Monday, June 12, 2017

NCAA Super Regional - Play at the Plate Obstruction?

A home plate obstruction no-call during the Florida-Wake Forest NCAA Super Regional's Game 2 action on Monday plagued Wake Forest as baserunner Keegan Maronpot was thrown out attempting to score to end the bottom of the 5th inning of what was, at the time, a one-run ballgame.

Is this play at the plate an out or obstruction?
The situation occurred during a single to center field with two out and two on (R1, R2), as R2 Maronpot attempted to slide around Florida catcher JJ Schwarz. Initially ruled an out, the call was affirmed via video replay review, keeping Wake Forest's lead at one.

The question before us is not whether the baserunner successfully reached out and touched home plate with the tips of his fingers—the touch vs no touch issue is the simple out/safe question that doesn't require any rules analysis to determine—it is whether catcher Schwarz obstructed baserunner Maronpot during this play.

Rules Review: The definition of obstruction at the college (NCAA) and professional level (OBR) is, essentially, the same: NCAA Rule 2-55 defines obstruction as, "the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of or in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner," while OBR holds that, "OBSTRUCTION is the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner."

NCAA Rule 2-55 Note 6 states, "The catcher, without the ball in his possession, has no right to block the pathway of the runner attempting to score. The base line belongs to the runner and the catcher should be there only when he is fielding the ball or when he already has the ball in his hand. If a fielder is about to receive a thrown ball and if the ball is in flight toward and near enough to the fielder so he must occupy his position to receive the ball, he may be considered 'in the act of fielding' a ball. It is entirely up to the judgment of the umpire as to whether the fielder is in the act of fielding a ball."

Is the catcher's path occupancy legal?
NCAA Rule 8-7-c Note provides further clarity: "A catcher shall not be deemed to have hindered or impeded the progress of the runner if, in the judgment of the umpire, the runner would have been called out notwithstanding the catcher having blocked the plate."

OBR is similar: "Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score...it shall not be considered a violation of this Rule 6.01(i)(2) (Rule 7.13(2)) if the catcher blocks the pathway of the runner in a legitimate attempt to field the throw...A catcher shall not be deemed to have hindered or impeded the progress of the runner if, in the judgment of the umpire, the runner would have been called out notwithstanding the catcher having blocked the plate." (6.01(i)).

As for college's video replay, Appendix E-2-f states, "Following plays will be reviewable: Deciding scoring plays at home plate inclusive of collisions (illegal and/or malicious slides) or time plays."

NCAA's standard for changing a call is "indisputable video evidence to reverse the call" (E-2-a). The MLB standard is "clear and convincing evidence" (Replay Review Regulation III).

The catcher's position as the runner slides past.
Analysis: At the time the bouncing throw first makes contact with the catcher's glove directly over the baseline, the runner has already begun his slide, and is physically past the catcher's position. The catcher's left leg appears to block the runner's pathway deep in the right-handed batter's box.

From the plate umpire's mechanics (no signal given after the play at the plate), it is apparent that the runner missed home plate.

As the runner slides past him, the catcher is clearly blocking the runner's access to home plate, but recall that if certain criteria are fulfilled ("act of fielding," "must occupy his position"), he is legally allowed to do so.

If, in the umpire's judgment, the runner was unable to touch home plate due to the catcher's leg (or other body) positioning prior to his receipt of the ball, and, if the umpire deems the catcher did not need to occupy the right-handed batter's box with his right leg/foot in order to receive the throw, then this is obstruction and the runner shall be awarded home plate. If the umpire deemed that the runner would have been out notwithstanding the catcher's conduct, or if the umpire deemed that the catcher legally occupied his position in the right-handed batter's box in order to receive the throw, this is not obstruction.

Unfortunately, at this time only the one high-first angle exists online, so we are unable to determine to an "indisputable video evidence" standard whether the catcher afforded the runner the opportunity to score on the inside of the third base line prior to fielding the ball, or whether the catcher needed to occupy his position in the right-handed batter's box in order to field the ball.

To review:
> If the catcher left a pathway for the runner to score to his right (the runner's left), then the catcher has complied with the plate-blocking rule and is not guilty of obstruction.
> If the catcher, in the umpire's judgment, blocked the runner's path by occupying his position because he needed to do so in order to field the throw, this is not obstruction.
> If the runner would have been out whether or not the catcher blocked him, this is not obstruction.
> If any of these aforementioned criteria are not fulfilled, then this is obstruction.

One final note (NCAA vs OBR): In college, the catcher may only legally block the runner's access to home plate if "he must occupy his position to receive the ball." In professional baseball, the catcher may legally block the runner if he is otherwise making "a legitimate attempt to field the throw." Thus, the legality standard is higher in NCAA than in OBR, for in NCAA, the catcher is only legal if he must occupy his position whereas in OBR, the catcher is legal as long as he makes a "legitimate attempt" to field the throw.

Where's NFHS? High school is simple. NFHS Rule 2-22-3 states it is obstruction if, "The fielder without possession of the ball denies access to the base the runner is attempting to achieve." Thus, under NFHS, the catcher would be guilty of obstruction because he denied access to home plate prior to gaining possession of the ball. There is no "act of fielding" exemption at this level of play.

Video via "Read More"
Alternate Link: Play at the plate denies Wake Forest's run at Super Regional (ESPN)

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