Walk off infield fly

Here is a play that is making its way around the internet – a walk off infield fly.

Here is the key part of the definition  – from 2.00 INFIELD FLY.

The ball is alive and runners may advance at the risk of the ball being caught, or retouch and advance after the ball is touched, the same as on any fly ball. If the hit becomes a foul ball, it is treated the same as any foul.

The runner on third can try to run if he likes. Now, most of the time he should not try to advance. In this one, the runner probably thought he was forced to advance.

But he was not. Here is 2.00 FORCE PLAY:

A FORCE PLAY is a play in which a runner legally loses his right to occupy a base
by reason of the batter becoming a runner.

When the batter becomes a runner, all runners on first (or second when first is also occupied, etc) are forced to run. The opposite of this is also true – when the batter runner gets put out, the runners are not forced to go anywhere.

On an infield fly, the batter runner is out so all forces are removed. When the fielder picks up the ball and steps on home plate – this does nothing. That runner has to be tagged to be put out.

To me, the most interesting thing on this play is the umpire. He is holding his fist in the air for an out. It is not clear if he means the batter or the runner from 3rd. After the coaches explain the situation to him (with help from another umpire) he signals safe. I would have thought he would have be clearer. Of course, this play is all sorts of goofy so I will give him a pass.

What a strange way to end a ballgame.

RuleGraphics is our book that breaks down the rules in simple easy to understand language using pictures where needed. Infield fly is covered on page 31 and force outs are covered on page 30. Find out more at our website.

Tricky Tricky

Brandon Phillips is one tricky(and smart) player. Here is a play from yesterday’s game:


(MLB not allowing embedding on this clip yet).

Some folks would cry foul and think the runners should not be out. Let’s break this down.

First question – is this an infield fly?

Rule 2.00 has the definitions:

An INFIELD FLY is a fair fly ball (not including a line drive nor an attempted bunt) which can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, when first and second, or first, second and third bases are occupied, before two are out. The pitcher, catcher and any outfielder who stations himself in the infield on the play shall be considered infielders for the purpose of this rule.

A FLY BALL is a batted ball that goes high in the air in flight.

There were runners on first and second, but the ball was not really a fly ball. It did not go high in the air. I would call it more of a soft line drive. I think the umpires got this one right.

Now – should the batter have been out because of an intentionally dropped ball?

Rule 6.05(l) states:

A batter is out when—

An infielder intentionally drops a fair fly ball or line drive, with first, first and second, first and third, or first, second and third base occupied before two are out. The ball is dead and runner or runners shall return to their original base or bases;
APPROVED RULING: In this situation, the batter is not out if the infielder permits the ball to drop untouched to the ground, except when the Infield Fly rule applies.

Phillips clearly let the ball ht the ground. He did not glove it and then drop it. Again, great call by the umpire. Also a super smart play by Phillips.

Compare this play to one he made 2 years ago:

In this play, the infield fly is called. The batter is out even though the ball dropped to the turf. The runner on 1st forgot about the infield fly, thought he was forced to run and got tagged out. Tagging is key. The force was removed so the shortstop smartly laid on a tag. If the runner would have stayed on 1st, the double play would not have happened.

One other quick note on this one…back to the rule book in the comment for infield fly

When an infield fly rule is called, runners may advance at their own risk. If on an infield fly rule, the infielder intentionally drops a fair ball, the ball remains in play despite the provisions of Rule 6.05(l). The infield fly rule takes precedence.

In the second instance, Phillips could have gloved the ball and dropped it. The ball would not have been dead. The runners are already protected due to the infield fly so no need to kill the ball. Of course, the runner on 1st might have stayed put if he did this, so it all worked out.

Confused? RuleGraphics makes this and other rules easier to understand. Pages 31 and 32 cover these rulings.

Easy Double Play

Here is a play that shows how much the players and announcers don’t understand the rules. Of course, I cannot hit a curve ball and trip over my words so I will give them a break.

The infield fly rule was in effect with the bases loaded and 1 out. The batter skies one about 20 feet in front of home plate. The home plate umpire clearly is pointing up and calling the rule.

When the infield fly is called, the batter is out (out #2). Since the batter is out, all forces are removed. There cannot be a force out if the batter runner is put out.

When the ball drops, the runner on third thinks he has to run. The catcher easily tags him for out #3.

For fun, he throws the ball to second base. The runner there realizes there is 3 outs and starts walking off the field. The announcers declare he is out after tagged. Awesome – 4 outs! Defense only has to get 2 next inning (that was a joke).

The infield fly is designed to protect the offense from getting an easy double play turned against them. I suppose they forgot that intent on this play.

Infield Fly is covered on page 31 and force plays are on page 30 of RuleGraphics.

Killing the Infield Fly Rule

This weekend was the SABR analytics conference.  I did not attend, but I follow enough smart SABR guys on Twitter to keep up to speed.  If you like baseball research, join SABR.  I have been a proud member since the early 2000s.

Above is a brief conversation I had with Sean Forman on the elimination of the Infield Fly Rule.  Before I get into my thoughts on the issue, an aside on Mr. Forman.  He created and runs Baseball Reference on the web.  No exaggeration when I say this is probably the single most important and useful baseball website ever created. If the Baseball Hall of Fame ever decides to add a wing for non-player/non-affiliated yet impactful people on the game, Mr. Forman should go right in behind Bill James and John Thorn (and those guys have gone on to get jobs in baseball, so maybe they should be in another category).  I am not joking.

Plus, I met him once at a SABR conference in Cincinnati and we talked about logarithms.  He seemed like a nice enough guy.

OK – to the issue at hand, as a reminder the infield fly rule is when there are runners on at least 1st and 2nd, less than 2 outs, and a batter hits a ball that an infielder can catch with ordinary effort.  The rule states that the batter is automatically out.

Why was this rule created?  If it did not exist the defense would presumably just let the ball drop and grab an easy force out if not a double play.  If the runners got wise to this and took off early, the defense would catch the ball and nab the runner for not tagging up.

The research at the conference suggested that eliminating the rule and punishing the offense would lead to more double plays (450 per the tweet).  The question becomes would eliminating this rule be a good thing. Again, I have not seen the research.  On the surface, I would say don’t mess with this rule.  Here is my reasoning:

  • The rule is more about protecting the offense rather than rewarding the defense.  I think that protection is valuable.
  • I wonder if it would really change anything.  By rule, the fielder would have to let the ball bounce (hit the ground un-gloved – unless they also eliminate the infielder intentionally dropping a ball rule: 6.05(l) ) and then turn the double play.  Pop-ups have all sorts of crazy spin, so this opens up a slight chance for a freak play.
  • At lower levels players may not be able to complete the double play.  Does that mean you only change the rule at the professional level?  How far down does it go?  I think changing rules this fundamental between levels is dangerous.
  • Baseball has all sorts of unwritten rules.  I wonder if teams would even take advantage of it all that often.  Seems like something that would lead to bean balls

Bottom line, it is an interesting thought and probably very interesting research.  I don’t see the players (minus Atlanta Braves) and umpires going for the change though.  It just seems like it might be more trouble than it is worth.

RuleGraphics contains information on all the rules discussed in this post:

  • infield Fly on page 31
  • Intentionally dropped batted ball on page 32