A balk in baseball is an integral part of the game but also one of the most misunderstood rules. Although there are specific rules associated with what actually constitutes a balk, it ends up being a judgment call on the part of the umpire when making the call.
The rule, in general, was created to stop a pitcher from intentionally deceiving a hitter or runner in order to create an advantage. There are many things that constitute a balk. They can range from a flinch or body movement, an illegal pick-off attempt or the pitcher just dropping the baseball after becoming set. In this article, we’ll cover some of the general guidelines of the rule so that coaches can work with their pitchers to understand what they can and cannot do.
As you will see in the breakdown of balk rule in the link below, there are four primary areas in which a balk can occur. It can happen during the Pre-Pitch, which can be any time the pitcher has not prepared to throw a pitch to the plate and has not yet started to get to the set position.
It can also occur during the Getting Set position when the pitcher has the ball, gets on the rubber and brings himself to the set position before taking their next action.
There are also specific actions related to the pitcher committing a balk when there are runners on base and Pickoffs are attempted. These are usually the more commonly called balks and most umpires are able to easily determine when a pitcher has committed a balk during the process of a pickoff attempt.
And finally, there is the potential for a balk during the pitcher’s Delivery to the plate. This is another area where it can become fairly obvious that a balk has been committed.
So let’s take a closer look at each of these four areas and review some of the general rules for the balk rule in each of them.
One thing that most people don’t realize, and something that isn’t really called much by an umpire, is that the pitcher should not come in contact with the rubber without having the ball in his possession. The rules state that doing so constitutes a balk. Pitchers are also not allowed to straddle the rubber without the ball in their possession with the intent to deceive a base runner. This is a judgment call for the umpire.
Also, once the pitcher is touching the rubber, should the ball fall out of his hand, whether intentionally or unintentionally, a balk should be called.
There are a variety of things that can constitute a balk when the pitcher is in the process of getting set. One of the most obvious is that they need to come to a complete stop with runners on base before delivering the pitch. They also are not allowed to remove their hand from the baseball once they get to the set position. Both of those will constitute a balk.
A pitcher is also not allowed to move their pivot foot forward off of the rubber and cannot use any part of their body other than the head to make a fake motion.
For pickoff moves, deception on the pitcher’s part can fool base runners and is a big reason why these are called most often. A pitcher will need to step in the direction of the base they are throwing to with their non-pivot foot, cannot fake or throw to an unoccupied base unless making a play, or fake a throw to one occupied base and throw to another without removing their foot from the rubber. In each of these cases and others, a balk can be called.
During the delivery process, there are several common balk rules that apply. The pitcher is not allowed to begin the pitching motion and then stop. They are not allowed to make an illegal pitch, such as a quick pitch. The cannot fake toward home and are also not allowed to deliver the ball to the plate without facing the batter.
So these are just some of the general parameters that coaches and players should be aware related to the balk rule. It would also to be helpful for you to look deeper into the rules and understand if the balk rules are any different based on the league and age bracket for your team.