Friday, May 26, 2017

MLB Admits Error on Swinging HBP Strike Non-Review

Despite on-field umpires accepting Boston's challenge of a hit-by-pitch during a swinging strike no-call, a Replay Official failed to review the play, leading MLB to issue a rare statement purporting that its replay staff made a mistake by not reviewing the call.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time this type of replay non-review has occurred, and it's not even the first time that we have written about this type of call, identifying it as potential trouble spot for MLB due to poor replay communication and interpretation in the past of baseball's three types of hit-by-pitches (the take-your-base HBP, the dead ball ball HBP, and the dead ball strike HBP...more on these later).

Remember the ominous line from our pre-season 2017 edition of Tmac's Teachable Moments - Let's Fix Replay, "Let's replay more things...full swings that turn into HBPs are some of the disasters that are not reviewable"?

What is (Y) and isn't (X) reviewable.
Well, the HBP disaster sure reared its ugly head Thursday night at Fenway Park, though at least this time, MLB seems to have taken some initiative to solve the problem of the dead ball strike HBP review by saying that nearly all potential ball-hits-batter situations are to be deemed reviewable.^

Executive Summary: Any play in which a batter may be touched by a pitched ball is generally subject to review, but only if the dispute arises from a question of whether the pitched ball made contact with the batter vs with the bat, or batter vs nothing (but air). Without these material conflicts, the play is not reviewable (e.g., the batter's intent to swing or to avoid a pitched ball is not subject to review), and neither is the issue of whether a pitched ball made contact with the bat vs nothing (but air), nor whether a batted ball made contact with a batter.

The Play: With none out and none on in the top of the 9th inning of Thursday's Rangers-Red Sox game, Rangers batter Nomar Mazara swung at a 2-2 knuckle curve from Red Sox pitcher Craig Kimbrel. Initially ruled a swinging strikeout and wild pitch by HP Umpire Chad Fairchild—the uncaught third strike allowed Mazara to reach first base—Red Sox Manager John Farrell attempted to challenge the play, as replays indicate that the pitched ball struck Mazara's lower leg while he was swinging at it: the proper call would have been a dead ball strike, meaning Mazara would be out. Instead, Mazara ended up on first base.

Although Fairchild and acting Crew Chief Alfonso Marquez agreed to bring the play to video review, the call nonetheless stood, and a visibly unhappy Farrell retained his Manager's Challenge.

After the game, Major League Baseball issued a statement admitting it made a mistake:
During the top of the ninth inning of Thursday's Rangers-Red Sox game, the umpires on the field accepted Boston's challenge that Texas batter Nomar Mazara was hit by the pitch on a swinging strike three. The Replays Official and Replay Supervisor misinterpreted the call on the field and incorrectly deemed the play to be non-reviewable. The call on the field - of no hit by pitch on a swinging strike three - is a reviewable play under the Replay Regulations.
Marquez relays NY's decision to Farrell.
Analysis: Here's what that likely means: Fairchild ruled the play a swinging strikeout and uncaught third strike (as evidenced by Fairchild's "safe" mechanic), but MLB Replay either (1) misunderstood the call as a hit-by-pitch (logically unlikely, given Fairchild's "safe" mechanic), (2) thought Fairchild called a foul ball (unlikely given that the batter-runner ended up on first base) or (3) deemed that an issue of HBP during a swinging third strike is not subject to Replay Review.

This very issue has come up with the Replay Review process before, and the League failed to clearly convey its interpretation regarding the HBP vs swinging strike vs dead ball strike vs foul ball play when it did.

Replay Review Regulation V.G. states that the following is reviewable: "Hit By Pitch. Those plays for which there is a possibility that a pitched ball touches a batter, or his clothing." A traditional, take-your-base hit by pitch is occurs when the batter "is touched by a pitched ball which he is not attempting to hit" (Rule 5.05(b)). Yet, a lesser known variety of the hit-by-pitch appears in both 5.05(b)'s approved ruling and the definition of "Strike": "A STRIKE is a legal pitch when so called by the umpire, which...touches the batter as he strikes at it." The approved ruling for a HBP strike states, "When the batter is touched by a pitched ball which does not entitle him to first base, the ball is dead and no runner may advance."

