No hits for you

Giants pitcher Chris Heston pitched the first no hitter of 2015 last night. He struck out the last batter looking with an absolute cockshot on the outside corner (and no that word has nothing to do with what you think it might).

Whenever there is a no hitter, the performance of the umpire is examined. Thanks to tools like pitch f/x and websites like Brooks Baseball this is much easier today.

They plot the zone using a series of colored shapes. Each shape represents a team (the one who threw the pitch) and each color represents whether the umpire called a strike (red) or ball (green). The graphs are from the point of view of the umpire.

Here is the strike zone map for Heston against lefties (so the left hand side is the outside corner):

It looks like Heston got a little bit of help on three or four pitches. They are the red triangles that are outside the zone. Even though they are outside the rule book zone (the dark line), they are very close to what is generally called by umpires (the dashed line). The umpire did grab one high strike in the game.

Here is the chart for right handed hitters (outside corner on the right side):

There is one pitch that is outside the dotted line that was called a strike. Otherwise everything looks pretty good.

Bottom line, the umpire was pretty good last evening. He gave no advantage to the pitcher. In the end it was just a dominating performance. Congratulations to the pitcher (and the umpire). I have never umpired a no hitter – it would certainly be a cool thing to do.

Something new every day

Let’s be honest, the rules for detached player equipment have to be in the book. I mean I guess it could happen. But, I have never seen it at any level. If it did happen, I would probably just be in shock and not know what to call.

This might have been the case in a Braves game the other night.

Here is the play.

Rule 5.06 (4) (B) – 7.05(b) in old format

(4) Each runner including the batter-runner may, without liability to be put out, advance:

(B) Three bases, if a fielder deliberately touches a fair ball with his cap, mask or any part of his uniform detached from its proper place on his person. The ball is in play and the batter may advance to home base at his peril;

The key to the rule is three fold. The fielder has to do it deliberately, the glove has to actually touch the ball, and the ball has to be fair (or have a reasonable chance to go fair).

Fielder stretches and his glove comes off and makes contact – that is fine.

Knucklehead throws his glove and misses the ball – that is fine.

Guy throws his glove at a clearly foul ball way down the line – not advisable but not illegal.

In the play above, the runner is not given third base. Why? To be honest with you I am not sure. My best guess is that it has to do with the first condition above. Simmons made such a quick turn back to the ball the umpire might have judged the act to be accidental. I am no mind reader, but this looks pretty intentional to me.

Or, they might have thought the ball did not hit the glove. While it is hard to tell replay could be used to help this out. Except the play was not reviewed. It is possible this is one of those scenarios that does not fall under the purview of replay.

Regardless this is an odd play that you would not expect to see in freshman baseball let alone at the major league level.

Detached player equipment is covered on page 33 of RuleGraphics.

A tale of 2 collisions

There were 2 plays over the weekend dealing with interference. Both were called correctly but the outcome was very different.

First, let’s look at the important part the rule. It is 6.01(a)(10) : 7.08(b) in old format.

It is interference by a batter or a runner when:

He fails to avoid a fielder who is attempting to field a batted ball, or intentionally interferes with a thrown ball, provided that if two or more fielders attempt to field a batted ball, and the runner comes in contact with one or more of them, the umpire shall determine which fielder is entitled to the benefit of this rule, and shall not declare the runner out for coming in contact with a fielder other than the one the umpire determines to be entitled to field such a ball.

This rule is misunderstood by a lot of people. Yes, the runner has the obligation to avoid contact. Some folks think the runner “has a right to the baseline”. Nope.

Here is a case of this from over the weekend.

Runner runs right into the fielder. Umpire quickly makes the out call. Easy.

Now, here is where things get trickier. Again to the rule book:

If, however, the runner has contact with a legally occupied base when he hinders the fielder, he shall not be called out unless, in the umpire’s judgment, such hindrance, whether it occurs on fair or foul territory, is intentional. If the umpire declares the
hindrance intentional, the following penalty shall apply: With less than two out, the umpire shall declare both the runner and batter out. With two out, the umpire shall declare the batter out.

This is Rule 6.01(a) Comment: Rule 7.08(b) Comment in old format.

In plain English, you cannot expect a runner to vacate his base. But, he cannot do anything intentional to interfere with the play. Notice the rules take this intentional interference very seriously. If a runner does interfere, the umpire will call out the runner and the batter-runner getting two outs.This actually happened this weekend as well.

It looks like the umpire was about to bang an out and then correctly remembered the rule. In my mind there is no doubt that Reyes was not trying to interfere. Looks like he was trying not to get hit with the ball.

One interesting note from this play. Yes, a runner can be safe from contacting a fielder if on the base. This protection does not extend to being hit by a batted ball. If a grounder (or fly ball) strikes a runner, he is out even if on the base or not.

