It’s Elusive. It’s Incomprehensible. It’s a Balk.
The balk. People who know me know that is my favorite call in the game of baseball. People who don’t know me? Well, now you know. On a request from my father via the highly praised Facebook chat, I am writing a post about balks.
Balks seem very rare. (Last year there were 77. In 2,430 games.*) Maybe we consider them a rarity because they aren’t over-hyped the way a pick off play is**. Pick offs are Web Gem worthy. They get a highlight clip on MLB.com. Balks? You really only know about a balk if it scores a run…or, if you’re me, and you seek out balk stories.
What we inherently know about the balk:
-Occurs only when runners are on base
-Prompts each base runner to advance one base
-A run scored on a balk is counted as an earned run to the pitcher
-A balk is not an error
-You need super-vision to catch most balks in action
This 2013 season has added a new rule: any pitcher who fakes a pick off throw to third but does not release the ball will be called for a balk (previously only a faked throw to first was included). Also newly added to the balk scenario, if the ball falls/slips from the pitcher’s hand/glove while the pitcher is in contact with the rubber. No idea how many more balks will occur this season because of this new rule, but with already 11 balks through 297 games (as of Tuesday, April 23) we can estimate there will be 90-some balks this year. That comes out to be 1 balk in ever 27 games. NOT ENOUGH in my opinion.
So, I realized that I don’t know as much about my favorite act as I’d like. Also, I was really bored and looking for new reading material. I took to the 2013 Edition of the Official Baseball Rules again to learn about the little nuances. Yes, I know you’re thinking, “Wow! Melissa is just like all females in their early-mid 20s, reading the rule book for fun!” I know, I’m pretty awesome.
There are A LOT references to the same balk-worthy act in the rule book. I’m going to include only the most comprehensive explanations.
7.07 If, with a runner on third base and trying to score by means of a squeeze play or a steal, the catcher or any other fielder steps on, or in front of home base without possession of the ball, or touches the batter or his bat, the pitcher shall be charged with a balk, the batter shall be awarded first base on the interference and the ball is dead.
Rule 8.01(a) Comment: In the Windup Position, a pitcher is permitted to have his “free” foot on the rubber, in front of the rubber, behind the rubber or off the side of the rubber.
From the Windup Position, the pitcher may:
(1) deliver the ball to the batter, or
(2) step and throw to a base in an attempt to pick-off a runner, or
(3) disengage the rubber (if he does he must drop his hand to his sides).
In disengaging the rubber the pitcher must step off with his pivot foot and not his free foot first. He may not go into a set or stretch position—if he does it is a balk.
8.05 If there is a runner, or runners, it is a balk when—
(a) The pitcher, while touching his plate, makes any motion naturally associated with his pitch and fails to make such delivery;
Rule 8.05(a) Comment: If a lefthanded or righthanded 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.
(b) The pitcher, while touching his plate, feints a throw to first or third base and fails to complete the throw;
(c) The pitcher, while touching his plate, fails to step directly toward a base before throwing to that base;
Rule 8.05(c) Comment: Requires the pitcher, while touching his plate, to step directly toward a base before throwing to that base. If a pitcher turns or spins off of his free foot without actually stepping or if he turns his body and throws before stepping, it is a balk. A pitcher is to step directly toward a base before throwing to that base and is required to throw (except to second base) because he steps. It is a balk if, with runners on first and third, the pitcher steps toward third and does not throw, merely to bluff the runner back to third; then seeing the runner on first start for second, turn and step toward and throw to first base. It is legal for a pitcher to feint a throw to second base.
(d) The pitcher, while touching his plate, throws, or feints a throw to an unoccupied base, except for the purpose of making a play;
(e) The pitcher makes an illegal pitch;
Rule 8.05(e) 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.
(f) The pitcher delivers the ball to the batter while he is not facing the batter;
(g) The pitcher makes any motion naturally associated with his pitch while he is not touching the pitcher’s plate;
(h) The pitcher unnecessarily delays the game;
Rule 8.05(h) Comment: Rule 8.05(h) shall not apply when a warning is given pursuant to Rule 8.02(c) (which prohibits intentional delay of a game by throwing to fielders not in an attempt to put a runner out). If a pitcher is ejected pursuant to Rule 8.02(c) for continuing to delay the game, the penalty in Rule 8.05(h) shall also apply. Rule 8.04 (which sets a time limit for a pitcher to deliver the ball when the bases are unoccupied) applies only when there are no runners on base.
(i) The pitcher, without having the ball, stands on or astride the pitcher’s plate or while off the plate, he feints a pitch;
(j) 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;
(k) The pitcher, while touching his plate, accidentally or intentionally has the ball slip or fall out of his hand or glove;
(l) The pitcher, while giving an intentional base on balls, pitches when the catcher is not in the catcher’s box;
(m) The pitcher delivers the pitch from Set Position without coming to a stop.
PENALTY: 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.
APPROVED RULING: 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.
APPROVED RULING: 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.
Rule 8.05 Comment: Umpires should bear in mind that the purpose of the balk rule is to prevent the pitcher from deliberately deceiving the base runner. If there is doubt in the umpire’s mind, the “intent” of the pitcher should govern. However, certain specifics should be borne in mind:
(a) Straddling the pitcher’s rubber without the ball is to be interpreted as intent to deceive and ruled a balk.
(b) With a runner on first base the pitcher may make a complete turn, without hesitating toward first, and throw to second. This is not to be interpreted as throwing to an unoccupied base.
Holy cow! There are a lot of actions that warrant a balk. I’m now pretty convinced balks are under-called. As a self proclaimed balk aficionado, it worries me that I knew so little. Now I’m worried that the umpires aren’t watching as closely as they could to identify balk-worthy movements. (As I write this paragraph Gary Cohen on SNY argues that Jansen, Dodgers’ pitcher, didn’t come to a full stop before releasing a pitch. That’s a balk. A balk the umps didn’t call.) Also, I used the word “balk” way too many times in this paragraph.