This article answers the question “What is a Balk?” and describes how to recognize when it happens.
What is a Balk?
In the simplest sense, a balk is when the pitcher tries to intentionally deceive the hitter or runner. It can be a flinch on the mound after the pitcher gets set, a deceptive pick off attempt, or even just as simple as dropping the ball once you become set. There are many actions that can result in a balk. When runners are on base and a balk is called, all the runners move up one base.
Since the umpire can’t read the pitcher’s mind, certain movements are considered deceptive and will be called a balk.
Balk or Pick off Move for Left Handed Pitchers
Here is the rule for a pick off move for a lefty pitcher. If the pitcher does not follow this rule, then it is called a balk.
First, when the pitcher starts his motion and his right foot crosses his left knee, the pitcher has to throw home.
If he tries coming to first he will be called for a balk. Some pitchers will cross over their right knee but not cross their right foot, this can sometimes confuse a base runner, and he can pick over to first base without a balk being called.
- A pitcher must get to a set position, where he comes to a complete stop after he gets the sign but before he starts his motion home.
- A pitchers right foot must go in the general direction he is throwing (see diagram).
- Umpires that I’ve spoken to put it this way (it’s not an official rule, but it’s a helpful guideline to understand what an umpire considers “deceptive”) An imaginary 45 degree line goes from the pitching rubber to in between home plate and 1st base.
- If you are pitching the ball home you must land your right foot on the home plate side of this imaginary line.
- If you are throwing over to 1st base your right foot must land on the 1st base side of this imaginary line.
- This rule prevents a pitcher from intending to pitch the ball home, being surprised by a runner stealing 2nd base, and out of desperation flicking the ball over to 1st base while your feet are in position to throw towards home plate.
Balk or Pick off Move for Right Handed Pitchers
- The pitcher must come set by coming to a complete stop before he throws a pitch home.
- Once the pitcher is set he can’t move his shoulders or move around unless you step off the back of the rubber.
- Once you start your motion you must complete it, if you stop a balk will be called.
- If the ball purposefully or not purposefully falls to the ground when the pitcher gets set, a balk will be called.
- Any form of deception that isn’t a straight forward pitch or pick off attempt will result in a balk.
- If you turn and make a pick off attempt to first base and do not throw the baseball without stepping off, a balk will be called.
For a full explanation of “what is a balk” from the official rule book, check out MLB’s official rules for pitchers, #8.05