Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Angels Protest Cuzzi RLI No-Call in Kansas City [Denied]

Angels Manager Mike Scioscia filed a protest over a runner's lane interference no-call in Kansas City Wednesday night en route to an Angels loss, meaning the protest will now move on and be considered by Major League Baseball and Joe Torre's office. UPDATE: *MLB subsequently denied the protest*

Phil Cuzzi explains his ruling to Scioscia.
With two out and none on in the bottom of the 7th inning, Royals batter Raul Mondesi bunted the first pitch from Angels starter Matt Shoemaker, who fielded the fair ball and threw to second baseman Johnny Giavotella, covering at first base as Mondesi arrived at the base. Replays indicate that as Mondesi reached out to touch first base with his right leg, Giavotella was unable to field the ball, which Shoemaker had thrown on the other side of Mondesi, resulting in a two-run error.

Scioscia protested HP Umpire Phil Cuzzi's ruling that Mondesi did not interfere and the Angels ultimately lost the contest. Ahead of MLB BOC's decision, let us review the play.

Official Baseball Rule 5.09(a)(11) states that a batter is out for runner's lane interference when—
In running the last half of the distance from home base to first base, while the ball is being fielded to first base, he runs outside (to the right of) the three-foot line, or inside (to the left of) the foul line, and in the umpire’s judgment in so doing interferes with the fielder taking the throw at first base, in which case the ball is dead.
Mondesi beats the throw to first base.
By now, we're well aware that "the lines marking the three-foot lane are a part of that lane," and that a batter-runner may exit the lane "in the immediate vicinity of first base for the sole purpose of touching first base." We're also aware that the issue is not whether the batter-runner interfered with the thrower, but with the receiver.

Interpretations of RLI: If you've followed our extensive series on runner's lane interference (see: Officially Speaking - RLI Part One and Part Deux, as well as 2015's RLI Analysis and 2016's RLI Only Applies to Fielder at First), you'll also be familiar with Jim Evans' interpretation that, "A runner who has advanced the entire distance from home plate to first in fair territory making no effort to run within the lane is not extended the same leniency as the runner who runs in the lane as required and then cuts into fair territory near the base to touch it," and Harry & Hunter Wendelstedt's interpretation that, "The determination is not whether the throw is true, but whether it could still reasonably retire the runner."

Scioscia takes his protest to Paul Nauert.
The Protest: Phil Cuzzi ruled that Mondesi did not violate 5.09(a)(11)—replays indicate Mondesi likely beat the ball to first base to begin with—but Scioscia's protest contends that even if Mondesi would have been safe, his actions were illegal and caused Shoemaker's throw to skip wildly down the right field line and allow two Royal runs to score.

Applying the Rule: The Evans interpretation is straightforward and visual evidence proves Mondesi advanced the entire distance in fair territory and not within his lane. What you'll notice from the Wendelstedt interpretation regarding quality of throw, however, is that the determining factor on whether to call RLI is to consider, "whether [the throw] could still reasonably retire the runner."

If you believe that Mondesi would have been safe at first base in spite of that throw and that Mondesi beat the ball to the planar front edge of first base—essentially the front edge of the bag extended—then, pursuant to Wendelstedt, the throw could not have still reasonably retired the runner (since he beat the throw to begin with), and, with that criterion unsatisfied, RLI cannot apply to the play.

Under this interpretation, Cuzzi's call was correct and the Angels will lose their protest.

Scioscia pleads as Counselor Bellino observes.
On the other hand, as we always play Devil's advocate here, Evans and Wendelstedt are interpretations, but not official MLB documents: their phrases are influential dicta when compared to the authoritarian and binding case play descriptions contained within the Official Baseball Rules and MLB Umpire Manual. In other words, if Evans and Wendelstedt were wholly official documents, this case would be air-tight, but because they are not letter-of-the-law "official," there is room for an internal MLB interpretation that might differ from the Evans/Wendelstedt framework.

Put another way, OBR/MLBUM do not corroborate nor refute Evans/Wendelstedt. Therefore, MLB will have to rule on a rules-grey area over whether Scioscia's argument has merit. For that to happen, it will also rely on Cuzzi to have declared that Mondesi's actions would have constituted interference, but for the fact that he already reached first base prior to the ball. If so, MLB has room to rule either way, although Wendelstedt makes it quite clear that because the throw could not have retired the runner, no-calling RLI probably is a wise decision.

The last Angels protest occurred in 2013 when Fieldin Culbreth's crew allowed Houston to replace an incoming pitcher, who had yet to throw a pitch, while Scioscia filed a previous protest concerning RLI in 2012, claiming that the opposing batter-runner's running outside of the 45-foot lane caused the catcher to throw wildly to first base (the Angels lost that protest, as RLI only applies to the fielder taking the throw).

Alternate Link: Raul Mondesi records his first big league hit on disputed, protested play (KC)


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