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What is a Balk in Baseball?

What is a Balk in Baseball?

Have you ever been to a baseball game during which the pitcher was called for a balk? If so, you probably saw the pitcher visibly upset — pitchers notoriously hate being called for a balk. A balk is a big deal in baseball, but it's also confusing: the rules governing the balk are very specific. We're breaking down exactly what a balk is and isn't, so you'll have no questions left about this part of the game we all love.

A Balk, Defined

The pitcher balks when he makes an illegal throw or motion intended to deceive the baserunner or hitter. It's up to the homeplate umpire or the field umpire to call a balk, and the call is almost always controversial. No pitcher ever intends to make this mistake. 

The balk can occur in more than 10 ways in baseball, but let's talk about the most common ways they happen. First, some basic knowledge is required.

The Set Position's Relationship to the Balk

The Set Position: pitchers throw from either the wind-up (when runners are on base) or the set position (when no runners are on base). The set position is when the pitcher's body is perpendicular to the pitching rubber, forming a T with it. In this position, the pitcher is required to bring his hands together and come to a full stop before delivering the ball to home plate. If they bring their hands together but don’t stop before throwing the ball, that's considered a balk.

Pitchers may, however, pick off runners on bases without stopping before throwing. The rule about set position applies only to a pitch to home plate.

The Pitcher's Mound or Rubber

Umpires often call balks related to the pitcher's mound. A pitcher isn't allowed to stand on the mound on the rubber if they don’t have the ball. This rule is to prevent the hidden ball trick - when an infielder hides the ball in their glove, hoping to lure an unsuspecting baserunner away from safety and tag them. If the pitcher isn't allowed to stand on the mound unless they have the ball, the runners will know someone else must have it.

Umpires call the most balks on pitchers when they are trying to pick off baserunners. The rules state that when a pitcher is attempting to get a runner out by throwing to a base, they must take a step toward that base before they throw. They may not throw from the set position. Pitchers also may not throw to unoccupied bases, with the exception of first. Sometimes, pitchers "fake throw," as the word "balk" suggests, and first base is the only base they cannot fake a throw to without stepping off the rubber first.

A Surfeit of Surefire Ways to be Called for a Balk

Dropping the ball, which pitchers have been known to do as they move the ball behind their backs, is also considered a balk. Not touching the rubber is yet another type of balk. The pitcher's rear foot must be against the rubber when the pitching motion begins. A variety of illegal pitches are also considered and are ruled as balks.

The pitcher deceiving a batter or runner is the basis of the balk rule, and many heated on-field arguments have begun with an umpire's call of a balk. When an umpire calls a balk on a pitcher, the runners on base get to advance one base each. 

Headbanger Sports has Everything You Need

Now that your balk education is complete, join us at Headbanger Sports for all your baseball and softball needs. We have all the bats, gear, and custom apparel you and your team need for every season, so let us help you today.

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