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.

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.

Keep playin’ boys

Buried in the rule book at 6.02(a) PENALTY (old rule reference 8.05 PENALTY) is the exact penalty for a balk:

PENALTY: The ball is dead, and each runner shall advance one base without liability to be put out, unless the batter reaches first on a hit, an error, a base on balls, a hit batter, or otherwise, and all other runners advance at least one base, in which case the play proceeds without reference to the balk.

The first part of the rule is the one everyone knows. The runners all get a base and the pitch does not count to the batter. Not a lot of people know about the second part. If the ball is put into play, it is not dead right away.

If the batter and all runners advance at least one base, the balk is forgotten. This does not happen often but it did last night.

The pitcher committed an illegal quick pitch. A balk was immediately called. This did not stop the batter from smacking a ground rule double.

On the hit all runners advanced a base so the balk is not called. Pretty interesting play.

One other thing about this play. This article equates this situation to a football coach being able to decline a penalty. This is not right. One of two things happen: the runners and batter don’t all advance and a balk is called or they do and the balk is not called. There is no choice.

Say the ball stayed in the park and the batter was thrown out at second. The manager cannot come out and say he would rather have his guy in the box with the runners getting a base. The out would stand at second.

In high school this rule is completely different. The ball is dead immediately and nothing that happens afterwards matters. The ultimate result of the play would be one run scoring, one runner moving to 3rd and the batter still in the box.

Baseball is awesome at times.

Balks are covered on pages 21-23 of RuleGraphics.

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.

Cheaters never win or stay in the game

To finish up my one day two part series on baseball cheating in honor of deflategate, let’s talk about the pitchers.

First the rule, 8.02(a) (2-5) and (b):

8.02 The pitcher shall not—

(2) expectorate on the ball, either hand or his glove;
(3) rub the ball on his glove, person or clothing;
(4) apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball;
(5) deface the ball in any manner; or

(b) Have on his person, or in his possession, any foreign substance. For such infraction of this section (b) the penalty shall be immediate ejection from the game. In addition, the pitcher shall be suspended automatically. In National Association Leagues, the automatic suspension shall be for 10 games.

Pretty simple right. There have been some great pitcher-caught-in-the-act moments over the years. Here is a sampling:

Michael Pineda was caught last year with pine tar on his neck. I love how non-nonchalantly the umpire kicks him out. Lip reading it looks like he just says “that’s pine tar” and boots him.

Joe Niekro had an emery board with him on the mound. He tried to slyly get rid of it, but the umpire saw him throw it to the side. Look at how the Twins manager is trying to keep the umpires away from his pocket at the beginning of the conference.

Heck you could even get ejected throwing a spit ball in a video game.

The only real difference between these guys and others…they got caught.

Baseball and softball meeting

From a rules perspective, the buzz around baseball has to do with Marlins pitcher Carter Capps. Check out this delivery:

Well, it certainly is odd. Of course, odd does not equal illegal.

What does the rules have to say about this? Surprisingly little. The only real requirement in the rule is that the pitcher has to start on the rubber when delivering a pitch. There is no language that the pitcher has to be on the rubber at delivery. I would wager that most pitchers have already pushed off the rubber when the ball is released.

This now gets us into softball territory. A “crow hop” is an maneuver in softball where the pitcher replants their pivot foot effectively shortening the distance of the pitch. They are allowed to push off but not hop and replant.

The telltale sign of a push off is the dragging of the feet. It looks like MLB wants to use a similar guideline per this article.

“They just said they wanted me to make sure I dragged my foot and not get too elevated in the air, and make sure it’s more on a lateral plane,” Capps said. “As long as I do that, they have no problem with it. But it was very strange.”

Very strange indeed. It looks like as long as his hop is not over the top, MLB is going to allow this delivery.

In a nutshell they are ruling this: he has an extreme push off the rubber but it is a push off. He starts his delivery from the rubber.

Now, if they ruled this a hop to a secondary point and then a delivery with a push off, you would have an illegal pitch for delivering off the rubber.

I can see no reason why it would not be legal in other codes for similar reasons. It will be interesting to see if anyone codifies what can and cannot be done through case plays or book additions in the coming years.

Pitching positions are covered on pages 18 and 19 of RuleGraphics.

Stealing Home

This is a really interesting play. From a strategy perspective the coach pulls this off with an 0-2 count and 2 outs. The thought being a hit at that point to score a run is unlikely. It makes gambling a strong option as the worst result is the hitter gets to lead off the next inning with a fresh start.

Some people think plays like this are bush league. I am not of that opinion. Runs are a sacred thing in baseball. Do what you can to get as many as you can.

Lastly, there is the rules aspect of it. The play by the offense is legal. Nothing in the rules about tripping during a steal attempt. Rule 7.08 (i) talks about running the bases in reverse making a “travesty” of the game (yup, that word is in the book). This rule was put in due to Herman Schaefer and his antics around the turn of the century. But this play is clearly not that.

The defensive side of this is more interesting. In the video, the defensive dugout is heard yelling something as the play begins. Most likely they are yelling “step off” or some variation. Why would they be yelling this?

Because the rules don’t allow a pitcher to make a fake to first base while on the rubber. If he would have lifted his front foot, he would have had to either throw to first, throw to home, or commit a balk. If he completed a turn, he could have faked toward second since a play was being made. But stepping back is the best option since once he steps back, he is treated like any other infielder.

On these double steals, the pitcher wants to be able to make a play on either runner if needed. Stepping off allows him to do this.

Balks are covered on pages 22 and 23 of RuleGraphics.

Switch Pitcher meets Switch Hitter

The video is from 2008.  It was an example of a switch pitcher versus a switch hitter in a minor league game.  Switch hitters are rare but not exceedingly so.  There are always a collection of them in the majors and have been plenty in the history of the game.
Switch pitchers on the other hand – very rare.  4 pitchers who pitched in the 1800s were known to use both hands.  Modern times have only seen one – Greg Harris who did it in 1995.

The thought of a switch pitcher facing a switch hitter was the type of third world play that would have driven umpire instructors crazy.  A third world play is something that would be so rare why should people waste time thinking about it.

Except on this night in the minors, the third world became the first world.  The ultimate result was an rule addition.

Rule 8.01 (f) outlines the rules for switch pitchers.  Basically, the pitcher has to break the stalemate and declare what hand he is using.  Once he declares, he cannot switch back until the batter is done batting, the inning ends, a pinch hitter is used, or he injurers the one arm.  To remove gamesmanship, if the pitcher claims an injury, he is not allowed to use that arm for the remainder of the game.  Other codes have similar rules now as well.

The pitcher in this video is named Pat Venditte.  He is still active in baseball making news earlier in spring for getting outs during the same appearance using both arms.  Whether Mr. Venditte ever makes the show is still a story being written.  But, not many people can lay claim to being the driving force behind a new rule.