Page 55 of RuleGraphics discusses interference of this type.


Arms and legs everywhere

There was a very odd play in the Cubs/Nats game yesterday.

Where do we begin. First, Kris Bryant seems to reach the area of first base before Gonzalez touches it. But, Bryant does not touch the base.

Of course he does not touch the base because Gonzalez is in his way. I suppose he could have spiked him, but this does not seem to be Bryant’s MO.

Gonzalez then rolls onto the base with his shin before Bryant completely passes the bag. The umpire calls an out.

Did he get it right? I think the answer is yes.

First question – was Bryant obstructed from the base.

Here is the definition:

OBSTRUCTION is the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner.

Gonzalez clearly had the ball so this is not obstruction. Interesting side note, if it was obstruction, the umpire can take any action that nullifies the act. This includes awarding a touch of a base.

Second question – how should the umpire handle the situation where the runner acquires first base but does not touch it.

This is actually handled in the PBUC (Professional Baseball Umpire Corporation) manual. Here is there sample play:

Play 13: Batter-runner hits a ground ball and beats the play at first base but misses the bag.

Ruling 13: The proper mechanic is to call the batter-runner “Safe,” indicating he beat the play. If the defense appeals by tagging the runner (or base) and appealing that the runner missed first base before the runner returns to first base, the batter-runner would be declared out. (See Official Baseball Rule 7.08( k) Casebook Comment.)

Here is the rub though. To “beat” the play and acquire the base – you have to be completely past it. Since Bryant was equal to the base, he had not formally missed it. If he had not missed a base, he is not subject to appeal yet.

Further if he is not subject to appeal, all Gonzalez has to do is touch the base with possession for an out. This is exactly what happened.

Let’s imagine Bryant was completely past the base when Gonzalez touched it (but still did not touch it himself). The umpire would have ruled the runner safe. Then it would be up to the pitcher to formally appeal the missed base. Him rolling over the base is not sufficient to appeal.

From the book:

An appeal should be clearly intended as an appeal, either by a verbal request by the player or an act that unmistakably indicates an appeal to the umpire.

Gonzalez would have had to retouch the base telling the umpire Bryant missed it or went and tagged Bryant.

Crazy play with a lot of moving parts. Bottom line is the umpire got this all right in real time. I watched most of the game last night. The first base umpire had a lot of bangers. He did great on all of them. Those guys are good.

Appeal plays are covered on page 34 of RuleGraphics.

Foul Tip Fun

Check out this awesome play by the Brewers catcher in yesterday’s marathon win:

The ball is hit, popped up, and caught in foul territory. The count was 2-2. The umpire signaled foul tip and called the batter out.

The big question was this actually a foul tip.

Here is the definition:

A FOUL TIP is a batted ball that goes sharp and direct from the bat to the catcher’s hands and is legally caught. It is not a foul tip unless caught and any foul tip that is caught is a strike, and the ball is in play. It is not a catch if it is a rebound, unless the ball has first touched the catcher’s glove or hand.

To be a foul tip, the ball has to go sharp and direct to the glove – this ball did this.

Once it goes sharp and direct, it just has to be caught. The catch can be on a rebound. This is one heck of a call. Full disclosure, I did not even notice hitting the glove the first time I saw this. Great job by the umpire.

What I thought happened was just some meekly hit ball that the catcher caught. What would the call be in this situation. It would be an out but for a caught ball and not a foul tip. A common rule myth is that a ball has to go some discernible height to be caught by the catcher for an out (I have heard it has to go above the catcher’s head a bunch).

This is not true. A ball is either a foul tip or a foul ball. If a foul ball is caught it is an out no matter the height. None of this applies on this play, but it is worth knowing.

Another shout out on this play – the Brewers announcers nailed it as well. They saw it, knew the rule, and explained it well. Nice job fellas.

Foul Tip is covered on page 10 of RuleGraphics.

This game is fun

This quote appears (with some added profanity) in the movie Bull Durham. Umpiring is serious business and most folks I know take it very seriously. Of course, that does not mean there are not moments where some fun is appropriate.

Check out this play:

The umpire down the line has a ball magnet in his pocket. Instead of possibly taking one in the face he decides to hit the deck. Being dedicated to his job he spins while on his backside to confirm the ball landed foul – he even makes the call.

The fans were giving him the Bronx cheer (not a euphemism as the game was in New York). He gets up and proudly tips his cap. Sometimes that is all you can do.

Odd play at the plate

This is an older play but I just came across it. The ball gets away from the catcher and the runner on third attempts to score. The pitcher covers home, gets the ball and tags the runner behind his back. Take a look.

The play was awesome especially given the context of the game (tied in extra innings). I would like to also give some kudos to the umpire. These plays are tough to get locked into because of the adrenaline of the moment.

