Inside the rules: the balkNOVEMBER 12, 2010 BY DAVID WADE | The Hardball Times
Section 8.01 of the MLB rulebook covers the legal pitching delivery and states the purpose of the balk rule. The balk is there to keep a pitcher from deceiving baserunners. It elaborates on the that point and states, “If there is doubt in the umpire’s mind, the ‘intent’ of the pitcher should govern.” While one may wonder how umpires can determine the thought process of a player, the rules do attempt to spell out every scenario for them.
Official Rules: 8:00 The Pitcher
Legal pitching delivery. There are two legal pitching positions, the Windup Position and the Set Position, and either position may be used at any time.
Pitchers shall take signs from the catcher while standing on the rubber.
Rule 8.01 Comment: Pitchers may disengage the rubber after taking their signs but may not step quickly onto the rubber and pitch. This may be judged a quick pitch by the umpire. When the pitcher disengages the rubber, he must drop his hands to his sides.
Pitchers will not be allowed to disengage the rubber after taking each sign.
(a) The Windup Position. The pitcher shall stand facing the batter, his pivot foot in contact with the pitchers plate and the other foot free. From this position any natural movement associated with his delivery of the ball to the batter commits him to the pitch without interruption or alteration. He shall not raise either foot from the ground, except that in his actual delivery of the ball to the batter, he may take one step backward, and one step forward with his free foot.
When a pitcher holds the ball with both hands in front of his body, with his pivot foot in contact with the pitchers plate and his other foot free, he will be considered in the Windup Position.
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 positionif he does it is a balk.
(b) The Set Position. Set Position shall be indicated by the pitcher when he stands facing the batter with his pivot foot in contact with, and his other foot in front of, the pitchers plate, holding the ball in both hands in front of his body and coming to a complete stop. From such Set Position he may deliver the ball to the batter, throw to a base or step backward off the pitchers plate with his pivot foot. Before assuming Set Position, the pitcher may elect to make any natural preliminary motion such as that known as the stretch. But if he so elects, he shall come to Set Position before delivering the ball to the batter. After assuming Set Position, any natural motion associated with his delivery of the ball to the batter commits him to the pitch without alteration or interruption.
Preparatory to coming to a set position, the pitcher shall have one hand on his side; from this position he shall go to his set position as defined in Rule 8.01(b) without interruption and in one continuous motion.
The pitcher, following his stretch, must (a) hold the ball in both hands in front of his body and (b) come to a complete stop. This must be enforced. Umpires should watch this closely. Pitchers are constantly attempting to beat the rule in their efforts to hold runners on bases and in cases where the pitcher fails to make a complete stop called for in the rules, the umpire should immediately call a Balk.
Rule 8.01(b) Comment: With no runners on base, the pitcher is not required to come to a complete stop when using the Set Position. If, however, in the umpires judgment, a pitcher delivers the ball in a deliberate effort to catch the batter off guard, this delivery shall be deemed a quick pitch, for which the penalty is a ball. See Rule 8.05(e) Comment.
(c) At any time during the pitchers preliminary movements and until his natural pitching motion commits him to the pitch, he may throw to any base provided he steps directly toward such base before making the throw.
Rule 8.01(c) Comment: The pitcher shall step ahead of the throw. A snap throw followed by the step directly toward the base is a balk.
(d) If the pitcher makes an illegal pitch with the bases unoccupied, it shall be called a ball unless the batter reaches first base on a hit, an error, a base on balls, a hit batter or otherwise.
Rule 8.01(d) Comment: A ball which slips out of a pitchers hand and crosses the foul line shall be called a ball; otherwise it will be called no pitch. This would be a balk with men on base.
(e) If the pitcher removes his pivot foot from contact with the pitchers plate by stepping backward with that foot, he thereby becomes an infielder and if he makes a wild throw from that position, it shall be considered the same as a wild throw by any other infielder.
Rule 8.01(e) Comment: The pitcher, while off the rubber, may throw to any base. If he makes a wild throw, such throw is the throw of an infielder and what follows is governed by the rules covering a ball thrown by a fielder.