What Is A Balk In Baseball (Rules, Causes, & Penalties)

A casual baseball fan may wonder, “What is a balk in baseball?” when an umpire suddenly stops the game and leaves the audience completely astonished. 

Well, it’s a baseball rule that can even confuse a die-heart baseball fan. And a slight change in the rule can differentiate whether it is actually a balk rule or not. 

So, in today’s guide, we will talk about what is a balk in baseball and what are the official rules of balk by MLB. Deeper dive, you will get to know some of the most common causes and penalties of a balk. 

Let’s dig into it. 

What Is a Balk in Baseball

The balk rule was first introduced in 1898 with the main motive of preventing pitchers from deceiving baserunners. Prior to this rule, the pitcher was allowed to make the baserunner fool, and that was affecting the fair play in the game. 

It refers to an illegal move on the mound made by the pitcher. After that, the umpire will decide whether this illegal move is among those thirteen balk rules or not. Whenever this happens, the umpire will suddenly stop the game and will automatically assign the next person as a base. 

Additionally, it doesn’t matter at which level the game is being played – the umpire can call the balk rule at any time of the game.

Official Balk in Baseball Rules by Major League Baseball

In order to decide whether it is a balk or not, you need to understand the balk rules by MLB. They are 13 in number and will help you understand how exactly umpires enforce the rules. 

Here is a quick summary of balk in baseball official rules by Major League Baseball. 

  1. Quick pitching: If a pitcher tries to make his natural but, for some reason, he fails to do will be considered as a balk. It means if a pitcher intentionally or unintentionally fails to pitch the home plate will be a balk. 
  2. Fake throwing towards the first base is also a balk. Suppose a pitcher tries a fake throw to the first or third base while touching the rubber but doesn’t make or fails to make is actually a balk. 
  3. Violating the two-step rule: Remember, only two steps after starting the windup before the pitch. No fancy footwork or sneaky back-and-forths on the rubber – it will be straight to balk town.
  4. Delivering the pitch while not facing the batter: This might seem obvious, but the pitcher must be facing the batter and the intended throwing base throughout the delivery. No turning your back and chucking it sidearm can lead to a balk.
  5. Making any motion naturally associated with his pitch while not touching the pitcher’s plate: It means you need to avoid any pre-pitch movements that mimic your actual pitching delivery but are done off the rubber. It’s like practicing your golf swing in the middle of the fairway.
  6. Standing on or astride the pitcher’s plate while off the plate, he feints a pitch: Think of it as a “phantom pitch” situation. If you’re not on the rubber and still make a pitching motion, it’s a balk.
  7. Making an illegal pitch: The interpretation of this balk rule is broad. For instance, encompassing things like throws with an improper grip, exceeding the time limit for the delivery, or intentionally throwing at the batter are considered illegal pitches and doing so is a balk. Remember, sportsmanship is key!
  8. The pitcher, without having the ball, stands on or astride the pitcher’s plate, or while off the plate, he feints a throw to a base. This balk rule is similar to the sixth, but this specifically focuses on feinting throws to bases.
  9. Any time the pitcher delivers the ball to the batter while he is not facing the batter: We covered this with scenario #4, but it’s worth reiterating the importance of facing the batter throughout the delivery.
  10. A pitcher throws to the wrong base: Throwing to the wrong base can happen in the heat of the moment, but unfortunately, it results in a balk. So, make sure to double-check those signals, pitchers!
  11. Deceptive Disengagements: As mentioned earlier, this rule limits pitchers to two pickoff attempts (disengagements) per plate appearance. That’s why a third attempt or a fake throw during a disengagement is a balk.
  12. The pitcher throws to the batter before stepping on the pitcher’s plate: Stepping on the rubber before throwing is crucial. So, no sneaky throws from off the mound are allowed.
  13. The pitcher delivers the pitch to the batter with his entire pivot foot off the pitching plate at the moment of the release: This one requires close attention to footwork. The pitcher’s entire pivot foot must be on the rubber when the ball is released; otherwise, it’s a balk.

