Monday, August 28, 2017

Ask the UEFL - Fletcher, Phantom Foul & Plate Blocking

New York defeated Washington on a contested foul ball no-call and dramatic game-ending play at the plate, confirmed after a Nationals-prompted Replay Review regarding baseball's home plate collision rule. After the game, Nats Manager Dusty Baker—along with fans of the team, most likely—wasn't exactly thrilled with the 9th inning's outcome. As suggested by a viewer via our Ask the UEFL feature, let's take a look at the plays.

Degree of descent on two phases of swing.
Strike Three Swinging (2nd Out): With one out and none on, Nationals batter Alejandro De Aza attempted to strike a 0-2 slider from Mets pitcher AJ Ramos for an uncaught third strike.
The Rule: OBR 5.09(a)(2) and (10) specify when the batter is out, relative to this play: "(2) A third strike is legally caught by the catcher" and "(10) After a third strike or after he hits a fair ball, he or first base is tagged before he touches first base."
Definition of Terms [Strike] tells us what is and what is not a strike: a) struck at and missed, b) passes through strike zone, c) fouled with less than two strikes, d) bunted foul (with any count), e) touches batter as he strikes it, f) touches batter in the strike zone (in flight), g) a foul tip.
A FOUL TIP is a batted ball that goes sharp and direct from the bat to the catcher’s hands and is legally caught. It is not a foul tip unless caught and any foul tip that is caught is a strike, and the ball is in play. It is not a catch if it is a rebound, unless the ball has first touched the catcher’s glove or hand.

Analysis, Uncaught Third Strike: The quality of correctness here is inconclusive. First and foremost, let's (yet again) address the "foul tip" terminology so often employed by players, coaches, fans, and broadcasters. Simply put, the De Aza play does not describe a foul tip: by rule, a foul tip is always caught by the catcher. Assuming the ball touched the bat, it cannot possibly be a foul tip if it is not caught by the catcher. For more information on the difference between foul balls and foul tips, refer to the following 2015 Case Play involving plate umpire Ryan Blakney, or Tony Randazzo's bobbled foul tip at Citi Field from April:
Related PostCase Play 2015-04, The Flying Foul Tip [Solved] (6/8/15).
Related PostAn Unconventional Foul Tip in the Big Apple (4/10/17).

That said, Washington was adamant two different sounds were heard, which ordinarily can help an umpire determine if the ball hit something before reaching the catcher. Unfortunately, for this play, the something could have been De Aza's bat, or it could have been the dirt behind home plate. Visual analysis of the play indicates the ball's downslope angle was approximately -12 degrees prior to reaching the location where De Aza's bat could have potentially contacted the baseball, and was approximately -13 degrees after this location. Because the pitch was a slider, some deviation in glideslope may be expected (due to spin-rate, for instance), which makes this rather statistically insignificant difference in angles somewhat unreliable in determining whether or not the ball hit the bat. As such, even if this play was reviewable, I'd surmise the call would "stand," similar to how many hit-by-pitch vs no-HBP reviews end up with a "call stands" outcome | Video via "Read More" (below).

HP Collision Violation No-Call (3rd Out): With two out and one on (R1), Nationals batter Daniel Murphy hit a ground ball to Mets center fielder Juan Lagares, who threw to second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera to catcher Travis d'Arnaud as Nationals baserunner Edwin Jackson arrived at home plate. Initially ruled out by HP Umpire Fletcher, the call was confirmed as an out (no HP collision/plate blocking violation) following a Manager's Challenge.
Diagram of legal catcher positioning.
The Rule: OBR 6.01(i)(2) states, in part, "Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score...Not withstanding the above, 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 (e.g., in reaction to the direction, trajectory or the hop of the incoming throw, or in reaction to a throw that originates from a pitcher or drawn-in infielder)."
Related PostAnatomy of a Rule 7.13 HP Collision Review, SEA-OAK (4/11/15).

C d'Arnaud exhibits legal positioning in DC.
Analysis, HP Collision: This call is correct on all accounts—the runner is tagged prior to his arrival at home plate, and the catcher's positioning is legal; there is no illegal block of home plate. The tag is self-explanatory, and as for Rule 6.01(i)(2), refer to the attached diagram. As indicated by the white circle, catcher d'Arnaud is positioned entirely in fair territory (on or to the inside/right of the foul line) in the final moment before he will receive Cabrera's throw. This is a legal position as baserunner Jackson has the entire foul-facing edge of home plate at his disposal, similar to our "gold standard" of catcher legality as indicated in the above image featuring Mariners catcher Jesus Sucre and A's runner Josh Phegley in Oakland (click here for more detail about that play).

F2 is in possession prior to runner's arrival.
Finally, based on EVP Joe Torre's September 2014 clarification of the home plate collision rule, "If the runner would have been called out notwithstanding the catcher's improper positioning in front of the plate, the out call will stand." We know that d'Arnaud was legal (e.g., the call was confirmed), but assume he wasn't. According to Torre's statement, an illegally positioned catcher will not be called for illegal positioning if—to put it bluntly—the ball beats the runner. As indicated by the attached image, F2 d'Arnaud received the throw prior to R1 Jackson's arrival; thus, even if d'Arnaud was improperly positioned in front of home plate (which really means blocking off the runner's access to the shortest edge of home plate that is parallel to the inner batter box line), the out call would stand based on the rationale that F2's illegal position did not by itself prevent the runner from scoring (the fact that F2 caught the ball before R1 arrived at home plate is primarily what prevented the runner from scoring).

Catcher is legal well before the runner arrives.
To really drive the point home, a catcher will only be called for the Rule 6.01(i)(2) violation if his illegal positioning "holds up" or clearly prevents a runner from scoring. If the catcher gains possession of the ball at any point prior to the runner reaching the catcher's position in front of home plate, there is no violation of Rule 6.01(i)(2). Once the catcher catches the ball, he no longer can be considered as illegally blocking the plate.
Related PostMLB Issues Rule 7.13 Plate Blocking Clarification (9/10/14).

Wrap: New York Mets vs. Washington Nationals (Game 1 of DH), 8/27/17 | Video as follows:

Alternate Link: De Aza and team claim "foul tip" on an uncaught third strike vs foul ball play (WAS)
Second Video: Mets get a dramatic final out in DC on confirmed home plate collision violation no-call (NYM)


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