Thursday, June 10, 2021

Schoch Balk? Legality of NCAA Pitcher's Pickoff Move

When college pitcher Stephen Schoch picked off a runner during Virginia's NCAA Regional game against Old Dominion, we were asked if the pick-off was legal or a balk. Using all three rulesets, including professional baseball's OBR and high school's NFHS, we determine the legality of Schoch's high leg kick in an attempt to retire a runner between second and third base.

To answer the legal vs balk question regarding Schoch's move, we consider both the primary purpose of the balk rule (illegal deception of the runner) and, if so, precisely how Schoch's deception was illegal.

NCAA Rule 9-3-a states, simply, it is a balk when, with runners, the pitcher while on the pitcher's plate commits "any feinting motion without completing the throw toward the batter or toward first or third base." OBR 6.02(a)(1)'s language is, "makes any motion naturally associated with their pitch and fails to make such delivery" while NFHS 6-2-4d states, "failing to pitch to the batter in a continuous motion immediately after any movement of any part of the body such as they habitually use in their delivery."

In reviewing Schoch's natural or habitual pitching motion, it would appear this pickoff did not violate the completing-the-pitch balk rule: Schoch's raising of the leg alone is not a balk.

Next, we turn toward the part of the balk rule that concerns a pitcher's free foot crossing over or passing behind the perpendicular plane of the back edge of the pitcher's plate, which ordinarily commits the pitcher to delivering the ball to the batter and prohibits the pitcher from disengaging or stepping off the rubber without making such a delivery.

However, all three rulesets again agree: a pitcher may swing the leg and free foot behind the back edge of the rubber "when feinting or throwing to second base in an attempt to put out a runner."

Because a runner occupied second base at the start of this play, Schoch was within his right as a pitcher in contact with the rubber to fake a throw to second before stepping off and throwing to third base, meaning this play and this pickoff move, with a runner on second base, was legal, in a reminder that just because something may look weird or unusual doesn't mean it is a violation of the rules.

Video as follows:

Alternate Link: Review of Future Schoch - Great Pickoff Move or Untimely Pitcher's Balk? (CCS)


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