It’s no surprise that the art of deception has always been part of a pitcher’s strategy; it’s even apparent in the many different baseball pitches that aim to trick the hitter. However, too much deceptiveness is never good for a game as it could lead to a breach of the rules.
One illegal move that even pro pitchers are sometimes susceptible to is the balk. You’ve probably heard this term a couple of times while watching a baseball game.
A balk in baseball most likely happened out of carelessness or unawareness of the rules if you’re watching an amateur competition. But if you’re watching the pros, a balk may be a strategic and intentional move by the pitcher – more information on this later.
However, one thing is for sure: whether you’re an experienced pitcher or a complete beginner, it’s easy to slip up and balk, especially if you haven’t memorized the rules like the back of your hand.
But first of all, what exactly is a balk, and how can you possibly prevent it from ruining your game? Read on below to find out more information.
What Exactly Is A Balk In Baseball?
A balk is an illegal motion executed by the pitcher with a runner on base. If the umpire considers the pitcher’s move as deceitful to the runners or defiance of the rules in the book, all runners in the game get to advance one base.
However, as you might have expected, the rules around the balk are far more complicated than this simple explanation. If you look at section 6 of the 2019 MLB rule book, you’ll find 13 ways on how a pitcher could balk. Did you know that even the act of flinching during the pitch can be grounds for a balk?
You can find out more information on this topic down below. But first, let’s briefly find out the origin of the balk and why the rule-makers had to use it.
The Origin Of The Balk In Baseball
Imagine a baseball game where pitchers had total freedom to play around with the pitches that they throw. As anyone would expect, pitchers would use this advantage to trick and deceive the baserunners on purpose. As a result, creating the rules for balk happened in 1898 to control deceptive moves from happening in-game.
So, in a nutshell, the balk rule exists to balance out the runners’ attempts to steal bases while also preventing the defense from retiring the runners. But what are the ways a balk can happen in baseball anyway? Continue reading to find out.
How Many Ways Can You Balk In Baseball?
As mentioned above, the official MLB rule book states 13 ways that a pitcher can balk. Here’s a quick overview of what those rules look like:
A balk is charged to the pitcher if he does any of the following:
- The pitcher starts his pitching motion without completing the pitch;
- Fakes a throw to first base;
- While standing on the rubber, throws to a base without stepping directly toward that base;
- While standing on the rubber, the pitcher throws or fakes a throw to an unoccupied base, unless a runner is running toward that base;
- Makes an illegal pitch, including a quick pitch;
- Pitches while not facing the batter;
- Makes any part of his pitching motion while not touching the pitching rubber;
- Unnecessarily delays the game;
- Stands on or astride the pitching rubber without the ball;
- After assuming the windup or set position, removes one hand from the ball except in the course of making a pitch or throw to a base;
- Drops the ball while standing on the pitching rubber;
- Pitches while the catcher is not in the catcher’s box;
- The pitcher pitches from the set position without coming to a complete stop
As you can see, most of the rules are pretty meticulous about body movements and position. For an experienced pitcher, these rules may come as second nature and, therefore, aren’t that hard to follow.
But for those who are just starting, it is best to read the rule book twice over or more to prevent yourself from committing a silly mistake.
Some of the most common examples of balk we’ve observed are flinching while touching the rubber or if a pitcher steps off the rubber with his throwing foot.
Another common scenario is when a ball is thrown to an unoccupied base. Each of these examples defies one or more of the 13 rules written in the rule book. For a more detailed look at the list, we suggest visiting the official MLB website.
What Happens When A Pitcher Balks?
First of all, a balk occurs with runners on base. If an umpire deems a pitch as deceptive, he will call a balk, and then any of the following can happen:
If the hitter was able to make it to first base on a hit, error, or walk, all the other runners get to advance one base, and the game will carry on as if the balk had never happened.
On the other hand, if the batter swings and misses, the play is considered a “no-pitch,” giving them another opportunity to hit again.
The Intentional Balk
An intentional balk is a rarity in baseball games, but unsurprisingly, even a balk can be a strategic move to gain a competitive advantage. And when it comes to deliberately balking as part of a game strategy, baseball fans have one pitcher in mind: Kenley Jansen.
In summary, Jansen’s balk in his game against the Cubs significantly prevented the opposing team from gaining a tactical advantage over his team. That event is an excellent example of how a balk can be a good thing, even if it comes across as making an amateur baseball mistake.
In Conclusion: How To Avoid A Balk?
Let’s recap. A balk in baseball is an illegal move made by the pitcher that aims to deceive the runners. There are 13 rules related to balk in the MLB rule book, primarily focusing on a pitcher’s body movements and positioning during a pitch.
Although getting charged a balk is almost always a bad thing, it can be part of an intelligent strategy depending on who your opponents are.