Sunday, October 11, 2015

Replay Review & Late Slides, Too: Utley's Tejada Takeout

Analysis of Chase Utley's slide into Ruben Tejada at Dodger Stadium and the out-overturned-to-safe call during Game 2 of the National League Division Series requires consultation of several key baseball documents: The Official Baseball Rules, the Replay Review Regulations, and the MLB Umpire Manual for starters. The Baseball Rules Differences is also useful to explain the MLB-uniqueness of this play.

So let us begin.

In SummaryThis would constitute a textbook case of interference and a double play at any level of baseball—other than professional OBR. In FED or NCAA, R1 is out, B1 is out, and R3 is returned to third base (run does not score). In MLB, however, this play is more complicated and may be called multiple ways. NOTE: The second base umpire's positioning starting from Deep B (edge of the infield grass on the second baseman's side near the cutout) also played a role in the adjudication of this play as he viewed the slide from behind as opposed to from the side. Had he been positioned for a lateral view, as in Deep C (edge of infield grass on the shortstop's side near the cutout), the judgment as relates to interference may have been different.

The Play (VIDEO HERE): With one out and runners on first and third base in the bottom of the 7th inning of the Mets-Dodgers game, Dodgers batter Howie Kendrick hit a 1-2 fastball from Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon on the ground to second baseman David Murphy, who threw to shortstop Ruben Tejada as Dodgers baserunner R1 Chase Utley arrived at second base, R3 Enrique Hernandez scoring and B1 Kendrick arriving at first base without a throw. Replays indicate a violent collision between Utley and Tejada and that Tejada retained possession of the baseball throughout his fall. 2B Umpire Chris Guccione ruled Utley out on the force play, determining that F6 Tejada caught Murphy's throw and tagged second base before Utley's arrival.

While Tejada received medical attention from team trainers and Los Angeles-area EMTs at second base due to having suffered a broken leg during Utley's slide, Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly elected to challenge the play, specifying to the umpires that he believed F6 Tejada failed to touch second base. Upon Replay Review, New York Replay Officials headed by crew chief Tim Welke overturned Guccione's on-field ruling of out: Utley was awarded second base and play continued with one out and runners on first and second base.

The Analysis
Relevant Rule (OBR): Rule 5.09(a)(13) [formerly 6.05(m)] states that the batter is out when: "A preceding runner shall, in the umpire’s judgment, intentionally interfere with a fielder who is attempting to catch a thrown ball or to throw a ball in an attempt to complete any play." The rule's associated Comment states, "The objective of this rule is to penalize the offensive team for deliberate, unwarranted, unsportsmanlike action by the runner in leaving the baseline for the obvious purpose of crashing the pivot man on a double play, rather than trying to reach the base. Obviously this is an umpire’s judgment play."
Relevant Interpretation (MLBUM): Rule 5.09(a)(13) [6.05(m)] is also addressed in the MLB Umpire Manual. The official interpretation states that if there is "willful and deliberate interference" with a fielder attempting to catch or throw a ball "with the obvious intent to deprive the defense of the opportunity to make a double play, the umpire shall declare the runner out for interference and shall also declare the batter-runner out for the interference of his teammate."
Guidelines - A Checklist (MLBUM): To determine whether a runner's actions constitute "willful and deliberate interference," the following guidelines may be applied (relevant to the Utley/Tejada play, GREEN highlighted text shall indicate that Utley satisfied the guideline (mitigating evidence) while RED shall indicate Utley failed to satisfy the guideline (aggravating). GREEN = no interference; RED = possible interference:
> In sliding to a base, the runner should be able to reach the base with his hand or foot.
> A runner who, in the judgment of the umpire, contacts or attempts to make contact with a fielder with a slide or roll block that is not a bona fide effort to reach and stay on the base may be called out for interference, and, when appropriate, a double play may be called.
> Any definite change in direction by the runner to contact the fielder would be considered interference.
> If a runner hits the dirt, slides, and rolls, it does not constitute a rolling block unless the runner leaves his feet and makes contact with the fielder before the runner slides on the ground. If the initial contact is with the fielder instead of the ground for the purpose of breaking up a double play, it is a roll block.
Analysis and Conclusion Regarding Potential Interference: Utley was able to reach the base with his hand (pursuant to guideline, he does not actually have to touch the base), did not make a bona fide effort to stay on the base, did not definitively change direction to contact Tejada, and did contact the ground with his knees prior to contacting Tejada—though barely. By spirit of the rule, it was a rolling block, however. In other words, Utley's actions may be considered willful and deliberate interference, but his actions did not meet the criteria which mandates such a ruling.

