.) This doesn’t seem applicable as the play was not a pitch, but a pickoff.

    Is this a balk as a result of an unintentionally “dropped ball” under 6.02(a)(11)? I’m hard-pressed to call a ball that was thrown 35′ a dropped ball. It would seem that the ball is simply a pickoff attempt that is still a live ball.

    Is there anything in the use of the words “feints a throw to first or third base and fails to complete the throw” in 6.02(a)(2) that would be applicable to this situation. It would seem that a throw is to third base when thrown with intent toward third base, as opposed to being thrown to the third baseman in his normal fielding position. It would also seem that a throw is completed if a throw is made in one motion, regardless of whether the throw is on target, or is short, wide or over that target. Is a throw that goes halfway to third any less a throw “to the base” or “complete” than a throw that sails over the head of the third baseman?

  6. Good and informative article, except that there is no 45 degree line. Rule 8.05(c) clearly states that a pitcher must step DIRECTLY towards a base to attempt a pickoff move legally. There is not a 45 degree rule. It is just a common misconception.

    • Paul,

      Thanks for looking up the rule. After I saw your post I asked an umpire about that rule. “Stepping directly” towards the first baseman is what they look for but it can still be pretty vague. They still look at an imaginary 45 degree line that help them in determining if the pitcher is stepping towards first base or home. He said this helps the umpires stay consistent with the balk call so it doesn’t vary too much from umpire to umpire.


    • The 45 degree is to maintain some sort of consistency. Nearly every lefty is taught 45 degrees and follow the throw. MY son has been taught to go for more if you can get away with it. That’s what made Andy Pettitte so good.

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Doug Bernier, founder of Pro Baseball Insider.com, debuted in the Major Leagues in 2008 with the Colorado Rockies, and has played professional baseball for 13 years. Most recently, Doug signed with the Minnesota Twins in 2013, where he logged time at every infield position except 1st base in 33 Major League games. Currently Doug is with the Twins' AAA team in Rochester, NY