The Three HBPs: Accordingly, there are three types of hit-by-pitches in baseball: the take-your-base "traditional" HBP, the dead ball ball HBP (aka the "you didn't try and get out of the way" HBP), and the dead ball strike HBP (or "HBP strike," for short; both swinging and not swinging). The first two options require the batter not to have swung at the pitch while the latter is what happens when the batter has attempted a swing (or is struck by a pitched ball within the strike zone).
Ron Kulpa tried to replay a similar dead ball
third strike challenge in 2016, but was
informed that the play was not reviewable

^The three exceptions to the "nearly all HBP situations are reviewable" phrase are intra-HBP disputes, namely (1) take-your-base HBP vs dead ball ball HBP, (2) take-your-base HBP vs dead ball strike HBP, and (3) dead ball ball HBP vs dead ball strike HBP. In other words, a "traditional HBP vs Dead Ball Strike" dispute is really a challenge about "No Swing vs Swing," which has never been a reviewable call (and neither has the umpire's judgment of whether a batter has attempted to avoid being hit by a pitch, nor whether a pitch is located as a ball or a strike).

It goes without saying that the League doesn't want to be in the business of reviewing check swing calls. But does that (or did it) preclude Replay from taking a look at all plays in which the on-field umpires rule that the batter attempted to strike the pitched ball? Why did this mistake happen?

History: In June 2016's Unreviewable - Possibility of HBP Key to Replay Review, we discussed two HBP/bat contact plays with different outcomes, including one similar to Thursday's that the League refused to review.

In Miami, Rockies batter Trevor Story clearly swung at and attempted to hit a 3-2 fastball, ruled a foul ball. After Don Mattingly attempted to challenge the play, alleging the ball hit Story's shoulder as opposed to his bat (thus, a dead ball strike), Replay HQ ruled the play non-reviewable. It is important to note that under both the original ruling (foul ball) and Mattingly's contention (dead ball strike), the batter would be deemed to have swung at the pitch, and foul ball vs HBP is not one of the three exceptions to the reviewable HBP situations clause.

In Houston, Angels batter Mike Trout tried to avoid being hit by a 3-2 fastball, ruled a hit-by-pitch. After AJ Hinch attempted to challenge the play alleging that Trout's bat contacted the pitched ball, the play was overturned to a groundout.

Thus, our table of reviewable plays (assuming the Miami play was properly not reviewed) looks like:
Play Original Call Reviewable?
HBP (No Bat Contact) HBP or "Ball"/"Strike" Yes
HBP vs Batted Ball HBP Yes
HBP vs Batted Ball* Willfully Batted Ball Yes
Swinging vs HBP Strike* Any Strike Call Yes
HBP vs HBP Ball vs HBP Strike Any Type of HBP No
Batted Ball vs No Contact Any No

*HBP vs Batted Ball ("batted ball" means both foul or fair balls) and Swinging vs HBP Strike, where the original call was that the batter was or was not hit by a pitch which he was attempting to swing at, were not reviewed on June 20, 2016 in Miami and Boston on May 25, 2017, though they should have been.

A batted ball call, without the possibility that the pitched ball hit the batter, cannot be reviewed.

Kulpa/Meals Part II: The play was reviewable.
A Proper HBP Review: Just last week (5/19/17), the Orioles successfully challenged that opposing batter Justin Smoak had been hit by a pitch that he swung at in the wake of HP Umpire Jerry Meals' wild pitch/swinging strike call, resulting in a reviewed and overturned call of dead ball strikeout and cancellation of a Blue Jays run. As fate would have it, umpires Kulpa and Jerry Meals went to the headset in this game, as they did in Miami in 2016, only to successfully overturn the call in Baltimore to that of a dead ball strike.

Thursday's mea culpa from MLB clarifies that all intent-congruent hit-by-pitch situations—not only those that entitle the batter to first base—are reviewable. Video via 'Read More'
Alternate Link: Mazara is awarded first base on a pitch he swung at due to Replay error (TEX)


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