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 > Little League Online > Learn More > Newsletters > Coach's Box Newsletter > 2012 > Coach's Box - February/March > Umpire Article

Umpire Article

Volume 7, No. 2 - Feb./March 2012

Explaining the Definition and Applications of the “Balk” Call - Part 2

By Mike Messick, World Series Umpire

Let’s now examine in depth Rule 8.05 which concerns all the elements (13) that are illegal acts by the pitcher which are to be called balks.

  • The pitcher, while touching the plate, makes any motion naturally associated with the pitch and fails to make such delivery. There are several different things that can be called under this rule: (1) The pitcher prematurely flexes his pivot leg knee as if he was starting the delivery of the pitch, and then turns and throws to first base. This usually happens when a right-handed pitcher has a slow delivery to home plate. (2) The pitcher starts his motion, in either pitching position, and then stops. A brief hesitation in his motion, especially when stepping backwards with the free foot, will not be considered a violation. (3) If the pitcher swings any part of his free foot past the back edge of the pitcher’s plate, the pitcher is required to pitch to the batter unless he is making a fake or throw to second base on a pickoff attempt. Pitcher’s, especially the left handed ones will have their free (non-pivot) leg knee break the plane of the back edge of the pitcher’s plate but not their free foot to try and confuse the runner/s. This is legal providing the foot does not break the plane of the back edge of the pitcher’s plate. (4) The pitcher in the Set position goes into what is called the “stretch” and “stretches” twice. This is illegal and a balk. The pitcher is also prohibited from making two complete stops. (5) The pitcher, while in the Set position, makes any movement with his lower body (knee flex; step; slide; etc.) before he has come to a complete stop.
  • The pitcher, while touching his plate, feints a throw to first base and fails to complete the throw; - Things that need to be considered under this rule are: (1) When the pitcher feints or fakes a throw to a base, first base is the only base that requires a throw by the pitcher to that base. The pitcher, while touching the plate, may fake/feint to second or third base, provided the base is occupied and the pitcher steps toward the base prior to the fake/feint. An arm motion is not required when feinting/faking to second or third base.(2) This rule requires that when a pitcher makes a move (throw) to first base that the throw must be directly to the first base bag. If the pitcher throws to the first baseman when the first baseman is in front or behind the base and is obviously not in a position to make a play or an attempted play on the runner, this is a balk because the pitcher did not throw directly to first base. If the first baseman is in front of or behind the base and is moving into a position to where he could be making an attempted play on the runner, this would not be a violation.  There is also no violation if the pitcher attempts a pickoff throw to second or third base and throws to an infielder who is in front of, behind or off to the side of the base, providing the base is occupied. (3) The one element that evokes a lot of discussion and disagreement is the shoulder turn, especially of a right handed pitcher. The pitcher turning his shoulder toward first base to check on the location of the runner should not, in itself is considered a feint/fake to first. When and how the shoulder turns (rolls) is how it should be judged as to whether or not this is a violation. Prior to coming set, any turn of the shoulder will be allowed. Anytime the pitcher is trying to check on the runner, it is virtually impossible to look at first base with some form of his shoulder turning. Once the pitcher has come to his Set position any quick; jerking; twitching or full movement of the shoulder is a balk because these movements are a fake to try and confuse the runner to whether the pitcher is going to attempt a pickoff or not. Once the pitcher has come to his Set position and the pitcher turns his head to look at the runner and his shoulder just slightly turns (rolls) in a slow fashion, but is not a full ,or complete turn, this should not be considered a feint/fake to first and should not be called a balk.
  • The pitcher, while touching his plate, fails to step directly toward a base before throwing to that base; The key elements to this rule are: (1) The main reason for this rule is to force the pitcher to slow down his pickoff move to the base which will give the runner an equal and balanced chance. Without this rule the runner would never be able to take a lead or be in a position to steal a base which could lead to a run being scored. (2) This rule requires the pitcher, while touching the pitcher’s plate, to step directly towards a base before actually throwing to that base. If the pitcher turns or spins off his free foot without actually stepping or if he turns his body and throws before stepping it is a balk. The pitcher must gain distance and direction to the base to which he is throwing. Distance means that the pitcher must pick up his free foot and replace it on the ground in a different place from where it started. Direction means that the pitcher, when throwing to a base, must move his free foot in a direction that is nearer to the base he is throwing to then when his movement started. On a pickoff attempt at first base, the pitcher must step so that his free footsteps more towards first base then to home