Most players, coaches, and fans know that a penalty for a balk in baseball is the runner getting to advance one base, but because it is uncommon to see a balk, a lot of people have questions about what is a balk. Sometimes, it’s just easier to understand something by going over some real-world examples. 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).
The MLB rulebook actually states there are 13 ways to balk in baseball, but a lot of those ways a pitcher can balk never occur during a game. For the rest of this article, we’ll only review the most common scenarios where a balk is called on a pitcher as well as referencing the official MLB Rulebook to explain why each scenario is a balk.
This article explains one small part about what constitutes a balk in baseball. Learn more about what is a balk by reading The Balk Rule in Baseball: A Complete Overview.
1) Pitcher Flinches
Pitchers who flinch while touching the pitching rubber are called for a balk. A flinch is considered to be part of a pitcher’s natural delivery. So if a pitcher flinches, umpires are trained to interpret that slight movement as having begun their delivery of a pitch, but failing to actually deliver the pitch.
Flinching violates MLB rule 6.02(a)(1): “The pitcher, while touching his plate, makes any motion naturally associated with his pitch and fails to make such delivery”
The most common way you’ll see a pitcher flinch for a balk is while they are in the stretch position because the stretch position is used by pitchers to prevent runners from getting easy stolen bases.
Flinching can also be difficult to catch because the movement of a flinch is a slight movement. Below are a few examples of MLB pitchers balking because they flinched.
2) Not Coming to a Set Position (Quick-Pitch)
Although these two scenarios are very similar, the MLB balk rules actually differentiate between not coming to a set position and a quick pitch. So, depending on the circumstances, a balk could be called on the pitcher not coming set or on the pitcher delivering a pitch before the batter is reasonably ready (quick-pitch).
There are two MLB rules that explain a pitcher balking because they pitched too quickly:
- Rule 6.02(a)(5): “The pitcher makes an illegal pitch”
- Rule 6.02(a)(5) Comment: “A quick pitch is an illegal pitch. Umpires will judge a quick pitch as one delivered before the batter is reasonably set in the batter’s box. With runners on base the penalty is a balk; with no runners on base, it is a ball. The quick pitch is dangerous and should not be permitted.”
- Rule 6.02(a)(13): “The pitcher delivers the pitch from Set Position without coming to a stop.”
Both of these scenarios are so similar that many baseball players are not aware there is a distinction between a quick pitch and not coming to a stop while in the stretch position.
Here are some examples of pitchers balking because they pitched too quickly.
3) Faking a Pickoff to Third Base
Prior to the 2013 MLB season, it was only illegal to fake a throw to first base. It was legal to fake a throw to third base, which meant that pitchers would sometimes fake a throw to third base, then turn around and try to throw out the runner who was on first base.
A lot of players, managers, and fans thought this was an illegal move because the pitcher was clearly trying to deceive the runner on first base. So faking a pickoff attempt to third base became an illegal move for a pitcher at the beginning of the 2013 season.
Faking a throw to first or third base violates Rule 6.02(a)(2): “The pitcher, while touching his plate, feints a throw to first or third base and fails to complete the throw.”
However, a lot of pitchers grew up with the ability to fake a throw to third base. In fact, faking a throw to third base is still a legal move for a lot of high school players today. So, some MLB pitchers make the mental mistake of faking a throw to third base or first base. Read more about when pitchers can fake a pickoff attempt.
Below are a few examples of pitchers balking by faking a throw to third:
4) Pitcher Slips While Delivering a Pitch
Accidents happen, even for professional pitchers. On occasion, a pitcher will stumble during their delivery and a balk will be called. Sometimes the pitcher is simply off-balance whereas other times their plant foot slips on the pitching rubber.
When a pitcher stumbles during the delivery, they violate Rule 6.02(a)(1): “The pitcher, while touching his plate, makes any motion naturally associated with his pitch and fails to make such delivery.”
Here is an example of that happening during an MLB game.
5) Pitcher Does Not Step Toward the Base They Are Throwing
During a pickoff attempt, pitchers want to release the ball from their hand as quickly as possible, but sometimes they fail to step towards the base they are throwing to. Whenever this happens, a balk is called on the pitcher.
Failing to step towards the base during a pickoff attempt violates rule 6.02(a)(3): “The pitcher, while touching his plate, fails to step directly toward a base before throwing to that base.”
Below is an example of this scenario being called in an MLB game. In this clip, the pitcher steps too far towards home instead of stepping towards first base.
6) Pitcher Begins Their Windup, But Never Delivers the Pitch
Similar to the scenarios above of a pitcher flinching or a pitcher slipping while delivering a pitch, whenever a pitcher begins their windup, they must deliver the pitch. If the pitcher never delivers the ball after beginning their windup, a balk is called.
Not delivering a pitch violates Rule 6.02(a)(1): “The pitcher, while touching his plate, makes any motion naturally associated with his pitch and fails to make such delivery.”
In the scenario below, a runner took off early. This led to the pitcher stopping their pitching delivery halfway through.
7) Ball Falls Out of the Pitcher’s Hand While Standing on the Pitching Rubber
A lot of balks can be considered mental errors, but having the ball slip out of your hand is one of the top mental errors a pitcher can make.
The ball slipping out of the pitcher’s glove violates rule 6.02(a)(11): “The pitcher, while touching his plate, accidentally or intentionally has the ball slip or fall out of his hand or glove”
Below is a quick example of this happening during an MLB game. This balk happened so quickly that you won’t initially see the balk in this video and you’ll need to see the replay of it at around the 20-second mark.
8) Free Foot Move Past the Back Edge of the Pitching Rubber
This type of balk is more common in youth baseball leagues. Whenever a pitcher’s free foot moves past the back edge of the pitching rubber, they must deliver the pitch. This rule does not include a pitcher’s knee, only the pitcher’s foot.
When a pitcher’s foot moves past the back edge of the pitching rubber and they fail to deliver a pitch, they are violating rule 6.02(a)(1). In fact, this rule is specifically addressed in the comments section of rule 6.02(a)(1): “If a left-handed or right-handed pitcher swings his free foot past the back edge of the pitcher’s rubber, he is required to pitch to the batter except to throw to second base on a pick-off play.”