In this play, the umpire calmly gets to the perfect spot on the field (third base line extended). He gets himself set – not moving at all when the play happens. He leans in to get a good look.

Then at the end he does not rush his call. Wild pitches usually wind up with a safe runner. But, the umpire did not let this or the odd tag by the pitcher sway him. Just a great example of home plate mechanics.

Catching Up

Like a lot of folks, I took some time off this weekend. It was nice to recharge and refresh heading into tournament baseball. From an umpiring perspective, two stories have dominated.

The first was the ejection of Bryce Harper by umpire Marvin Hudson.

Here is the clip:

Couple of thoughts: while writers want to jump on the #umpshow bandwagon and decry Hudson for the act, Harper was certainly not blameless. As a matter of black letter law, you cannot argue balls and strikes which both Harper and Williams were certainly doing. Also, when asked to get in the box, sticking only a toe in was clearly showing the umpire up. He is smart enough to know how this would end.

As to Hudson, he does look like the aggressor in this situation after ripping his mask off. No matter what happened before or after, he was going to come off looking boorish. Umpires are taught to shut down sniping quickly, so I don’t blame him for his actions.

The thing that cracks me up is all the people out there saying umpires should “expect” the treatment and “knew what they were getting into”. Bologna. You can argue in a civil manner. Players know the line and the consequences. Harper choose to leave the game by his actions.

Harper actually learned early some of the things he cannot do to umpires.

I thought Rob Neyer’s article was the most reasoned look at the situation.

The other big story is the second ejection of a pitcher for using a rosin/sunscreen mixture to improve grip.

The rules say you cannot apply a foreign substance of any kind. Offenders face ejection and suspension. There is a groundswell to change this rule to allow a substance that improves grip without being able to effect how a ball moves. Either this or a new type of ball will probably be employed soon.

Time Play

Runners on first and third with 1 out. Fly ball to the right fielder who throws to first for the double play. Just an awesome play.

The run did not count in this play. The out happened before the run crossed. The key question – would the run have counted if the runner crossed the plate before the out at first.

90% of fans would say no run in either case. They would be wrong.

The throw back to first base is not a force out. If the third out is not by a batter runner at 1st or a force out, the run scores if it happens before the 3rd out occurs.

This is so misunderstood that it is written directly into the rule book – twice. Umpires don’t have to seek out an interpretation manual – it is right in the book.

Here is the approved ruling from 4.09(b):

APPROVED RULING: One out, Jones on third, Smith on first, and Brown flies out to right field. Two outs. Jones tags up and scores after the catch. Smith attempted to return to first but the right fielder’s throw beat him to the base. Three outs. But Jones scored before the throw to catch Smith reached first base, hence Jones’ run counts. It was not a force play.

Pretty cut and dried right. On this play, the piddling of the runner from 3rd cost his team a run. If he busts down the line he certainly would have scored.

I love how they had a camera angle that showed both the plate and the play at first. The umpire was right on top of this call.

Now, let’s add a wrinkle. Say the runner from third scored before the out at first – but he did not tag up. In this case, the run would score unless the defense appealed. If they appeal, this would be an advantageous 4th out in the inning. The defense gets to choice which out is more to advantage if multiple outs would end the inning. They have until all infielders leave fair territory to appeal.

This tricky play is used to quiz umpires about their mastery of the force out concept. It is on page 8 of RuleGraphics. RuleGraphics is our book that puts all relevant information about a rule in one convenient place. If you search Amazon for baseball rules, it is the first listing.

Over the bag

Fair/foul balls are not usually subject to arguments. There are always exceptions though. Here is a play in a recent Yankee game.

What does it take to be a fair ball?

A FAIR BALL is a batted ball that settles on fair ground between home and first base, or between home and third base, or that is on or over fair territory when bounding to the outfield past first or third base, or that touches first, second or third base, or that first falls on fair territory on or beyond first base or third base, or that, while on or over fair territory touches the person of an umpire or player, or that, while over fair territory, passes out of the playing field in flight.

I added the emphasis. When the ball is bounding it can be over fair territory and still be fair. It does not have to be touch fair territory on either side of the base. First and third (well all the bases) are in fair territory.

Put it all together and a ball that bounces over a base is a fair ball. This is what happens in this play. The ball does not land fair after passing the base – but it does not have to. Good call here.

A few inside baseball things here. Notice how the field umpire made this call. This is normal procedure. Up to the base is the home plate guys call and anything that bounces over is taken by the field guy. The Yankee manager first argues with the home plate umpire who correctly tells him he did not make the call.

On the last replay, you see the field umpire call fair ball. The home plate guy is looking at him and vigorously shaking his “yes”. I think he is trying to help his partner out in case he was blocked.

All in all a good call on a tricky play. Page 37 of RuleGraphics contains fair/foul ball. See examples of the book and information on where to buy at our website.