What is a Quick Pitch in Baseball? (Explained for Beginners)


In baseball, a quick pitch occurs when the pitcher doesn’t give the batter time to get set or pause before throwing the ball. It’s an illegal pitch that can result in a ball or balk depending on the situation because it can be dangerous.

There are certain steps that need to take place for a pitch to be legal, so if you’re looking for what makes a quick pitch and why, what else is illegal in baseball, or the different penalty calls that can happen, you’ve come to the right place.

What’s Considered a Quick Pitch?

Baseball may seem formulaic in a way, but that’s because of the rules. When a batter steps up to the plate, they have to be allowed time to get comfortable and give some indication that they’re ready for the pitch.

The pitcher then has to remain completely still after getting set before delivering the pitch, unless he throws a fake to another base, but that can still result in a penalty of some form. Basically, it’s all about giving time for the batter.

Why Would a Pitcher Throw a Quick Pitch?

The main 3 reasons for a quick pitch would be to surprise the batter and force a strike, get them out via a forced fly ball, or to throw them off mentally by making them uneasy. If the ball is pitched and the batter swings, either of the first two can happen and the pitcher gets lucky.

However, sometimes a pitcher may be inclined to take the ball penalty if a batter is known to be great. By throwing a pitch that could catch them off-guard and potentially injure them, the batter can become anxious and make a mistake.

How Can a Pitch Be Illegal?

Quick pitches aren’t the only illegal pitches in baseball, because there are a lot of rules that the pitcher has to follow to avoid being called. On top of obviously not putting anything on the ball, the pitcher has to stop moving after being set and pause before throwing.

Once the pitcher raises their leg or moves in a pitching motion, they have to follow through to one of the bases. It’s illegal for a pitcher to fake a pitch to first or third base, so the only way a pitcher can move legally is by stepping off the mound with both feet once the batter’s up.

It’s important to avoid illegal pitches because pitchers throw balls upwards of 100 miles per hour. If the batter isn’t looking or able to move or defend themselves and the ball connects, they can get seriously injured, so the rules are there to protect them.

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What’s the Difference Between a Ball and a Balk?

A balk and a ball penalty call in baseball can be for the same reasons as an illegal pitch or movement by the pitcher. However, a balk can only be called if there’s at least one member of the opposing team on another base.

If a balk is able to be called, each base gets to go up one. If not, a ball is called on the batter as they progress toward getting to walk to first. That’s why, situationally, if a pitcher plans to throw a quick pitch for intimidation, they’ll do it with no bases loaded.

Is a Balk the Same as an Error?

The short answer is no because a balk is closer to a ball and has a separate statistic. Errors, as stated in the Major League Baseball handbook, are essentially purposeful plays on the ball that affect the time for the opposing team.

Error calls are decided by the umpire or scorer usually, but they can happen by passing the ball after the batter strikes out or holding onto the ball too long. Anything that makes a batter has to be up, or basemen have to stand there longer can be considered an error.

However, one similarity is that both an error and a balk can result in the baseman getting to move up a base. However, balks affect everyone, while errors might only affect one person.

Why Do They Need a Balk Call?

While similar to a ball, the balk was added to the rules for the sake of fairness. Ball penalties and errors only occur for specific things, leaving many illegal movements or actions out, like using sticky tack on the ball.

Balks also prevent faking out the batter with fake pitches or constantly moving around on the mound without any indication a pitch was coming. Again, the balk isn’t given a specific reason, but it does add to the honor of the game.

It’s worth noting that the balk penalty only exists in Major League Baseball. The Minor Leagues and Little Leagues don’t have the call, opting to just use balls and errors.

What Else Constitutes as a Balk?

There are a number of scenarios that can result in a balk being called, with the first one being the quick pitch. Most of the involve movement by the pitcher, but here are a few:

  1. The pitcher lifts their leg and puts it down without actually throwing.
  2. The pitcher doesn’t stop moving before the pitch, which would probably be called for a quick pitch. Once they stop moving, a pitcher’s only allowed to move their head to watch other bases or look for the right pitch.
  3. The pitcher moves to throw a fake pitch to first or third base. Prior to 2013, this was still legal as long as a player of the opposing team was on the base, but it was added to the list of balk penalties since then.
  4. The pitcher lifts their leg to pitch, and it passes the rubber mound. They have to throw to either home plate or second base behind them. If their leg comes back down without pitching, they’ll be called for a balk.

Read also: 13 Ways a Pitcher Can Balk

What if the Batter Hits the Ball on a Quick Pitch?

If the batter is somehow able to react fast enough to hit a quick pitch, there can be two outcomes: Either the play is accepted, and the game continues without acknowledging the illegal pitch, or the play is declared a “delayed dead ball” and can be judged by the umpire.

In the latter scenario, the umpire will have the choice to either condemn the illegal pitch and follow through with the balk penalty or decline the pitch and reset the play. However, the play can be accepted if the batter hits it and makes it to first base.

Besides Home Plate, is There Another Legal Ball Destination?

Yes, the pitcher can still fake a throw to second base. While first and third are off-limits, the full rotation of the pitcher should give everyone enough time to react, so it’s considered a legal play as long as the pitcher takes a step toward second base.

The arm doesn’t have to come up at all in a pitching motion, but the pitcher has to at least step in that direction once turned around. Otherwise, it can still be called a balk without the legally required step.

What Other Pitches Are Illegal?

The only other named pitch that’s illegal is the “spitball,” which anyone familiar with an elementary cafeteria may know. In baseball, this refers to the rules surrounding any foreign substance on the ball.

Not only does this mean that the pitcher can’t spit on his hands or the ball or even touch his lips, but the substance extends to dirt, anything sticky, or any form of defacement to the ball itself.

Defacement can be any rubbing, indentions, or cuts that might help the pitcher grip the ball better or affect wind resistance.

What Else Can’t the Pitcher Do?

Anything a pitcher does has to be done 20 feet from the rubber mound because all of the rules apply within 18 feet of the center. With that said, the pitcher is limited in what they’re allowed to do once on the mound.

The ball can only be rubbed with bare hands, and even then, if it looks suspect, the umpire can give a warning or ejection if there’s evidence of foul play. It can’t touch clothing or a glove, either, because that could be used to apply a substance to the ball.

There is an exception for the pitchers in cold weather that, if both coaches agree, they’re allowed to blow on their hands to regain feeling in their fingers. Still, it’s advised to do this sparingly to avoid raising suspicion.

Is There Anything Else the Pitcher Can Legally Do?

One of the biggest misconceptions with baseball involves pitching because it seems like almost everyone delivers a pitch from the same stance. It’s entirely legal to throw underhand in the Major Leagues, but no one does for the sake of speed and timing.

Once the batter is set, it’s also legal for the pitcher to throw a wind-up pitch, as seen in softball. While it’s a different motion than mentioned earlier, the extra time of the pitch is enough to offset the motion. However, once again, no one uses that because it restricts pitching options so much.

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