Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Rules Review - Interference and Phases of a Play

CB Bucknor's interference no-call on Carlos Correa's base running in Oakland on Monday was decisive and resolute: By the time A's third baseman Ryon Healy fielded the batted ball and threw toward first base, the "safe" call had already been made.

Diagram of F5, R2, and the baseball's paths.
After the play, A's Manager Bob Melvin took issue with Bucknor's ruling that Astros baserunner R2 Correa had not interfered with F5 Healy, which prompts our latest rules review.

With two out and two on (R1, R2) in the top of the 4th inning of the Astros-Athletics game, Astros batter Carlos Gomez hit a ground ball weakly to third base. Replays indicate that baserunner R2 Correa ran in front of A's third baseman Ryon Healy without making contact as Healy charged across to field the batted ball and threw to first base, his low throw resulting in an error that allowed Correa to score.

Melvin's operative question and objection concerns whether Correa's actions in running directly in front of Healy constituted interference. As most of us know, the broadcaster's claim, "As an infielder, you have to make contact with the baserunner to get the call" is somewhat of a misnomer, though it did end up holding true for this particular play: Though a runner is out, pursuant to Rule 6.01(a)(1), if "He fails to avoid a fielder who is attempting to field a batted ball," this is not the only potential for interference (6.01[a][1] does not apply here since Correa did physically avoid Healy).

Official Baseball Rule 5.09(b)(3) states that any runner is out if, "He intentionally interferes with a thrown ball; or hinders a fielder attempting to make a play on a batted ball." This rule is so important that it has been highlighted in two colors. More on the color-coding later.

Did Correa hinder Healy's play on the ball?
The penalty for this brand of interference is as follows: "The runner is out and the ball is dead. If the umpire declares the batter, batter-runner, or a runner out for interference, all other runners shall return to the last base that was in the judgment of the umpire, legally touched at the time of the interference, unless otherwise provided by these rules."

To understand why Bucknor would not call interference on Correa for Healy's poor throw—which may or may not have been caused by Correa's conduct—requires a grasp of 5.09(b)(3) and "phases of a play."

Recall the two colors used to diagram the rule. For this play, those colors should be reversed; The relevant portion of this play is diagramed thusly: (1) R2 runs past F5 as he attempts to field a batted ball; (2) F5, having fielded the batted ball, now throws the ball to first base.

By this point, the potential for INT is over.
Thus, the quality of Healy's throw to first base is not eligible nor should it be considered as part of the call-making process: The batted ball component of this play ended as soon as Healy fielded the ball, and thus, the potential for batted ball interference by Correa ended as soon as Healy fielded the ball. Any subsequent action (e.g., Healy's throw) is irrelevant for this play, since the subsequent action occurs during a subsequent phase of the play.

That said, the question of whether runner Correa hindered fielder Healy in his attempt to make a play on the batted ball relies, partly, on the dictionary definition of hinder ("to cause delay, interruption, or difficulty in; hamper or impede"), and, partly, on the umpire's judgment of whether the fielder was delayed or otherwise placed at an unfair disadvantage in fielding the ball by the runner's actions. Replays indicate that fielder F5 Healy initially charged directly toward the right foul line, running parallel to the left field foul line, before reading the batted ball's bounce and moving to his left, coincidentally taking him directly toward and past baserunner R2 Correa. Replays indicate Healy was then able to field the ball via the barehand (thus, ending the batted ball phase of the play) and throw to first base.

The throw was poor, but by that point, Correa already had committed his action of interference or non-interference: U3 Bucknor, thus, had to rely solely on the definitions and criteria as prescribed by OBR: Did Correa hinder Healy's ability to field the batted ball? Notice how the action that occurs after Healy actually fields the ball—namely his throw to first base—is not part of the batted ball interference rule and, indeed, requires a separate brand of interference altogether: For interference to be called on a throw, it must be intentional (or, in 2016, a violation of the bona fide slide rule). Replays indicate it wasn't and, thus, Bucknor's 5.09(b)(3) no-call appears to have been correct.

Alternate Link: Slow roller leads to near miss near third as Bucknor rules a legal incursion (HOU)


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