plate. On a pick off to first base, the defining factor is usually a line which is referred to as the “balk line”. This is an imaginary line which goes from the middle of the pitcher’s plate to the midpoint of the foul line from home plate to first base (45 foot line). Since this line will never be placed on the playing field, the umpires will use their judgment as to whether the pitcher stepped more towards first base than home plate. (3) There are three moves that are legal provided that they are performed in a quick, continuous and fluid motion. Any interruption or hesitation is a balk. The first move is the first to third move, where the pitcher while in contact with the pitcher’s plate steps and fakes/feints a throw to third base and then will turn and either throw or fake a throw to first base. The key to this move is that the pitcher must disengage his pivot foot from the pitcher’s plate before turning and making a fake/feint to first base. If he doesn’t disengage the pitcher’s plate or just spins on his pivot foot, this is a balk. The second move is the “Jab Step” where the pitcher is permitted to take a jab or stutter step with his pivot foot before stepping to a base with his free foot. This move can be used to step to any base providing that the “jab step” and the movement of the free foot is fluid and continuous, if there is any interruption or hesitation it is a balk. The third move is the “Jump Turn or “Jump Step”, where the pitcher can jump (both feet off the ground at the same time) and turn before his free foot retouches the ground in a different spot. The key to the “jump step” is that both feet must be in the air at the same time and that the free foot must be replaced (land) on the ground in a place that is different (distance) from where the free foot started at the beginning of the move and that the free foot is positioned closer or towards (direction) the base to which the pitcher is attempting the pickoff. If not this is a balk.
  • The pitcher, while touching the pitcher’s plate, throws or feints a throw to an unoccupied base except for the purpose of making a play,: The main elements of this rule are: (1) The pitcher cannot throw or fake a throw a base that is not occupied at time by a runner. The exception is that the pitcher can throw to an unoccupied base for the purpose of making an appeal or if a play is imminent at the unoccupied base.  (2) If a runner on first breaks for second base on a steal attempt and the pitcher, sensing that the runner is stealing, then turns and throws to second base while the runner returns to first base this would be a balk, since the there was no actual play imminent at second base. If in the umpire’s judgment the runner made enough of a commitment towards second base to convince everyone he was stealing and then returned to first base, then a balk would not be called. If the pitcher starts a pickoff attempt at first and then realizes the runner is stealing and hesitates or stops his motion to first base and then continues to turn and throw to second base, this is a balk because the pitcher cannot fake to first base and his hesitation or stopping would be considered a fake to first. So in throwing to second in this situation is has to be a continuous fluid motion.
  • The pitcher makes a quick pitch; NOTE: umpires will judge a quick pitch as one delivered before the batter is reasonably set in the batter’s box. A quick pitch is dangerous and should and MUST not be permitted. A lot of times this occurs when the pitcher wants to work at a fast pace and starts his motion before the batter has had time to get set in the batter’s box. Pitchers should always look in and make sure the batter is ready and looking (facing) at the pitcher. This is one rule that is enforced whether there are runners on base or not, but with no runner/s on base it is an illegal pitch and a ball on the batter, with runners on base it is a balk.
  • The pitcher delivers the ball to the batter while not facing the batter; This is self- explanatory and which means that when the pitcher starts his delivery of the pitch he must be facing the batter. The pitcher cannot be looking one way (away from the batter) and while doing so throw the pitch to the pitcher to try and confuse or catch the batter of guard.
  • The pitcher, makes any motion associated with the pitch while not touching the pitcher’s plate; : The elements of this rule are: (1) Under Little League rules, any part of the pitcher’s foot (no matter how slight) that is in contact with any part of the pitcher’s plate ( no matter how slight or where it is positioned) is legal. (2) The pitcher, with a runner/s on base, cannot stand on or astride the pitcher’s plate without the ball. The pitcher may be in the dirt area of the mound. (3) If the pitcher, without the ball and off the pitcher’s plate, starts his motion, the stretch or any other natural motion associated with his attempt to pitch, this is clearly designed to deceive the runner/s and must be called and is a balk. The pitcher should not get onto the pitcher’s plate until he has the ball, is ready to look in for the signs and is ready to pitch. (3) We need to recognize that in the process of turning the pivot foot and pushing off; the pitcher will not be in contact with the pitcher’s plate through his motion and delivery of the pitch. What the rule is trying to prevent is when the pitcher CLEARLY picks up his pivot foot and replants it CLEARLY in front of the pitcher’s plate. This is gaining an advantage and is taking an unfair advantage of the hitter and is a balk.
