Or does he? Quite a number of baseball people think he balks nearly every time he throws to first. No doubt, you saw or heard about his pickoff of Bryce Harper in Game 5 of the Dodgers’ division series against the Nationals:
That’s a balk. Quoting Harold Reynolds from that clip: “I’m sorry, but that foot is crossing the plane, and once it crosses the plane, it’s a balk.”
You might not agree with Harold on much, but he’s right about this. MLB rules state this quite explicitly:
Rule 6.02(a )(1) Comment (Rule 8.05(a) Comment): If a lefthanded or right-handed pitcher swings his free foot past the back edge of the pitcher’s rubber, he is required to pitch to the batter except to throw to second base on a pick-off play.
And so, when Urias does this, he’s balking. Every time. Further:
Rule 6.02(a )(3) Comment (Rule 8.05(c) Comment): Requires the pitcher, while touching his plate, to step directly toward a base before throwing to that base. If a pitcher turns or spins off of his free foot without actually stepping or if he turns his body and throws before stepping, it is a balk.
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. It is a balk if, with runners on first and third, the pitcher steps toward third and does not throw, merely to bluff the runner back to third; then seeing the runner on first start for second, turn and step toward and throw to first base. It is legal for a pitcher to feint a throw to second base.
Let’s make it even more clear after those rulebook quotes: Urias is balking. Don’t believe me? Take it from Joe Maddon:
Reporter: "Julio Arias has displayed a pretty effective pick-off move. … Some have said it's very close to a balk."
He smiled, having planted the seed. And Maddon wasn't finished, holding nothing back in referring to Urias' move as "Balking 101.'' Maddon might as well have announced: Attention, Game 4 umpires.
"When you get to see it on TV, it's not even close,'' Maddon said. "I'm certain that the umpiring crew has been made aware of it.''
Gauntlet, thrown. I’m certain that Maddon is correct, that umpires have likely been asked to take a closer look at this move and call it by the book.
Let’s hope so. Of course, that assumes the Cubs will get their offense going in Game 4 and actually have baserunners.