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).
  • Umpires that I’ve spoken to put it this way (it’s not an official rule, but it’s a helpful guideline to understand what an umpire considers “deceptive”) 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 45 degree line is not an official rule, but it’s how professional umpires described to me a helpful guideline to understand what an umpire considers “deceptive”

  • 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.

About Author

Avatar für Doug Bernier

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 5 organizations (CO Rockies, NY Yankees, PIT Pirates, MN Twins, & TX Rangers) over the past 16 years. He has Major League time at every infield position, and has played every position on the field professionally except for catcher. (You should click to watch this great defensive play by Bernier) Where is he now? After 16 years of playing professionally, Doug retired and took a position as a Major League scout with the Colorado Rockies for 2 years. Currently Doug is the Data and Game Planning Coordinator with the Colorado Rockies


  1. Avatar für Tom Brian

    It’s important to note that specific league rules may have some variations regarding balks, so it’s always good to refer to the official rulebook for the particular baseball league you are interested in.

  2. Avatar für Lou Zeck

    Man on first 1 out. Pitcher standing against rubber in set position batter steps in he throws the pitch is this not deceiving the runner and a quick pitch a balk. Did not call it because it was a wild pitch that got by the catcher and the runner on first got to second. Just want to make sure is it a balk? Thank you, Lou

    • Avatar für Caleb

      No, pitcher was already ready and both the runner and batter-runner have the ability to see this. If the batter steps in and is looking directly at the pitcher he can pitch immediately, but not the case if the batter is looking down or elsewhere. I’m this case though it doesn’t matter, there was no pickoff attempt and it was a wild pitch which resulted in the runner on first making it easily and uncontested to 2B.

  3. Avatar für William Weber
    William Weber on

    Nope, it is not a balk to be engaged with the rubber and throw to first.
    Rules apply to all pitchers – regardless of whether they are right or left handed.
    Pitchers do not have to disengage the rubber to throw to a base.

    The OBR state that a Pitcher can throw to any base provided he steps directly toward that base before making the throw.

    Yes, many people have a different understanding of the rules.

    Rule 5.07(a)(1) Comment (Rule 8.01(a) Comment): In the
    Windup Position, a pitcher is permitted to have his “free” foot
    on the rubber, in front of the rubber, behind the rubber or off
    the side of the rubber.

    From the Windup Position, the pitcher may:
    (A) deliver the ball to the batter, or
    (B) step and throw to a base in an attempt to pick-off a
    runner, or
    (C) disengage the rubber (if he does he must drop his hand
    to his sides).

    In disengaging the rubber the pitcher must step off with his
    pivot foot and not his free foot first. He may not go into a set or
    stretch position—if he does it is a balk.

    (d) (8.01(c)) Throwing to the Bases
    At any time during the pitcher’s preliminary movements and until
    his natural pitching motion commits him to the pitch, he may throw
    to any base provided he steps directly toward such base before
    making the throw.

    Rule 5.07(d) Comment (Rule 8.01(c) Comment ): The pitcher
    shall step “ahead of the throw.” A snap throw followed by the
    step directly toward the base is a balk.

  4. Avatar für Israel Avila

    As a lefty, your left foot is on the rubber, but you’re not set. The pitcher is able to move around. Can the pitcher from that position legally throw to first without stepping off the rubber?

  5. Avatar für Timothy N Carpenter
    Timothy N Carpenter on

    Upon watching the Red Sox vs Yankees yesterday it appears Chris Sale was balking. He was starting and then stopping and then starting again. Doesn’t a pitcher need to come home after starting his motion. I don’t remember being allowed to start and then stop and then start again when pitching years ago.

  6. Avatar für Frank B.

    Had a left hand pitcher whose normal movement to home was for his right knee and foot to completely cross his left knee and the rubber. His pick off to first base was to cross the rubber with his knee and his right foot would come even with his left knee and at times almost completely cross his knee but not to the point of completely going past the rubber. A Balk was not called but I believe this is because there was only one umpire. The coach for the other team said its not a balk because his foot didn’t completely go past his knee. I felt as if the pick off move was so close to the throw to home plate that this should be a balk as it was very deceiving.

  7. Avatar für Doug

    Quick question. My son was called for a balk on this yesterday in an 11U game. Runner on 2B. Out of the stretch he came set. On his leg kick, at its highest point, he held it while looking at the runner, and then delivered home. It was a pause. Is that a balk?