  • The pitcher unnecessarily delays the game; This usually happens when the pitcher throws to a fielder while not attempting put out a runner or makes a play; the pitcher takes an abnormally long time between pitches; by walking off the rear of the mound between every pitch; etc. This usually occurs because the pitcher is upset over a call or he is stalling because they are trying to warm up a relief pitcher; it is getting dark or whatever. With runners on this is a balk.
  • The pitcher, without having the ball, stands on or astride the pitcher’s plate or while off the plate feints a pitch; (1) This was basically covered under Rule 8.05 (g). (2) This violation usually happens when the defense is trying the “hidden ball trick” where the defensive infielder is holding the ball hoping that the runner will think the pitcher has the ball and will take his lead and be tagged out by the infielder. If the pitcher, in a live ball situation, is on the pitcher’s plate or simulates a pitch or the start of the pitch without the ball in his possession, it is a balk. The key here is the ball must be live and in play. If after a time out/dead ball situation for any reason, the fielder has the ball and the pitcher is on the pitcher’s plate or simulates a pitch, this is nothing because the ball is dead. The ball must be put into play by the home plate umpire when the pitcher has possession of the ball and is in contact with the pitcher’s plate. (3) If the pitcher puts the rosin bag in his glove with, in the umpires judgment, the intent of having the runner believe the pitcher has the ball this is a balk.
  • The pitcher, while touching the plate, accidently or intentionally drops the ball; (1) This rule is in effect anytime the pitcher is in contact with the pitcher’s plate. This can be when taking the sign; during his pitching motion or in the actual delivery of the pitch. (2) A ball which is dropped or slips out of the pitcher’s hand and crosses either foul line will be considered a pitch and is not a balk but will be called a ball on the batter. A ball that is dropped or slips out of the pitcher’s hand and DOES NOT cross either foul line, either by momentum or by the catcher or other fielder fielding the ball before it can cross the foul line is a balk. With no runners on base and the ball does not cross either foul line, it will be called a “no pitch” and no penalty is assessed. (3) If the pitcher attempts a pickoff throw, while in contact with the pitcher’s plate and the ball is dropped or slips out of the pitcher’s hand and does not reach the foul line or the fielder within reach to make a tag attempt or play at that base this will be a balk.
  • The pitcher, while giving an intentional base on balls, pitches when the catcher is not in the catcher’s box; (1) The catcher must have his foot/feet on the ground entirely outside of the catcher’s box before the pitch is delivered to be called for the balk. (2) This rule is in effect ONLY when issuing an intentional base on balls when there are runners on base and not on “pitch outs”, or other situations.
  • The pitcher, after coming to a legal position, removes one hand from the ball other than in an actual pitch or in throwing to a base;: (1) As stated in the first part of this, that before the pitcher assumes his legal pitching position, whether it be the Windup or Set position, he may momentarily bring his hands together to adjust the ball in his glove or hand. (2) The movement MUST be momentarily and fluid, and if the umpire adjudges that the pitcher has held his hands together long enough that it appears that the pitcher has come to a set position or has assumed the windup position, it will be called a balk. (3) So it is imperative that the pitcher assume his position on the pitcher’s plate with his hands separated.
  • The pitcher delivers the pitch from the set position without coming to a stop;(1) This is the most common violation that is called a balk, (2) The pitcher may step and throw to a base at any time during the stretch without coming to a stop. (3) The pitcher must come to a complete stop before delivering the ball to the batter. This is designed to give the batter time to pick up the ball as the pitcher is delivering the pitch and to make it fair and balanced for the base runner/s to properly be able to take a lead and possibly steal a base.  Then pitcher MUST come to a complete stop that is discernible, where the umpire can adjudge and tell that the pitcher has stopped completely. A “Change of Direction” is not considered a complete stop, even though a lot of people try to say that through the Laws of Physics that if there is a change of direction, there must have been a stop. For the purpose of this rule, under Little League Rules, that theory does not apply and this is a balk. (4) The pitcher, after coming stopped in the set position, is prohibited from stopping a second time. (5) The pitcher is allowed to stop anywhere within the confines of his body, which is interpreted as from the top of his head to his feet. (6) The pitcher’s entire body MUST be stopped when he comes to his stop in the set position. If any part of his body is moving while his hands are coming into his stopped position before the actual delivery of the pitch, this is a balk. (7) The pitcher is allowed to come set (stopped) in a different location on each and every pitch. One time he may come set at his chin; the next time he may come set at his chest and them again comes set on his next pitch at his waist. This is legal and cannot be called a balk just because he changed or altered his motion on each pitch.

END - Part 2


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