Definition. A balk occurs when a pitcher makes an illegal motion on the mound that the umpire deems to be deceitful to the runner(s). As a result, any men on base are awarded the next base, and the pitch (if it was thrown in the first place) is waved off for a dead ball.
What is an example of a balk in baseball? In baseball, the two most common examples of a balk are when a pitcher fails to deliver a pitch after beginning their windup and when a pitcher delivers a pitch without first coming to a set position (sometimes known as a quick-pitch).
Allegedly the most famous balk was called during the 1961 All-Star Game in Candlestick Park. The former home of the San Francisco Giants was notorious because of the gusty winds. According to the legend, Giants pitcher Stu Miller was blown off the mound by a gust of wind and the home plate umpire called a balk.
Why is a balk illegal? The balk rule exists to limit the pitcher’s ability to deceive the batter and any base runners. The balk rule consists of specific actions a pitcher is unable to make and these actions are illegal because they help level the playing field between the pitcher and the offense.
According to the official rules of the MLB, there are 13 ways a pitcher can balk. The ways a pitcher can balk ranges from the way they come to their set position and all the way through how they deliver the ball to home.
The ol’ fake-to-third, throw-to-first pickoff move, a pitcher’s trick that fooled only the most gullible base runners, will now be a balk.
If no runners are on base and the pitcher commits an otherwise balkable action, there generally is no penalty. However, delivering a quick return or pitching while off the rubber (which constitute balks when runners are on base) results in a ball being called with the bases empty.
Balks are rare.
Since 2000, there have only been 100-200 balks per season, which is roughly one every 12 to 24 games (or 648 to 1296 innings pitched) in a full 2430-game season.
To avoid a balk call, be sure that you step toward first base when you throw. You must “disengage from the rubber” before throwing to first base. For RHPs this means you move your back foot [the one touching the rubber] first.
(Under current rules, the only base a pitcher may feint to is second.) Umpires should indicate balks called under Official Baseball Rule 6.02(a)(3) (no step) by slapping the side of their leg after calling the balk. This indicates the balk is for failure to step directly towards a base.
The rules state that a pitcher must step toward the base he throws to. It doesn’t matter if you’re set or not. If you’re on the rubber, that makes you a pitcher and you must step before throwing.
Penalty for a balk: The ball is dead, and each runner shall advance one base without liability to be put out unless the batter reaches first on a hit, an error, a base on balls, a hit batter or otherwise, and all other runners advance at least one base in which case the play proceeds without reference to the balk.
The word is “used in laws, regulations, or directives to express what is mandatory.” In short, a runner can’t decline a balk. And, no, Heyward couldn’t have moved back to second base later in the at-bat.
The pitcher may fake a throw to second or third base from the rubber, but not to first base. This may be done from the windup or the set position. (You do not have to step off the rubber to fake to 2nd or 3rd. Only if you fake to 1st.)
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.
A pitcher can not feint a throw to first base.
One of the more uncommon, but still exciting, ways to end a baseball game is by the pitcher making one costly mistake with a balk. What is a balk off? A “balk-off”, also known as a “walk-off balk”, refers to a baseball team winning a game because of a balk on the pitcher.
With a runner on base and the pitcher in his set position, he must hold the ball with both hands in front of his body and come to a complete stop. If he starts and stops again, that is called a “double set balk.”
8.04 When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call “Ball.”
From the windup position, any natural movement associated with delivering the ball commits the pitcher to pitching the ball in a single, continuous motion. This includes any motion by hand, arm, or legs. Failing to deliver the pitch is a balk (with runners on base).
However, if in the umpire’s judgment, the pitcher has thrown this ball to the shortstop in this case – legally or not, in such a manner that delays the game, then a BALK shall be called on the pitcher and ALL runners advance one base.
It can become monotonous when a pitcher makes throw after throw after throw to first base in a vain attempt to pick off a pesky baserunner. This rule will limit pitchers to just two “step offs” or pickoff attempts per plate appearance.
When a balk is made on a pitch that is a fourth ball it shall be ruled the same as when the batter hits a balk pitch and is safe on a hit or error, provided all runners advance at least one base on the play.