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Baseball is a highly competitive sport, and there are many ways both teams can try to cheat their way to victory and many rules to limit cheating. One such way to cheat is the balk, one of baseball’s most complex rules. Let us know about the balk rule in baseball and MLB’s 13 ways to balk in baseball also the reasons behind the rule in this article.
A balk occurs when the pitcher does something on the mound that the umpire thinks is deceitful to the opponents. In case of a balk, runners move to the next base, and the pitch (if thrown) is treated as a dead ball. Several illegal actions can make the umpire call the balk, for example, flinching, dropping the ball, or not pitching when they show an intention to throw the ball. The rules are strict but helpful because they protect the basemen from deceitful motions.
We will look at
- MLB’s 13 ways to balk in baseball
- The balk penalty
- Reasons behind the rule
MLB’s 13 ways to balk in baseball
Any way the pitcher might try to deceive the basemen or batter noticed by the umpire can be called a balk. Nevertheless, MLB has compiled a list of 13 offenses that can result in a balk:
A balk is called when
- The pitcher does not deliver the pitch despite acting as if they are about to. If the pitcher’s free foot crosses the rubber, they have to pitch to the batter or throw to second base for a pick-off. Examples include flinching, a slip or fall during windup, or a pickoff attempt on first or third base after their free foot crosses the back edge of the pitcher’s rubber.
- The pitcher acts like they are about to throw to first or third base for a pick-off but does not complete the throw. They are, however, allowed to feint a throw to second base.
- The pitcher fails to step toward a base before attempting a pick-off on it. They may not turn or swing toward the base and throw; they must step directly toward the base and throw after the step. For the first or third base, the pitcher must throw the ball to a base they step toward. They may not mime a throw to make the runner return and then step toward – and throw to – a different base. If the pitcher is off the pitcher’s rubber, however, they are just like an infielder who does not have to step toward a base.
- The pitcher throws, or feints a throw, toward an unoccupied base unless it is to make a play. If the umpire thinks the base runner was going to run toward that base, it will be an attempt at a play and not a balk.
- There is an illegal pitch from the pitcher. A quick pitch is illegal because it is dangerous, and it happens when the pitcher throws before the batter is fully ready in the batter’s box. If there are runners on base, the penalty will be a balk. Otherwise, it is considered a ball.
- The pitcher pitches without facing the batter. You are not very likely to see this balk, but it prevents pitchers from pitching behind their backs.
- The pitcher makes a pitching motion without touching the pitcher’s plate.
- The pitcher unnecessarily delays the game. A balk will not be called if the pitcher is given a warning, but if they have already received a warning the balk is called and the pitcher is ejected. There are other rules related to delays in the game as well, and these must be consulted separately. If the pitcher does not pitch within the time limit – while the bases have no runners – the umpire will call a ball.
- The pitcher stands on or astride the pitcher’s plate or feints a pitch while they do not have the ball in their hands.
- The pitcher removes one hand from the ball after getting into a legal pitching position once they get the sign from their catcher until they make a pick-off attempt or a pitch, or step off the pitching rubber.
- The ball falls out of the pitcher’s hand or glove, even if it is unintentional. According to Rule 6.02(b) if there are no runners on the bases when this happens, if the fallen ball crosses the foul line it will be called a ball. Otherwise, it will be considered a no-pitch.
- The catcher is not in the catcher’s box while the pitcher pitches while giving an intentional walk. This rule does not apply much nowadays in leagues like MLB where the defense can allow the batter to take an intentional walk without having to pitch four balls since 2017. The catcher must stand inside the catcher’s box during a pitch.
- The pitcher fails to come to a complete stop while pitching from the set position. It is good to come to a complete stop for at least a second, even though the exact duration is not specified in MLB’s rules.
Disclaimer: The following rules apply to the pitcher ONLY when they are touching their plate. Off the plate, the pitcher is like a fielder. The rules mentioned below refer to the 13 rules in MLB’s Official Baseball Rules, the 2021 Edition. Some rules may differ for right- and left-handed pitchers; I have not included these differences.
The balk penalty in baseball
If a balk is called, all runners on bases advance to the next base freely. The balk would be called off if the batter and all base runners safely reach the next base. The ball is considered dead, and if the batter scores a run on the balk, they do not get credited with an RBI, although the pitcher gets charged with an earned point. If the pitcher also throws badly after a balk, base runners are allowed to advance to further bases at their own risk. However, in trying to cover an additional base if the player fails to touch the balk-sanctioned base, the defense can appeal the play: if they throw the ball to the missed base, the player will be out. If there are no base runners, the balk is treated as a ball.
Reasons behind the balk rule in baseball
The idea behind the balk rule in baseball is to limit, although not prevent, how the pitcher can deceive runners and batters to prevent unfair practices like fake pitches, the hidden ball trick, fake throws, and quick pitching which would give them an unfair advantage. It prevents catchers from moving to an unfair spot and helps distinguish between when a pitcher is to be considered a pitcher, and when they are a pitcher. It also helps batters time pitches and responses better.
Now you know what a balk is, what causes it, the penalty, and the logic behind one of baseball’s rare but complicated fouls!
1. What is a balk-off?
A balk-off is a rare scenario when the game ends on a balk, for example, with a runner on third base in a tied game who gets to cross the home plate due to a balk, and the game ends.
2. Are balks common in baseball?
No, they are rare because the rules help prevent unfair advantages for pitchers; they should be easy to maintain.