Hinch’s Balk Play Review Call is Good Thing

An enemy baserunner can be clearly balked from advancement if the pitcher catches him leaning too far off the base in between pitches to the plate. On the other hand, a pitcher may be called for a balk, and the runner then called safe, if the pitcher first fails to get the footwork down properly before he makes the play.


On August 10, 2018, Astros baseball and pitching icon Larry Dierker left the following comment at our previous column about the balk call on Astros pitcher Justin Verlander in the first game of the current series with the Mariners:

“I thought it was the correct call. He touched his left foot down in front of the rubber. If he had stepped directly toward second base, it would have been a good move.” ~ Larry Dierker.

Attached is a link to the best replay I could find of the “balk call play” that will overrule the sure pick-off play at second base that first causes everyone leaving the field thinking that the top of the 2nd has ended with no further runs on the scoreboard posted for Seattle, who already lead 3-0 from the batch they had bagged in the 1st inning. As a big result of the balk call, the inning at bat for the M’s continues; they score three more runs; and those three runs hang forever as the margin of victory for the visitors over Houston by an 8-6 final score.

The Verlander Balk Call Play Link

Link Note: The pick off play is seen at the very start. If you wish to watch it a few times in a row, convert the site to “full screen” and you then will be able to use the sliding red bar at the bottom of the link page to go back as often as you choose.

When I watch the left foot step of Verlander on the balk call, I can see what Dierker is describing. ~ What I can’t see is ~ what else was he going to do with his left foot? As a right-hander at the rubber, the left foot is already pointing in some varied general way toward home plate/third base prior to the pitch. Once the pitcher than takes his right foot off the rubber quickly to make a throw to second base legal, how does he then get that left foot now also pointing to that same second base before it touches the ground again behind the rubber? Or does it have to land behind the rubber on the first left foot step?

It feels unnatural? ~ What’s the right-handed pitcher supposed to do in the pick-off attempt at 2nd ~ pivot on his right foot and then land behind the rubber on his left foot heel, with the left foot pointed toward 2nd?

Maybe, I’m still not getting what’s required in this particular execution of the pick-off try at 2nd base. Does that first step landing by the left foot not-so-simply have to be “pointing” to 2nd base? ~ Or does that first step landing have to be behind the rubber on the 2nd base side? ~ And that one is the one that feels unnatural to me.

I never had this problem as a kid’s league pitcher, but my chances of picking anyone off 2nd anyway were few and far between. Most of the batters who got extra base hits off me rarely stopped running at 2nd base. They were too close to home to stop moving that early.

Hinch’s Appeal to MLB for a review of the play is a good idea. It won’t change the outcome of a game now lost, but it should call attention to at least this kind of balk play as too vulnerable to umpire perception to be fairly called on most to every play. – Verlander says he was called in this instance for a balk for something he’s been doing exactly the same way without a previous problem in 14 years as a big league pitcher. Hinch says that he would not be surprised to see a 50-50 judgment split on balk/no balk review survey, if the play could be now re-assessed by all MLB vital parties and umpires.

So What? ~ Either call by Verlander or Hinch justifies a reexamination of how measurable and practical this rule rests as it is. It’s just another of those nuts ~ among the nuts and bolts of baseball rules ~ that can always be fine-tuned and improved. And that’s never a waste of time.



Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle





2 Responses to “Hinch’s Balk Play Review Call is Good Thing”

  1. Larry Dierker Says:

    My understanding is that you have to step directly toward the base you are throwing to. A lot of pitchers used to swing their leg around toward second and not throw. Its not hard to do. I haven’t seen it lately, though. Perhaps they don’t allow it anymore. I never thought faking should not be allowed. It’s a waste of time. Plus I think a pitcher should have some risk when attempting a pick-off. Once he steps toward a base, he should have to throw. Perhaps Justin has done it that way in the past and it isn’t been called. If so, it figures that it happens when everything else is going wrong.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Thanks, Larry! ~ I think you know how much we value your opinion in matters of this nature with the greatest respect ~ and I couldn’t agree more with your closing comment too, that, with stuff like this balk dispute, “it figures that it happens when everything else is going wrong.” 😦

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