In one of my recent baseball games, we faced a pitcher who balked 3 times in one inning. The interesting thing was that he ended up balking 3 different ways. So that got me thinking about all the ways a pitcher can balk and wondering just how many different ways it’s possible for a pitcher to balk. I decided to find out – how many ways can a pitcher balk in baseball?
There are 14 ways a pitcher can balk in baseball. The official rules of the MLB list 13 ways a pitcher can balk, but a 14th balk rule was added at the beginning of the 2023 MLB season.
The ways a pitcher can balk range from the way they come to their set position and all the way through how they deliver the pitch. Keep reading to learn about all the ways the baseball balk rule can be applied to pitchers.
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.
Ways a Pitcher Can Balk in Baseball
The balk rules listed below are what you’d find if you visit section 6.02(a) of the official MLB Rules:
- The pitcher, while touching his plate, makes any motion naturally associated with his pitch and fails to make such delivery
- The pitcher, while touching his plate, feints a throw to first or third base and fails to complete the throw
- The pitcher, while touching his plate, fails to step directly toward a base before throwing to that base
- The pitcher, while touching his plate, throws, or feints a throw to an unoccupied base, except for the purpose of making a play
- The pitcher makes an illegal pitch
- The pitcher delivers the ball to the batter while he is not facing the batter
- The pitcher makes any motion naturally associated with his pitch while he is not touching the pitcher’s plate
- The pitcher unnecessarily delays the game
- The pitcher, without having the ball, stands on or astride the pitcher’s plate or while off the plate, he feints a pitch
- The pitcher, after coming to a legal pitching position, removes one hand from the ball other than in an actual pitch, or in throwing to a base
- The pitcher, while touching his plate, accidentally or intentionally has the ball slip or fall out of his hand or glove
- The pitcher, while giving an intentional base on balls, pitches when the catcher is not in the catcher’s box
- The pitcher delivers the pitch from Set Position without coming to a stop
Interested in always having easy access to the rules of baseball? Check out this pocket-sized Official Rules of Baseball book on Amazon.
The 14th Way A Pitcher Can Balk
Beginning with the 2023 season, the MLB added one additional way a pitcher can balk – by attempting too many pickoffs.
A pickoff is a type of disengagement from the pitching rubber and beginning with the 2023 season, pitchers are only allowed to disengage from the rubber two times.
Disengaging from the rubber can occur when:
- The pitcher makes a pickoff attempt
- The defense requests time
- The pitcher steps off the pitching rubber for any reason
If a pitcher disengages from the rubber for a third time, he is charged with a balk unless the base runner advances or the defense records an out.
Examples of Balks
The main reason for the balk rule is to limit the pitchers’ ability to deceive the runner.
Whenever umpires are in doubt, they should gauge whether or not the pitcher was trying to deceive the runner. If it has been determined that the pitcher was attempting to deceive the runner, then the play is ruled a balk.
One of the most common reasons people will see a balk is when the pitcher does not come to a set position.
Most coaches will teach their pitchers to stay in their set position for at least one second before pitching. Following this general rule will help prevent pitchers from violating the 13th balk rule mentioned in the list above.
Another common example of a balked call is when a pitcher accidentally flinches while touching the rubber. A pitcher flinching is considered a deceptive move and will immediately be called a balk by any umpire.
Along those same lines, if a pitcher steps off the rubber with his throwing foot (left foot for right-handers and right foot for left-handers) it will be considered a deceptive move and be called a balk.
These deceptive moves violate balk rule #1 from the list above, which states a pitcher must not fail to deliver the ball if he makes any move associated with his throw.
Throwing the ball to an unoccupied base is another great example of a balk. If a pitcher throws to an unoccupied base, this is considered an unnecessary delay and violates the 8th rule outlined above.
For example, if there is a runner on first base, a pitcher is not able to make a throw to third base when there is no runner on third.
The final example we will cover is when the catcher is not in the catcher’s box.
The rules around a catcher’s box are not very well known to most novice and experienced baseball players. Most people will see baseball fields have this catcher’s box painted behind home plate, but a lot of times this box can get erased during the course of a game.
If a catcher is set up outside of the catcher’s box when the ball is pitched, a balk is called and runners are awarded one base.
Once you’re familiar with the different rules around balks, it gets easier to understand what is a balk and why it is a balk.
Interested in learning more about the different types of balks? Check out this Balk Rules video from mikescottbaseball.
What happens when a pitcher balks?
When a pitcher balks with runners on base, the umpire will call a balk and all runners advance one base.
If the batter is able to make it to first on a hit, error, walk, or hit by a pitch and all other runners can proceed at least one base, then the play will proceed as if the balk never happened.
This means if a pitcher is called for a balk and is still able to deliver the pitch to home, the batter can swing and attempt to get on base with a hit. If the batter swings and misses or hits into an out, the play is called a “no-pitch” and the batter is able to hit again.
If a pitcher balks with no runners on base, a ball is called and the play is dead.
Is a balk an error on the pitcher?
Although it may seem like a balk can be called an error, or at least a mental error, a balk typically results in a dead ball and no errors are awarded to any player. The only penalty for a balk is that players are awarded a base (if there are runners) or a ball is called (if there are no runners).
Can you balk from the windup?
Another question you may be wondering is “Can you balk from the windup?” Although it is not very common, pitchers are able to balk from the windup.
All of the balk rules are still in effect for pitchers when starting from the windup. If a pitcher starts his pitching motion from the windup and decides he does not want to finish his pitch, it is ruled a balk. If a pitcher is standing on the rubber and accidentally drops the ball, this is also ruled a balk.
The difference between balking in the windup and balking while in the stretch usually results from runners being on base.
Typically, pitchers will pitch from the windup because there are no runners on base and they will pitch from the stretch if there are runners on base. If a pitcher balks with no runners on (typically from the windup), a ball is called. If a pitcher balks with runners on (typically from the stretch), the runners are awarded the next base.
Why would a pitcher intentionally balk?
Balks are already a pretty rare incident in baseball, but is there a time and place for a pitcher to intentionally balk? It turns out, there is!
Kenley Jansen intentionally balked while pitching against the Cubs in the 2019 season.
The situation was that the Dodgers were up by two runs, there were two outs in the inning, and one runner was on second base. Kenley Jansen was concerned about the runner on second base (Jason Heyward) stealing signs, so he intentionally balked in order to move the runner from second base to third base. With the runner on third base, the chances of the runner stealing pitching signs are greatly reduced.
If you’re interested in seeing this intentional balk in action, check out this video where Jomboy Media does a great job at breaking down the play.