Thursday, October 26, 2017

MLB Admits Mistake on NLDS 'Backswing INT' No-Call

MLB Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre said NLDS Umpire Jerry Layne mistakenly no-called a backswing contact/follow-through "interference" play in Washington earlier this month, concluding that the rule should have superseded umpire Layne's on-field judgment.

You can read our full recap and analysis of this play here, along with two arguments to be made for two different calls (one which Layne made during the game and one which demonstrates why Layne's call of omission was well as the difference between "backswing" and "follow-through"):
Related PostFollow-Through (Backswing) Contact or Batter Interference? (10/13/17).

The ball was dead on follow-through contact.
Summary: In Game 5 of the Cubs-Nationals NLDS, Cubs batter Javier Baez swung and missed at a 0-2 slider from Nats pitcher Max Scherzer, inadvertently striking catcher Matt Wieters' mask during his backswing. Replays indicate that prior to Baez's bat making contact with the catcher's mask, the pitched ball snuck underneath Wieters' mitt and rolled to the backstop for a passed ball. The sequence was kept alive, and the passed ball allowed runners to advance and Chicago to score a crucial run when Wieters subsequently threw the ball away during his ill-fated attempt to throw out Baez.

After the game, HP Umpire Jerry Layne found consistent use for the phrase, "in my judgment," explaining that since the passed ball had already occurred prior to the backswing contact, he felt that Baez's actions did not play a role on the uncaught third strike nor subsequent overthrow at first base.

Layne's justification for no-calling the play was one of two prevailing arguments that could be made concerning the play. This "no call is the correct call" line of thought makes for a tidy little package, but is, nonetheless, incorrect.

Wieters and Layne discuss the play.
Instead, "no call is the incorrect call" rules the day because, as Rule 6.03(a)(3) & (4) Comment ("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") makes no exception nor allowance for any issue of timing.

As Torre explained on Thursday to Chris Russo on the Mad Dog Sports Radio program, "The rule states...when the bat came around and hit the catcher's mask, it's a dead ball. And that's the one thing that should have taken precedence."

Essentially, the rule precludes the use of judgment other than to determine whether or not the batter's bat unintentionally hit the catcher (or ball) on the follow-through. If it did, then the play must be ruled follow-through contact and a dead ball. The only exception for this is found in the MLB Umpire Manual, and states that if the catcher's initial throw directly retires the runner despite the infraction, the unintentional follow-through contact is ignored and the result of the play (an out) stands.

That wasn't the situation during NLDS Game 5 (there was no "initial throw" and no outs were recorded), and Torre stated that Nats Manager Dusty Baker could have asked for a rules check if he felt Layne's call was wrong: "If you don't like what the umpire's telling you, ask him for a rules check. And they can do that. They can go to the replay center on the headset and check a rule."

Torre demurred, however, on whether he felt Baker's omission—combined with Layne's—helped contribute to Baker's new title of former Nationals Manager Dusty Baker.

Video as follows:
Alternate Link: Baez's bat grazes Wieter's headgear as Chicago runs the bases in DC (TBS)


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