Monday, April 24, 2017

Sorry Toronto - Batter's Interference Call Was Correct

After ejecting John Gibbons in the 6th, HP Umpire Toby Basner ruled batter interference in the 7th, again stirring Toronto's ire. Was this the correct call? Here is the proper interpretation for batter's interference, complicated by what appears to be unintentional backswing contact with the catcher.

Click here for video analysis of this play.

Travis argues Basner's call to no avail.
The Play: With none out and a runner on first in the top of the 7th, Blue Jays batter Devon Travis swung on and missed a 1-0 changeup from Angels pitcher Yusmeiro Petit as Jays baserunner R1 Chris Coghlan attempted to steal second base. Angels catcher Martin Maldonado's throw to second baseman Danny Espinosa was high, and Espinosa's tag on Coghlan occurred after Coghlan slid into second base, resulting in a fairly obvious safe call by 2B Umpire and Crew Chief Jerry Layne.

Back at home plate, however, Basner had called "Time" and interference on batter Travis. As the throw failed to retire Coghlan, Basner enforced the interference rule and declared batter Travis out, returning Coghlan to first base on the dead ball penalty.

Analysis: As is said, what we have here is a failure to communicate: Toronto and acting manager DeMarlo Hale thought Basner called one thing when he really called an entirely different infraction: Basner got this play right, but why? Let's break down the contested sequence.

Diagram of the INT play.
The entire baseball language barrier is alleviated when we separate "batter's interference" from "unintentional backswing contact," and remind ourselves that Basner called Travis for interference, not contact on the backswing.

This also should help: There is no such thing as backswing interference. Interference is an act that results in an out. Unintentional backswing contact is simply a dead ball (delayed as it were).

Learn more about the difference between interference on the batter and unintentional backswing contact at Case Play 2016-9 - A Backswing on Strike 3 (Backswing contact play with David Ortiz from August 2016).

Rule 6.03(a)(3) describes batter's interference, and states that a batter is out for illegal action when "He interferes with the catcher’s fielding or throwing by stepping out of the batter’s box or making any other movement that hinders the catcher’s play at home base."

Pursuant to this definition, we rewind the tape and see that in swinging and missing at Petit's changeup, Travis' right foot exited the batter's box and landed behind home plate, in front of catcher Maldonado before he released the baseball. It was this infraction that Basner called.

Note, for instance, that when Travis argues his case by recreating his swing, he stays within the confines of the batter's box. Had Travis remained within the batter's box during the play, he would have had a valid argument.

The fact that Travis' bat, on the backswing, made contact with Maldonado is the textbook definition of unintentional backswing contact, but this inadvertent contact is superseded by the batter's interference call that immediately followed it.

In other words, in the hierarchy of baseball rules, interference trumps accidental contact.

Timing: Travis' foot is out before the throw.
Though the backswing contact may or may not have caused Maldonado's high throw, that matter is irrelevant: the proper interference call—due to Travis stepping out of the batter's box in front of a throwing Maldonado—meant that at the end of this play, either Coghlan would be out on the tag, or Travis would be out on interference, pursuant to Rule 6.03(a)(3) and (4) Comment, which states, "If the batter interferes with the catcher, the plate umpire shall call 'interference.' The batter is out and the ball dead...If, however, the catcher makes a play and the runner attempting to advance is put out, it is to be assumed there was no actual interference and that runner is out—not the batter."

For wholesome's sake, Rule 6.03(a)(3) and (4) Comment also dictates the terms of unintentional backswing contact: "If a batter strikes at a ball and misses and swings so hard he carries the bat all the way around and, in the umpire’s judgment, unintentionally hits the catcher or the ball in back of him on the backswing, it shall be called a strike only (not interference). The ball will be dead, however, and no runner shall advance on the play."

Video via "Read More

Alternate Link: Basner calls interference in bang-bang interference vs contact play at the Big A (TOR)


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