Can You Fake A Pickoff Throw In Baseball?

Can You Fake A Pickoff Throw In Baseball

Baseball is a sport that is very much a mind game, especially when it comes to pitching. Pitchers often attempt to control the reaction of batters and base runners while on the mound, and one way they can do so is by faking a pickoff. What exactly is faking a pickoff? How does it work? Is it even a legal maneuver in baseball? Below, you can read on to find out.

What Is a Pickoff in Baseball?

A pickoff is a maneuver that takes place between live pitches, when a pitcher throws the ball to a baseman who then tags out a base runner before they can steal. If a base runner thinks that the pitcher is about to throw a pickoff, they will likely return to their original base position to ensure that they remain safe.

Consequently, pitchers will sometimes pretend that they are going to throw a pickoff to prevent baserunners from attempting to steal. This is called “faking a pickoff,” and its legality depends on how the pitcher executes their fake throw and toward which base the fake throw is being directed. When it is done so illegally, this is known as a balk, which results in all runners on-base being allowed to advance one base.

Faking a Pickoff at First Base

In regards to first base, a fake pickoff maneuver is only legal if the pitcher has stepped off of the rubber (a.k.a. the pitching plate) before they fake the throw. When a player is on the rubber, they occupy the role of “pitcher,” and while playing this position, they cannot fake a throw to first base. However, if they step off of the rubber, they temporarily lose the title of “pitcher” and enter the role of “infielder.”

As an infielder, the player is permitted to fake a throw toward first base because it is not a violation for infielders to do so. Therefore, pitchers are not allowed to fake a pickoff attempt while making contact with the rubber, but if they step off of it, they are considered an infielder and can fake a throw if they want to.

Faking a Pickoff at Second Base

Second base is the only base that pitchers can legally fake a pickoff attempt toward while remaining on the rubber, as long as they follow some specified rules. First, to legally fake a pickoff to second, the base must be occupied by a runner. Second, it is illegal, in general, to begin a pitch in one direction and then suddenly throw the ball in a different direction, and this rule extends to include pickoff maneuvers.

This means that, for a fake pickoff attempt toward second base to be legal, it must be executed with intention. The pitcher must take a step toward second base when making the fake throw to indicate that their original objective was to deliver the ball to this location. One cannot simply decide on a whim that they are going to fake a pickoff to second once they have already begun to deliver the ball to a different location. Once a pitcher begins their motion to pickoff at second base, this counts towards their disengagement count.

Faking a Pickoff at Third Base

The rules regarding fake pickoff attempts toward third base are the same rules governing first base. A pitcher can only fake a pickoff attempt toward third base if they have stepped off of the rubber before initiating the fake throw.

Penalty for Faking a Pickoff

One crucial rule in baseball is that pitchers must step toward the base they are pitching to, and with the exemption of second base, they must complete the throw to the intended location. Once a pitcher has made a move in a specified direction, they must deliver the ball to that destination.

If a pitcher makes an illegal move, such as suddenly changing the direction of their throw without indication, faking a pickoff to first or third base while still standing on the rubber, or faking a pickoff to second when the base is unoccupied by a runner, they receive a penalty called a balk. If a balk is called, every player on base is permitted to advance bases, meaning that players on first advance to second, players on second advance to third, etc.