MLB Plans to Crack Down on Balks Ahead of 2023 Pitch Clock Debut

Timothy Rapp @ @TRappaRT Featured Columnist IV February 15, 2023

Boston Red Sox pitcher Matt Strahm reacts after being called on a balk in the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)
AP Photo/Gail Burton

Major League Baseball intends to be more strict with its balk rules starting in the 2023 season, according to ESPN's Jeff Passan .

"We have slipped a little bit centrally with calling the rulebook illegal pitch a balk," MLB executive vice president of operations Morgan Sword told reporters.

Balks are likely to come into greater focus with the new pitch clock being implemented, which will allow pitchers 15 seconds to throw a pitch after receiving the ball from the catcher when no runners are on base, and 20 seconds with runners on.

The pitch clock ends when the pitcher begins his delivery.

Balks have always been one of the quirkier rules in baseball, with room for interpretation and different umpires having different tendencies when enforcing, or not enforcing, the rule.

As Passan noted, however, balks were way down in 2022, with only 122 being called. That was the fewest since 1973.

While the pitch clock will add new attention to balks, it isn't the only rule change that will draw focus to pitchers, per Passan:

"Already the balk was going to see a significant increase because of the new rules. One of them, which limits a pitcher to two 'disengagements' during an at-bat—either pickoff moves, step-offs or a combination of the two—calls for a balk if a pitcher disengages a third time and does not record an out. MLB's new edicts, which also include limiting defensive shifts and larger bases, will be implemented during spring training games."

"Frankly, it's probably the biggest change that's been made in baseball in most of our lifetimes," Sword noted.

It's clear that the greater emphasis on calling balks will be in line with generally making the game a bit faster, more exciting and perhaps even focused on the offensive side of the game. Baseball continues to fight for relevance with younger generations, and speeding up the general flow of the game can't hurt.