A balk is an illegal act by the pitcher with a runner or runners on base, entitling all runners to advance one base. The purpose of the balk rule is to prevent the pitcher from deliberately deceiving a base runner. There are nearly two dozen ways to balk, from making an unnatural motion to delaying the game.
A balk is charged to the penalty for a balk is always a single base awarded to all runners (not the batter) on base.
Interrupting the Pitching Motion [Official Rule 6.02(a)(1)]
After taking a legal position on the rubber, the pitcher makes any motion naturally associated with his pitch and fails to deliver the pitch. This means that if the pitcher begins his delivery to the plate or a throw to a base that requires a throw, he must continue the pitch or throw or a balk will be called.
Failure to Come to a Stop [Official Rule 6.02(a)(13)]
Once the pitcher comes to the set position, he must come to a discernible pause before delivering the pitch to the plate. Exception: The pitcher may throw to an occupied base in an attempt to pick off a runner without coming to a stop.
A pitcher does not have to come to a stop when throwing to a base.
If the batter is ready to hit, and with no runners on base, the pitcher does not have to come to a stop before he pitches to the plate.
Failure to Step in the Direction of the Throw
The pitcher must make a clear and deliberate step to where he is throwing the baseball. Umpires sometimes refer to a step as “making up ground” in the direction of the throw. If a pitcher turns or spins off of his free foot without actually stepping, or if he turns his body and throws before stepping, he has committed a balk. If a pitcher, while touching the pitcher’s plate, jumps into the air with both feet simultaneously and his non-pivot foot lands in a step towards first base before he throws to that base, he has made a legal move. This is the “jump step.”
A pitcher must step in the direction of his throw.
Failure to Complete a Throw or Faking a Throw
Once a pitcher begins his motion to throw to an occupied base, he must complete the throw. While in contact with the rubber, if the pitcher fakes a throw to a base (other than second base) it is a balk. A fake throw by the pitcher to first base often occurs when a right handed pitcher doesn’t realize that the first baseman has moved away from the base and is playing well away from the bag. The pitcher spins, steps and begins his throw only to realize the first baseman is not there. If the pitcher stops his motion or throws to the first baseman who is not close enough to the base to make a play on the runner, it is a balk. A pitcher may fake a throw to second base at any time.
A pitcher may fake a throw to second base.
Throwing to an Unoccupied Base
The pitcher may not, with runners on base, and while touching the rubber, throw or fake a throw to an unoccupied base unless he is attempting to make an attempt to catch a runner stealing.
The Balk Rule: [Insider Reports]
Pitcher Throws to Uncovered Base
Cubs Manager Joe Maddon was ejected on September 5, 2015, for arguing a balk call when his pitcher, Kyle Hendricks, made pickoff throw to first baseman, Anthony Rizzo, who was playing well in front of the base. This Insider Report details the play.
Q&A: Pitcher Throwing to 2nd Bases
This Insider Report answers a question about a “trick” play pitchers can legally employ. Runners are on 1B and 3B, two outs, and a full count on the batter. Read about this intriguing play.
Pitcher Throws to 2B but No Fielder is Covering
Can a pitcher wheel and fake a throw to 2B even if there is no fielder nearby? Read the details of this exception to the balk rule in this Insider Report.