Umpires and history

Fans say umpires are at their best when they are not noticed. Most umpires don’t like to inject themselves into the game. The goal is to let the players decide the outcome.

Washington fans wishes the umpire would have injected himself more into Max Scherzer’s game over the weekend. For people that missed it, Scherzer was perfect through 8 2/3rds. He was one strike away from history when this happened:

Here is the rule that covers this (old format):

6.08 The batter becomes a runner and is entitled to first base without liability to be put out (provided he advances to and touches first base) when—

(b) He is touched by a pitched ball which he is not attempting to hit unless (1) The ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, or (2) The batter makes no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball;

What happens when the umpire rules the batter made no attempt to avoid the ball. The ball is dead, the pitch is called a strike or ball depending on where it is in relation to the strike zone, and then the game is moved on to the next pitch.

Was this the right call? Well, I think it certainly was a tough call. I think this in situation I would have also given the batter first.

A couple of points to consider:

  1. The ball comes at the batter very fast. Most movement is actually just reaction and not attempts to take a pitch. Sure, some guys lean in but I think this is more rare than people think
  2. The elbow does not move laterally. A lot of batters have elbow movement up and down at the plate
  3. The pitcher goofed up. The catcher wanted it low and away. The pitch was a cement mixer that was well inside. The batter (and ball) was no where near the zone when it hit him.

My rule of thumb on this (and I remember I am no where near the quality of a MLB umpire) – unless it is blatant by the batter, he gets the benefit of the doubt and the base. To put a number on it, I would say I am giving the base 97% of the time.

The announcers were quick to ask the question “did the batter attempt to get out of the way?” followed by the statement “well, that never gets called”.

While not calling this is a way for the umpire to not needlessly inject himself into a game, there is some precedent for making this call in significant situations.

Check out this box score from May 31, 1968. In the 9th inning, the Giants had the bases loaded and no outs. The box score shows Dick Dietz flew out to left field. But, this is only part of the story.

Dietz was actually hit with a pitch earlier in the at bat. This would have scored a run, pulled the game closer, and ruined Don Drysdale chance for a 5th straight shutout. None of this happened because Harry Wendelstedt ruled Dietz did not attempt to avoid the pitch. The Giants manager was eventually tossed from the game. The Giants got no runs in the inning and Drysdale went on to set a record for consecutive scoreless innings.

As fate would have it when Orel Hershiser was attempting to break Drysdale’s record, he would benefit from an unique call. On September 23, 1988 the Giants had runners on 1st and 3rd and only 1 out. The next ball was an attempted double play that the Dodgers could not turn. Hershiser’s streak appeared to be over.

But, umpires (and I say umpires because some sources say 2B umpire Bob Engel while others say 3B Paul Runge) called interference. This changed the outcome to a double play with no run scoring. Hershiser would go on to break the record.

What does this all mean? Well, I think it means that umpires while trying to be anonymous on the field realize they have a job to do. If the play warrants a call, they will make the call regardless of the historical implications.

Scherzer (for his part knew he messed up and did not argue the call) still gets his name in the record books with a dazzling no hitter.

Hit by pitch is covered on page 41 of RuleGraphics. 


Insult to injury

It seems like I have done a lot of posts on hit by pitch. I suppose it is because there are a lot of misconceptions around this rule.

Here is a clip from yesterday’s Tiger/Rays game

Rule 6.08(b) says:

The batter becomes a runner and is entitled to first base without liability to be put out (provided he advances to and touches first base) when—

(b) He is touched by a pitched ball which he is not attempting to hit unless (1) The ball
is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, or (2) The batter makes no attempt
to avoid being touched by the ball;

I added the emphasis.

If a batter swings at a ball and misses – it is a strike. This is the case whether the ball hit him or not.

The only difference in the case of a ball hitting a batter is the ball is dead. The ball is always dead when it strikes a batter. After the ball is dead, the umpire determines if the batter gets a base.

In the instances listed in the rule, he would not get his base.

I love how someone in the background is yelling “foul ball”. This is not right. If Longoria would have had two strikes on him when this happened – he would have been out for strike 3. It is a dead ball strike.

Hit by pitch is covered on page 41 of RuleGraphics.

Hands are part of what?

Without a doubt the most prevalent rule myth I hear is “hands are a part of the bat”. The argument is that if a batter is hit by a pitch on his hands, he does not get first base because the ball did not hit him, it hit his bat. Why did it hit his bat? Because the hands are part of the bat.

I have no idea why this myth exists. It is 100% false.

Rule 6.08(d) states a batter becomes a runner when he is touched by a pitched ball he is not trying to hit.

Further the definitions section defines TOUCH as

To touch a player or umpire is to touch any part of his body, his clothing
or his equipment.

It clearly says any part of his body. Last time I checked my hands were part of my body.

Now, for the stubborn out there that cannot be swayed by language, let’s sway them by looking at what happens in a game situation when the pitch hits a hand.

Our guide on this journey is Jeff Bagwell. Known for his odd batting stance and Hall of Fame numbers, Bagwell along with Craig Biggio terrorized National League pitching for the Astros in the ’90s and ’00s.

On August 10, 1994 Bagwell got hit by a pitch in a game. As this article points out the pitch actually broke his hand. What happened when he got in the hand – he got his base. The boxscore is available on baseball-reference.

Look at the play by play in the bottom of the third – Jeff Bagwell received his base.

Bagwell was having a monster year that season. The strike ended up cancelling the rest of the season after his injury and he was named MVP.

Why did I choose Bagwell when talking about this rule. Well, it happened to him in 1993. Check the play by play in the bottom of the 1st – he got his base. Unbelievably it also happened to him in 1995. Again, the play by play shows him getting a base.

Talk about bad luck to lose significant sections of three seasons on the same injury. At least his on base percentage improved after each of those at bats.

The ultimate lesson on this stroll down memory lane is don’t be one of those “hands is part of the bat” people. If the ball hits flesh, the batter gets his base (if he did not swing).

Hit by Pitch is covered on page 41 of RuleGraphics.

Bouncing Balls

Hit by pitch should be the easiest rule to understand. Pitch hits batter; batter gets first base. Yet, there are a few instances where there is confusion.

At this point, folks are probably wondering why I linked to a video where a guy hits a double. It is not any ordinary double as the ball bounced before he hit the ball. It is a hit that Roger Federer would be proud of.

What does this have to do with a hit by pitch? Well, some people will argue with umpires that a pitch that bounces and hits the batter does not afford him first base. This is hogwash. If a batter can hit a bounced pitch, they can be hit by a bounced pitch.

Further, Rule 6.08(b) says nothing about being hit by an “in flight” ball. Also, the ball is not dead when the ball hits the ground. There are a few instances where a batter can be hit by a pitch and not receive first base. The pitch bouncing first is not one of them.

Hit by pitch is covered on page 41 of RuleGraphics.