What is a balk? The 2022 Balk-Off

Toronto Blue Jays v Minnesota Twins

The date is June 15th, 2015 and the Rangers and Dodgers are tied in the bottom of the ninth. Rangers pitcher Keone Kela is pitching with Dodgers 2B Enrique Hernandez on 3rd and two outs. Keone comes set and twitches; the ump calls time and awards Hernandez home plate and the game ends. For many casual observers, what has just transpired is a mystery. How did that happen? Well the answer is a rule buried deep in baseball's vast rulebook. A rule known as a balk.

What is a balk?

According to the Major League Baseball rule book, "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." Essentially when a pitcher begins a pitch, he must come "set" or stop moving. When a pitcher comes set, he can either step off the pitching rubber and throw the ball to a baseman for a pick-off, or he can move forward and throw the ball towards the batter. If at any time a pitcher stops or alters his pitching motion after moving forward, it is a balk.

What is the penalty for a balk?

As previously mentioned, if a pitcher balks the runner is awarded a free base. If there are multiple runners on, they all advance one base. Another caveat to this rule is that if the pitch is thrown, then the pitch is considered a dead ball and does not count against the batter.

Why is balking illegal?

Balking is an illegal move for a multitude of reasons. For one, it can confuse the runners on base who may be attempting to steal a base or avoid a pick off play. Another is that it can throw off a batter's timing if they are unsure if the pitcher is actually going to throw the ball. Finally, if a pitcher were allowed to false start on the mound, it may lead to issues with pace of play and cause baseball games to be unnecessarily long. For the good of baseball, balking is illegal.

What are the common types of balks?

There are eight common balk types that right handed pitchers should know about before pitching

  1. A pitcher cannot stop during their pitching motion
  2. A pitcher cannot fake a throw to first base
  3. While on the rubber, a pitcher cannot throw to a base without stepping towards it
  4. A pitcher cannot throw or fake a throw to an unoccupied base
  5. A pitcher must come fully set, or pause, during their stretch
  6. A pitcher cannot pitch while failing to face the batter
  7. A pitcher cannot start their motion while not on the rubber
  8. A pitcher cannot separate their hands in the set position

What are the differences for left-handed pitchers?

Now balk rules differ for left handed pitchers in one big way. On a pick off throw to first, they must step towards first base. If a pitcher makes any sort of forward move towards the plate on a pick-off, that is considered a balk and the runner will be awarded the next base.

What are some tips to avoid balks?

  • If you make any motion towards a base, throw towards that base
  • Never make a pitching motion without the ball
  • Never add any extra body movements after coming set
  • Always pause for a moment when you come set
  • If you move towards the plate, you must throw the ball

Follow these tips and any pitcher should avoid committing a balk.

Game Ending Balk in MLB 2022

Friday, July 8th 2022, a "balk off" occurred, a game ending balk call by the umpire. The Tampa Bay Pitcher wiggled his glove seemingly to ask for the sign again but he was still on the rubber. If he stepped off while wiggling his glove, it is not a balk.

With runners on the corners and one out in the bottom of the 10th, home plate umpire Edwin Moscoso called a balk on Rays pitcher Matt Wisler. And the Cincinnati Reds win.