Major League Baseball intends to "emphasize enforcement of the balk rule" during the 2023 season, according to ESPN's Jeff Passan. The crackdown is aimed toward corralling "bouncing" or "rolling" deliveries, and coincides with the implementation of the pitch timer. Said timer is supposed to cease at the start of a delivery, and the aforementioned tics can blur the line.
The league has "slipped a little bit centrally with calling the rulebook illegal pitches and balks," Morgan Sword, MLB's executive vice president of operations, said Tuesday during a media briefing, according to ESPN.
The balk rule dates back to the late 1800s and yet remains one of the trickiest to explain to a casual or new onlooker. The basic gist is that pitchers are not supposed to be able to intentionally deceive baserunners with twitches or random movements before the start of their delivery. The penalty for balking is that all runners are allowed to advance a base and the pitch -- if one was delivered -- will be retroactively deemed as a dead ball.
Here's a list of actions that can be deemed a balk, according to Baseball Reference:
- Starts his pitching motion without completing the pitch;
- Fakes a throw to first base;
- While standing on the rubber, throws to a base without stepping directly toward that base;
- While standing on the rubber, throws or fakes a throw to an unoccupied base, unless a runner is running toward that base;
- Makes an illegal pitch, including a quick pitch;
- Pitches while not facing the batter;
- Makes any part of his pitching motion while not touching the pitching rubber;
- Unnecessarily delays the game;
- Stands on or astride the pitching rubber without the ball;
- After assuming the windup or set position, removes one hand from the ball except in the course of making a pitch or throw to a base;
- Drops the ball while standing on the pitching rubber;
- Pitches while the catcher is not in the catcher's box;
- Pitches from the set position without coming to a complete stop.
Among pitchers with questionable deliveries who could be forced to adjust their motions this year are Astros starter Luis Garcia and Toronto's Kevin Gausman.
The aforementioned pitch timer is just one of several new rules being installed and enforced this season. The league is also preventing pitchers from "disengaging" more than twice during an at-bat, as well restricting defensive shifts, and placing larger bases. Earlier this week, MLB voted to continue to employ the "Manfred Runner" in extra innings. Additionally, teams will face greater restrictions on when they're allowed to use a position player as a pitcher, with said limitations being based on the score and inning.