Sidebar: In NFHS (High School), this play follows Rule 3-3-1n ("A runner may not maliciously crash into a fielder, whether the fielder is in or out of the base path, or with or without the ball. The ball is immediately dead. PENALTY: The runner is out and ejected."). The slide must be "in a direct line between the bases (2-32-2f, 8-4-2b). In NCAA (College), the slide must be "on the ground and in a direct line between the two bases (8-4a). Rule 8-7 prescribes the penalty for malicious contact/collision: "The ball is dead, and the offender is out, regardless of the result of the play." Under both rules sets, all runners return to the bases last legally occupied at the time of interference. In pro-ball, there is no such rule as relates to malicious contact.

Relevant Rule (Replay Review, Neighborhood Play): With interference not called, Dodgers challenged U2's out call. Replay Review Regulation V.D.1. precludes the basic element of the so-called neighborhood play from Replay Review consideration. The following is not reviewable: "The Umpire's judgment that a runner is clearly out on a force play at second base under circumstances in which the defensive player may or may not have touched second base in his attempt to complete a double play and avoid a collision with the runner. All other elements of the call shall be subject to review, including whether the fielder caught the ball, had control of the ball, was drawn off the bag, or tagged the runner. In this regard, a determination as to whether the fielder made a catch before dropping the ball while in the act of making a throw following the catch shall be reviewable."
Analysis of Neighborhood Play: U2 ruled that F6 did not vacate or remove his foot from contact with or immediately around second base for the purpose of avoiding a collision with the runner. Because F6 did not vacate second base with this express purpose, U2 ruled the play was not excluded from review by neighborhood exemption V.D.1. Further, U2 allowed that there was a chance the throw drew F6 off the base, which is itself reviewable.

Relevant Rule (Replay Review, Fielder and Runner Both Miss Base): Because U2 ruled this was not a neighborhood play, the issue of whether F6 touched second base is reviewable. Replays indicate he did not. Replays also indicate R1 did not touch second base. Replay Review Regulation V.F.3. addresses this situation: "If the Replay Official determines both that the runner did not touch home plate and that the fielder did not tag the runner (or, in the case of a force play, did not touch home plate), the Replay Official shall rule the runner "safe" at home plate unless the defensive Manager appeals the failure of the runner to touch home plate prior to the Crew Chief making contact with the Replay Official." This provision applies to plays at any base, not just home plate.
Analysis of Dual Missed Base: Replays conclusively indicated neither person touched second base; by rule, the runner is "safe" and awarded second base, the call is overturned. Because there was no defensive appeal, the runner's obligation to touch second base terminated at the time of the erroneous out call. The incorrect out call supersedes R1's abandonment of running the bases, since the incorrect out call occurred prior to such abandonment.

Conclusion: The rules would support an interference ruling (and, thus, a double play and cancelled score) because the slide failed to meet at least one criterion on the legal slide checklist. It is a borderline roll block, which would constitute willful and deliberate interference. That said, once the umpires ruled this was not interference and not a neighborhood play, it became subject to replay review, wherein Replay Officials correctly followed written regulations to overturn the initial out call. MOST IMPORTANTLY: From 2B Umpire Chris Guccione's angle (picture from the 1B IF camera provided to the right), R1 Utley's slide doesn't look especially egregious (willful/deliberate). From the 3B IF camera angle (see this article's first image), the look is quite different.

Video: Utley's hard slide breaks Ruben Tejada's leg, prevents double play; all are safe (TBS)


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