What is the Penalty for a Balk in Baseball?


Baseball is an exciting sport to both play and watch, but it is a sport that has a lot of rules to remember. The balk rule is one of those rules where fans are aware it exists, but it doesn’t get called very often so it’s not a well-known rule. It’s easy to wonder about specific aspects of the balk rule, like knowing the penalty for a balk. What is the penalty for a balk in baseball?

Left Handed Baseball Pitcher

In baseball, the penalty for a balk is the play is ruled a dead ball and each base runner is allowed to advance one base. However, a balk is a delayed dead ball and the penalty can be ignored if the batter safely reaches first base.

Depending on the situation, there are some caveats to the penalty for a balk. For the rest of this article, we’ll look at what the MLB defines as the penalty for a balk and go over some situations where a balk penalty is enforced or not enforced.

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.

How the MLB Defines the Penalty for a Balk

While different baseball leagues can have different rules around the same set of actions, most people look towards the MLB’s rules as the best definition. According to the official MLB Rules, the penalty for a balk is:

The ball is dead, and each runner shall advance one base without liability to be put out, unless the batter reaches first on a hit, an error, a base on balls, a hit batter, or otherwise, and all other runners advance at least one base, in which case the play proceeds without reference to the balk.

– MLB Rulebook

Based on this definition, let’s look at what happens when a balk is called in baseball.

What Happens When a Balk is Called in Baseball?

To determine what happens during a balk call, umpires need to look at one thing – the result of the play.

When a balk is called, there is a delayed dead ball. If the batter safely reaches first base and all other runners safely advance one base, the dead ball is waived and the play stands. Otherwise, the ball is dead from when the pitcher balked and all base runners advance one base.

This means the batter gets one free swing at the pitch. However, there are 13 ways to balk in baseball and not all of these ways require a pitcher to deliver a pitch. So while a balk almost never results in a batter swinging, it has happened on occasion – mainly when a pitcher quick-pitches the batter.

Let’s look at each of these balk results a little more closely.

Runners Advance One Free Base on a Balk

The most common result of a balk call is that all base runners advance one free base. In fact, base runners advancing one base because of a balk is so common that most people only know about this result.

It’s also possible for runners to score on a balk call. In fact, it’s even possible for a game to end on a balk. Read more about what is a walk-off balk in baseball.

As it so happens, there is a caveat to this rule of advancing one base. According to the official MLB rules, “In cases where a pitcher balks and throws wild, either to a base or to home plate, a runner or runners may advance beyond the base to which he is entitled at his own risk.”

So when a pitcher makes a bad throw during a balk, runners are allowed one free base, but they can try to advance an additional base if they wish. If the runner gets thrown out at that additional base, they are out.

In addition to that caveat, there is one more caveat to a runner trying to advance one additional base. According to the MLB rules, “A runner who misses the first base to which he is advancing and who is called out on appeal shall be considered as having advanced one base for the purpose of this rule” (which is referring to the balk rule).

So in the scenario where a player tries advancing one more base during a balk call, they can be out on appeal if they end up missing a base.

To put these 2 caveats together in an example, imagine there’s a runner on first base and the pitcher balks, but that pitcher also makes a bad throw to first base. The following things are true:

  • The runner is entitled to advance to second base without worrying about being thrown out
  • The runner is allowed to advance to third base at their own risk
  • If the runner advances to third base and doesn’t touch second base, the defense can appeal the play by throwing to second base and retiring the runner.

Penalties for a Balk Can Be Ignored if the Batter Safely Reaches First Base

Balks can be thought of as a free play for the offense. If the play goes in the favor of the offense, the play stands. If the play goes in favor of the defense, the play is reversed and all base runners get to advance one free base. When can the play stand on a balk?

As a general rule, there will be no penalty for a balk when the batter safely reaches first base and all other base runners safely advance one base. When both of these scenarios are true, the penalty for a balk is waived and the play will continue as though the balk had never occurred.

The MLB rulebook specifically lists out that the penalty will be waived during a hit, error, base on balls, and a hit batter as ways a batter can safely reach first base. But the rulebook also lists out “otherwise” as another way batters can safely reach first base.

This just means that as long as a batter safely reaches first base, the penalty for a balk can be waived. The method the batter used to safely reach first base doesn’t matter.

Can You Hit a Homerun on a Balk?

When umpires are looking at how to call a balk, they need to know what the result of the play is. If a batter can swing at a balk pitch, can a batter also get a home run on a balk?

It is possible for a batter to hit a home run on a balk. When a balk is called, there is a delayed dead ball and the result of the play determines how the umpire will enforce the balk. If a player safely reaches first base on a balk because of a home run, the home run will stand.

However, if a player were to hit a home run on a balk and they forgot to touch one of the bases, the defense is allowed to appeal the play. If the defense wins the appeal, the home run will be taken away and the batter will be out.

Hitting a home run on a balk is a rare feat, but Kolten Wong did just that on September 8, 2016, against the Milwaukee Brewers. Watch the video of that balk home run on mlb.com.

Can a Pitcher Balk With No Runners On?

When thinking about the penalty for a balk, most people associate the penalty for a balk with all base runners advancing one base. But what happens when there are no runners on base? Can a pitcher balk with no runners on?

The balk rule exists to prevent the pitcher from deceiving the base runner so technically, pitchers can’t balk while no runners are on base. However, if a pitcher performs one of the illegal actions associated with a balk, a ball will be called when there are no runners on base.

In the MLB rulebook, there are two comments and one rule that directly addresses balking with no runners on base.

  • Rule 6.02(b):If the pitcher makes an illegal pitch with the bases unoccupied, it shall be called a ball unless the batter reaches first base on a hit, an error, a base on balls, a hit batter or otherwise.
  • Rule 6.02(b) Comment:A ball which slips out of a pitcher’s hand and crosses the foul line shall be called a ball; otherwise it will be called no pitch. This would be a balk with men on base

Rule 5.07(a)(2) Comment:With no runners on base, the pitcher is not required to come to a complete stop when using the Set Position. If, however, in the umpire’s judgment, a pitcher delivers the ball in a deliberate effort to catch the batter off guard, this delivery shall be deemed a quick pitch, for which the penalty is a ball.

Steve Nelson

I'm the owner of Baseball Training World. I live in Denver, Colorado and I enjoy playing baseball on two different adult baseball teams in the surrounding area.

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