Can Pitchers Fake a Pickoff Attempt?


When it comes to rules in baseball, the pitcher seems to have the most. But with all of these rules, it can be difficult to keep track of all of them. The one rule most fans, players, and pitchers wonder about is if pitchers can perform a fake pick-off attempt. Can a pitcher fake a pickoff attempt?

Base Runner on First Base

A pitcher is not allowed to fake a pickoff throw to first or third base, but pitchers are allowed to fake a pickoff attempt to second base. In order for the fake pickoff attempt at second base to be legal, a base runner must be occupying second base.

Believe it or not, pitchers used to be able to fake a pickoff attempt to third base, but it was determined this move was too deceptive for a runner so the MLB implemented a rule that prevented pitchers from being able to fake a throw to third. For the rest of this article, we’ll learn more about the fake pickoff throw for each base, or as the MLB rulebook likes to call it, “feinting” a throw to a base.

This article explains one small part about what constitutes a balk in baseball. Learn more about what is a balk by reading The Balk Rule in Baseball: A Complete Overview.

Pitchers Are Not Allowed to Fake a Throw to First Base

When watching a baseball game, a lot of people see a pickoff attempt and wonder, can you fake a pickoff to first?

Simply put, pitchers are not allowed to fake a pickoff attempt to first base while still touching the pitching rubber. If a pitcher wants to fake a throw to first base, they first need to step off the pitching rubber.

Once a pitcher steps off the pitching rubber, they are considered an infielder and they are allowed to do whatever they want. If they want to fake a throw to first base after stepping off the rubber, they are able to do that without breaking any rules.

The actual definition in the MLB rulebook states “The pitcher, while touching his plate, feints a throw to first or third base and fails to complete the throw” (Rule 6.02(a)). In other words, it is simply not allowed to fake a throw to first or third base while touching the pitching rubber.

Pitchers Are Allowed to Fake a Throw to Second Base

On occasion, you may see a trick play where the pitcher makes a fake throw to second base and the defense pretends the baseball made it through the infield. When plays like these occur it’s easy to wonder, can you fake a pickoff to second?

Second base is the only base where pitchers are allowed to make a fake throw. In order for the fake pickoff attempt at second base to be legal, second base must be occupied by a base runner. If second base is unoccupied, it is considered a balk on the pitcher.

While pitchers need to step towards first or third base in order to complete a pickoff attempt, it’s common to wonder if second base is exempt from this rule. Do pitchers need to step towards second base on a pick-off attempt?

As a general rule, pitchers must step towards second base when performing a pickoff attempt. This also includes stepping towards second base when performing a spin move.

The MLB rulebook lays out this rule very nicely. “A pitcher is to step directly toward a base before throwing to that base and is required to throw (except to second base) because he steps.” (Rule 6.02(a)(3))

Because it is legal for pitchers to fake a pickoff attempt at second base, defenses have thought up clever ways to pick off runners at second base.

The most common trick play of a fake pickoff attempt at second base is when the pitcher fakes a throw to second base, the shortstop and second baseman dive for the fake passed ball, and the center fielder runs in to field the fake passed ball. When done correctly, the runner on second base thinks the throw made it through the infield and they have an easy path to third base.

Below is an example of that type of trick play working in a baseball game.

But be aware, this type of trick play doesn’t always work. And when it doesn’t work, the defense looks foolish. Just take a look at how this runner from LSU knew to not go on this type of trick play.

Pitchers Are Not Allowed to Fake a Throw to Third Base

At one point in time, it was legal for a pitcher to fake a pickoff attempt to third base. Because a lot of fans remember a time when pitchers were allowed to throw to third base, most people wonder if you can fake a pickoff to third.

Pitchers are not allowed to fake a pickoff throw to third while touching the pitching rubber. If a pitcher wants to fake a throw to third base, they first need to step off the pitching rubber. However, prior to the 2013 MLB season, it was legal for pitchers to fake a pickoff attempt to third base.

Prior to the MLB making a fake pickoff move to third base illegal, pitchers would routinely perform the “fake-to-third, throw-to-first” pickoff move. To perform this pickoff move, runners would be on third and first base. The pitcher would make a move to third base, fake the throw, then immediately turn around to try to throw out the runner on first base.

Although the “fake-to-third, throw-to-first” pickoff move was not very effective in the Major Leagues, it was still a move that was made illegal at the beginning of the 2013 season. Many players argued that this move blatantly disregarded the purpose of the balk rule, which is in place to prevent the pitcher from deceiving the runner.

Below is a rare example of this pickoff move working in a Major League Baseball game in 1996. As you can see, it’s easy for the runner on first base to be deceived by this move.

But what about other baseball leagues, like high school baseball? Can you fake to third and throw first in high school?

In general, pitchers in high school are allowed to fake a throw to third base then immediately throw to first base. Although, this move is considered illegal in professional baseball so it’s best to check the umpire’s interpretation of the rule to avoid a balk.

What Happens if a Pitcher Illegally Fakes a Pickoff Attempt?

Sometimes, pitchers make mistakes and those mistakes can be considered against the rules. If a pitcher illegally fakes a pickoff attempt, the umpire will immediately call a balk.

When a balk is called, the play is ruled a dead ball and all runners are allowed to advance one base. And, even though this is rare, games can actually end on a walk-off balk. Learn more about what is a walk-off balk in baseball.

Can a Pitcher Throw to the Shortstop?

In general, a pitcher is able to throw a pickoff attempt to the shortstop. As long as the pitcher steps to second base and throws the ball to a player who is involved in the play, a balk will not be called.

Steve Nelson

I'm the owner of Baseball Training World. I live in Denver, Colorado and I enjoy playing baseball on two different adult baseball teams in the surrounding area.

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