    I’ve tried to read the rules, but couldn’t find anything specific. I just saw that it had to be a continuous motion – but I feel like I’ve seen professional players freeze a runner before (especially LH picking off 1B). Or is it something where you can pause the leg as long as other parts are still moving? If so, would it be considered continuous if you paused your leg kick at top position while your hands move from belt to eye-level to back to belt? And if you did that with your hands, could you then come still make a pickoff move to 2B (inside move)? You’ve haven’t made any move towards either home or 2nd, so I would imagine that as long as you are ‘continuous’ then you are still free to go either way (same if you wanted to throw over to 3B if runner was on 3rd), correct? Thanks for the help.

    • Avatar für Ryan

      Here is the problem… once you come set and then start your delivery you must not stop during that delivery. There are a couple of guys in MLB that have unusual deliveries where there appears to be more than one stop however they never fully STOP again they just slow down VERY SLOWLY. If the kid pitched the ball the same way every time no matter where the runner is on the bases then it would possibly be overlooked as how his delivery is however I am guessing this only happened one time and that’s more why it was called.

  8. Avatar für Doug Bretherick
    Doug Bretherick on

    I am a 10 u AAU coach. For definition of a balk, let me ask this question: From windup ball in right hand, glove in right on rubber. You start your wind up and bring ball to glove as you step back then deliver your pitch as hand comes from glove and deliver pitch. Is that a balk? I believe if you bring your hands together and then separate them it is ok as long as you are delivering the pitch?

  9. Avatar für Robert Sears
    Robert Sears on

    Regarding balks. I noticed this around three years ago at Durham Bulls games and saw it often last year and this year in the ML. The pitcher comes set with a runner on base, he then starts to rock back and forth including flexing the knees before pitching. One pitcher that comes to mind is Betances for the Yankees. Why is this not a balk when other times a balk is called and I do not see any movement even in frame by frame?


    • Avatar für Ryan

      I believe you are referring to the little extra “step” that is taken before coming set. Basically the umps look at the intent and the rest of his motion. They are basically calling this as his “coming set.” If he deviated from this though then they would call either the deviation or his set a balk.

      The best way I can put this one is kind of like how a lot of NBA guys “carry” the ball when they are dribbling. Kind of the same thing here.

  10. Avatar für Joe

    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?

    • Avatar für Doug Bernier

      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.


      • Avatar für tim

        If a right handed pitcher keep contact with the rubber and starts to turn towards second base but the runner has already started running, is he allowed to stop his motion towards the runner instead of toward the base. This would be a runner leading of second base. Instead of disengaging he keeps contact with the mound and is then motion towards and area between bases. Is this a balk or not?

    • Avatar für James Hubbell

      You cannot set up on the rubber in reverse. This is deceiving the runner. If you set up in reverse it is the same as a pitcher can pitch with both hands. You must declare which hand you are pitching with before the batter enter the batters box and you must stay that way until the at bat is complete.

  11. Avatar für Mike Bodnar

    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?

    • Avatar für Joe

      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.

    • Avatar für Doug Bernier

      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.


    • Avatar für James Hubbell

      You can throw to any base for the purpose of making a play. If a runner leaves early and is trying to steal second. You can throw to second base without stepping off. Even if the runner returns to first it is not a balk due to the pitcher thought the runner was going. It is in the umpires judgment to determine if there could have been a play.

  12. Avatar für Steve

    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?

    • Avatar für vinnie

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

    • Avatar für Doug Bernier

      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.


  13. Avatar für Scott Rogerson
    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?

    • Avatar für vinnie

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

      • Avatar für Michael

        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.

    • Avatar für Todd Jones

      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

  14. Avatar für Peter

    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?

  15. Avatar für Paul

    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.

    • Avatar für Doug Bernier


      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.


      • Avatar für Larry Scanlon
        Larry Scanlon on

        So is there a 45 degree rule or not? It seems to lead into the realm of deception which should always be called a balk. Had a lefty pitcher tonight go straight at the bag on some but then lean towards the plate and throw to first on others. It seemed clearly deceptive to me but was not called as they said he was not stepping beyond the 45 degree line. My understanding is that there cannot be any movement towards home and still throw to first.? Can you clarify?
        Thanks for your insight. Very informative.

    • Avatar für vinnie

      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.

      • Avatar für John

        Can a pitcher throw to first before coming set. From the set position ?
        Does he have to come set 1st and pause or stop. Can he also step off while coming
        set ? The rule states: He shall go to the set position without interruption and in one continuous motion, He must come to a complete and discernable stop.
        You make the call !!!!

      • Avatar für Alan McClellan
        Alan McClellan on

        Andy pettitte is what made Andy pettitte so good. That dude’s pick off along with Terry Mulholland are two of the greatest to ever do it. If you watch them they were the epitome of 44. 5 degrees.

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