Remember, the rules are in place to ensure fair play and a level playing field for both the offense and defense.

Common Causes Of Balks

Now we’ve explored What is a balk in baseball and all 13 official balk scenarios or rules in Major League Baseball. 

Let’s move toward the most common causes of balks you might encounter during a game. These are the ones that tend to trip up pitchers and umpires alike, so keep an eye out for these situations:

The Set Position

Generally, there are 3 types of deliveries that a pitcher can use, ranging from stretch, windup, or set position. Among them, the set position is the one where players can balk despite of the fact whether it is a right or left-handed player. 

It happens when a pitcher is set back from his position. However, the body stays towards the batter. A balk can also occur in the set position if the pitcher fails to adhere to the rules associated with the set position.

Fake Throw

Fake-through is another common cause that can be the reason for a balk. 

We all know the pitcher has the option to throw the ball toward first base when they touch the rubber. And at any point when a pitcher decides not to through the ball and acts as a fake through leads to the balk. 

In 2013 the MLB made this fake throw known as fake to third illegal. 

Unforeseen Circumstances:

Some unforeseen circumstances can also cause the balk.

For instance, miscommunication between the pitcher and fielders on pickoff plays can lead to the pitcher making unnecessary throws or deceptive motions that can trigger a balk call. With that, if a batter stepped out of the box or interfered with the pitch can cause pitchers to react abruptly, potentially resulting in a balk.

Penalties For Balks

When an umpire calls a balk, penalties are applied depending on the game situation.

The primary consequence of a balk is that each baserunner on base at the time of the balk is awarded the next base. For example:

  • If a runner is on first base, they are awarded second base.
  • If a runner is on second base, they are awarded third base.
  • If a runner is on third base, they are awarded home plate.

Additionally, the enforcement of balk penalties can vary depending on the league you are playing.

How to Avoid Balks in Baseball?

Balk in baseball can cost you your successful career. That’s why knowing how to avid balks in baseball along with “What is a balk in baseball,” is crucial to understand. 

So, here are the necessary steps you can take to avoid balking.

  1. The first and foremost step is to learn the balk rules so that you can understand what actually causes the balk. This will help you to follow all the MLB balk rules and avoid penalties. 
  2. Additionally, pitchers need to be really careful. If you are a pitcher make sure not to cross the foot over the rubber or pitch.  
  3. Lastly, proper control over the ball is all you need to avoid baseball balks. 

Acting upon these simple tricks can help you do better in the game. 

Who Has the Most Career Balks in the MLB?

The honor of holding the most career balks in Major League Baseball history belongs to Steve Carlton with a whopping 90 balks over his impressive 24-year career. That’s nearly seven balks per season on average.

Bob Welch claims second place on the balk leaderboard with 45 balks. While significantly behind Carlton, Welch still managed to rack up enough balks to secure his permanent spot in the top two.

Interestingly, the third and fourth spots are also occupied by renowned pitchers: Tom Seaver with 39 balks and Nolan Ryan with 38 balks.

Milwaukee Braves pitcher Bob Shaw holds the MLB record with five balks in a game, occurring on May 4, 1963, against the Chicago Cubs.


Can you appeal a balk?

No, you cannot appeal a balk in baseball. Once the umpire calls a balk, the decision is final and cannot be challenged by either team. This is different from other calls in baseball, where plays can be appealed to the umpires for a review.

How many ways can you balk in baseball?

Those mentioned above are the 13 ways a person can balk in baseball. 

Can you decline a balk?

In baseball, no, you cannot decline a balk. Once the umpire calls a balk, the decision is final and cannot be challenged. This applies to both the defending team and the offensive team.

So, if you stick with us till the end, we are pretty sure that you have got the answer to what is a balk in baseball, along with the rules and penalties. Still, if you have any more queries and want to know more about it, do write in the comment section. We would love to assist.

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