Five Questions about Balks Answered by Rich Marazzi
When a pitcher balks followed by a throw to a base or a pitch to the batter, or pitches a “Ball Four,” there are many questions that need to be answered. This creates a challenge for the players, coaching staff, manager, and broadcasters. Keep in mind, when a pitcher balks, the ball is not always immediately dead. This report covers five recent questions regarding various aspects of the balk rule.
Question: Is the ball dead when a pitcher throws to a base following a balk?
Answer: Not immediately. Let’s look at the following play.
The D’backs hosted the Rockies on August 5, 2022. In the bottom of the first, the D’backs had Josh Rojas on first and one out with Ketel Marte at bat. Rojas took off for second when Rockies’ pitcher German Marquez balked when he began his delivery toward the plate and then turned. This is a violation of rule 6.02 (a) (1) that reads, “If there is a runner or runners on base, it is a balk when the pitcher, while touching his plate, makes any motion naturally associated with his pitch and fails to make such delivery.”
Following the balk, Marquez bounced a throw to second base. Second base umpire Cory Blaser called “Time” just before the ball was fielded in the dirt by Rockies’ shortstop José Iglesias.
- When a pitcher (Marquez) throws to a base following a balk, the ball become dead the moment the ball is caught by the fielder (Iglesias) or when play stops and it is apparent that all runners including the batter-runner will not advance one base.
- When “Time” is called, the balk rule is enforced. In the above play, the runner (Rojas) is awarded one base from the base he occupied at the start of play which is when the pitcher begins his motion to pitch. Therefore, Rojas would be given only second base since first base was the last base touched before Marquez began his motion to pitch. The fact that Rojas was going with the pitch is irrelevant regarding the one-base balk award. The batter remains at bat with the same count prior to the balk.
- If the ball was thrown into center field, the balk would only protect Rojas to second base and the ball would remain alive. If Rojas attempted to advance to third base, he would do so at his own risk. If he wished to remain at second base, that’s the base he would start at before the next pitch.
- In my opinion, second base umpire Cory Blaser killed the play a bit early. At the time he called “Time,” I don’t think he could have determined that the throw to second base that bounced in the dirt could not have escaped Iglesias. You can look at the play and make your own judgment on that.
Question: When a pitcher delivers a pitch to the batter following a balk, how should it be handled if the pitch is “Ball Four.?”
Answer: If a pitcher delivers a pitch following a balk and the pitch is “Ball Four,” if the base-on-balls forces all runners to advance, the balk is nullified. Look at the base-on-balls as a base hit or getting on base via an error. Therefore, you would have to have a runner just on first, or first and second, or first, second, and third before the “Ball Four” pitch is delivered. If there is a runner just on second, or just on third, or just second and third, or first and third, the balk would take precedence because the batter occupying first base on the base-on-balls would not force all runners to advance.
Question: What if the pitch following a balk is hit by the batter and all runners, including the batter-runner, advance one base on the play? Is the balk nullified.
Answer: Yes. If the batter puts the ball in play following a balk, as long as all runners, including the batter-runner, advance one base on the play (hit or error), the balk is nullified. Otherwise, the balk rule is enforced.
Take the following two plays:
Play No. 1
On July 9, 2013, the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers played in Milwaukee. In the bottom of the fifth, the Brewers’ Richie Weeks hit what looked like a 4-3 ground out with runners on first and second and two outs. But a balk was called on Homer Bailey who removed his hand from the ball in the set position before delivering the pitch. The umpires correctly sent
the runners to second and third and returned Weeks to the plate where he drew a base on balls before the side was retired.
If Weeks had reached first base, and both runners advanced one base on the play, the balk would have been nullified.
Play No. 2
Lou Piniella once lost an RBI double because of the rule. On April 19, 1977, the Yankees hosted the Blue Jays. In the bottom of the fourth inning the Yankees had Jim “The Toy Cannon” Wynn on third with two out when third base ump Dave Phillips called a balk on Jays’ pitcher Jerry Garvin. The Jays’ lefty continued to pitch after the balk call and Piniella hit a drive that bounced off centerfielder Gary Woods’ glove for a double. But Wynn, apparently thinking the ball was dead when he heard the balk call, remained at third.
Because only Piniella advanced at least one base on the play, the umps invoked the balk rule and scored Wynn from third. If Wynn had advanced to home on the play, the balk would have been nullified. To add insult to injury, Piniella had to resume his at bat and proceeded to strike out.
Note: When a pitch follows a balk it is a free swing for the batter. If the batter is putout before reaching first base, he simply returns as a batter. Any runner on base is awarded one base because of the balk. If the batter hits safely and all runners advance at least one base, including the batter-runner, the balk is nullified as stated above.
Question: What happens if a runner advances two bases following a wild pitch when a balk is called before the pitch? Example: There’s a runner on first and the pitcher balks before throwing a wild pitch. The runner on first advances to third base. Can he stay there, or must he be returned to second base?
Answer: The runner can remain at third base. Because of the balk, the runner would only be protected to second base. If he chooses to advance further, he does so at his own risk
Question: With a runner on base, is it a balk if the ball slips out of the pitcher’s hand when making his delivery?
Answer: It is only a balk if the pitch does not cross the foul line. Under rule 6.02 (b) (Comment), “It is a balk if a pitcher delivers a pitch with a runner/s on base and the pitch slips out of his hand, and the ball does not cross the foul line. Any intended pitch that slips out of the pitcher’s hand that crosses the foul line is a ball with or without runners on base. It is no pitch with no runners on base and no call if the ball doesn’t cross the foul line. In the following play, because the ball crossed the foul line, the ball remained alive and in play. A “ball” is charged to the pitcher. If the ball did not cross the foul line, Kiner-Flalefa would be awarded third base because of the balk.
The Yankees and Tigers played at Comerica on April 19th. In the top of the second inning the Yankees had Isiah Kiner-Flalefa on second with one out. Aaron Hicks was the batter facing Rony Garcia. The Tigers’ pitcher accidentally spiked the ball. The ball crossed the first base foul line where it was retrieved by first baseman Spencer Torkelson. Kiner-Flalefa advanced to third base on the play.
Rules consultant/analyst: D’backs, Nationals, Orioles, Padres, Phillies, Pirates, Rays, Red Sox, Rangers, Royals, Tigers, Twins, Yankees, Bally Sports, ESPN, YES, and NBC Sports Chicago.