Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Tmac's Teachable Moments - Wild Check Swing Plate Play

Here's a Tmac's Teachable Moment about wild pitches and ensuing plays at home plate. I had a few people ask me about this play a while back so let's take a look at a complicated play from an interleague game between the Cubs and Red Sox.

The Play: 2-2 count, one out, runners on 1st and 2nd. The pitch comes in, it's in the dirt, and we have a check swing. Our home plate umpire uses a mechanic that many umpires have trouble with, especially in situations where the batter-runner could run. Here, if we have a swing on appeal to the 1st base umpire, the batter-runner would be out, whether or not the third strike is dropped (first base occupied with less than two out). For purposes of discussion, let us pretend that there are two outs, such that a runner on first base doesn't automatically put the batter out on a dropped third strike.

Dreckman files an immediate swing appeal.
You'll notice at five seconds of the video, Bruce Dreckman, working the plate, points to ask for an appeal, and 1B Umpire Jordan Baker rules "no swing." With a runner on first and two outs you don't want to give the defense an unfair opportunity to gather the baseball, then tag the runner, and then appeal, so we like to see an immediate appeal initiated by the plate umpire to mediate this (using the left arm to appeal). If such an uncaught third strike play happens, and you're on the bases with 100% certainty of the swing, it's not a bad idea to come up with a swinging strike mechanic even before your HP umpire asks. You may not want to do this advanced mechanic on lower levels of say high school or below, but if you are, you're way ahead of the game. Remember, though, we're talking about a two-out play where the batter can run to first base on a dropped strikeout.

And you're supported by professional umpiring mechanics. The MLB Umpire Manual addresses such check swing appeals, calling the wild pitch auto-appeal a "Voluntary Strike":
In the situation where the third strike eludes the catcher on a half-swing and the batter-runner is entitled to run to first base, the appeal should be made to the base umpire instantly (without waiting for a request from the defense); but even if the appeal is not instant, the appropriate base umpire should immediately and voluntarily make a call of strike IF the base umpire is going to reverse the plate umpire's call. This will give the batter the immediate opportunity to run.

That type of situation is hard enough, but a following play occurs with some unusual angles. Everyone can umpire a play that happens hundreds of times, it becomes second nature; however, this second play is unusual as we have a pitcher covering the plate and the throw coming from the 3rd base side behind the plate.

Diagram of the play at the plate.
Dreckman has to make an educated guess based on what he thinks is the most likely place he will have the best look on this play. Plays like this are not an exact science. At nine seconds, you'll notice the starting position of a potential tag play at the plate may be a little too deep. If you're closer to this play which develops super fast you can get away with taking a step or two instead of five or six. Dreckman's instincts are correct: He figures the tag will be on the foul territory side and he wants to be there to avoid looking through bodies, but about the same time he makes his decision, the play changes course and it's not Dreckman's fault.

The play develops away from the umpire.
The runner attempting to score makes a slide to the fair side of home and our plate umpire is completely blocked from seeing anything that happens.  Sometimes things happen on a play we can't control, and one of the hardest things to learn in life is we can only control what we can control.  Here, the only thing our HP umpire could have done would be to shadow the pitcher who would be attempting the tag a little bit more, but it's hard to fault him because he has to clear the catcher and read the play.

Here are some takeaways from this edition of Tmac's Teachable Moments:  In situations where as the plate umpire you have a checked swing and the batter runner has an opportunity to run immediately ask for an appeal. In regards to the play at the plate or any play that comes from an unusual spot, trust your instincts, do the best you can and if something happens you can't control don't worry. It's happened to us all. Don't get down on yourself and keep working hard. Until Next Time: Happy Umpiring!

Video via "Read More"

Alternate Link: Cubs steal a run on two-base wild pitch advantage, Replay Review (ESPN)


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