Sunday, March 4, 2018

Wanted Dead or Alive - Recording a Backswing Strikeout

Dodgers pitcher Brian Moran struck out Giants batter Andrew McCutchen Sunday afternoon on an eventual dead ball due to unintentional backswing contact that sent two stealing runners back to the bases whence they came. The following rules refresher clarifies interference vs. backswing contact, and busts a potential rule myth related to this play occurring with two strikes on the batter.

Plate Umpire Ripperger tracks the play.
With one out and two on (R1, R2) in the bottom of the 3rd inning of the Dodgers-Giants game, Giants batter McCutchen swung and missed a 3-2 pitch from Moran as baserunners R2 Joe Panik and R1 Brandon Belt attempted to advance, Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal's throw to third baseman Logan Forsythe arriving as Panik slid safely into the base.

With replays indicating McCutchen's follow-through made contact with Grandal during the course of his throw, HP Umpire Mark Ripperger ruled the play dead and sent the runners back to their bases of origin.

The Rule: OBR 6.03(a)(3) states, "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."

Meanwhile, 6.03(a)(3) & (4) Comment states, "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...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."

Unlike Cutch, Travis was out.
Analysis: Plate umpire Ripperger administered this play properly. McCutchen's actions on Grandal did not cause the ball to become dead immediately, but once his throw failed to retire baserunner Panik, the ball became dead due to unintentional backswing contact.
Penalty: Runners return, batter is charged a strike (with a 3-2 count, McCutchen was out on three strikes, but NOT on interference).

As for the question of potential batter interference, McCutchen remained in the batter's box (a legal position) for the entire sequence, and, save for the bat contacting Grandal, committed no other infraction. Even though he swung and missed, he is still granted permission to stand in the batter's box through the completion of his natural swing/at-bat movement.

This is most certainly not an example of potential retired batter/runner's interference: because unintentional backswing contact is not "true" interference, this play cannot qualify for such "retired batter/runner's interference" consideration. For a related play that should clear up why backswing contact doesn't result in a runner being declared out if it's strike three on the batter, refer to the following Case Play link from 2016 concerning a 2-2 swing-and-a-miss by Red Sox batter David Ortiz. There is no "double whammy" in professional ball.
Related PostCase Play 2016-9 - A Backswing on Strike 3 [Solved] (8/26/16).
  • IMPORTANT NOTE (Baseball Rules Difference): NFHS (high school) rules does allow for a "double whammy" if the follow-through contact occurs with two strikes on the batter because, under high school rules, follow-through contact is interference. The double play isn't automatic, but it can be called if the umpire rules the interference prevented the defense from getting a second out.
  • In NCAA (college), like in MiLBUD/PBUC, "on a third strike, the ball is dead and the batter is out." Return the runners; unintentional backswing contact is not interference.
  • Finally, unintentional backswing contact is the term used in college and pro ball, while high school uses the term "follow-through interference." It does not matter whether the contact was intentional or not at the high school level; any follow-through contact between bat and catcher that hinders the catcher's further play is interference that causes the batter to be declared out (unless, for example, with less than two out, a runner stealing home is tagged out, in which case the ball remains live and interference is ignored), or, with two strikes on the batter, may subject the offense to a "double whammy" (both batter and runner declared out) if the umpire believes the interference prevented a possible double play.
  • Backswing interference in high school is a different infraction entirely and occurs when the batter's bat contacts the catcher prior to the pitcher's delivery, and results in an immediate dead ball (reset the play).
By contrast, on April 24, 2017, umpire Toby Basner riled up Toronto with a batter interference declaration in Anaheim when he ruled that Blue Jays batter Devon Travis, in stepping out of the batter's box while swinging at strike three, interfered with Angels catcher Martin Maldonado's throw (which was unsuccessful in retiring a baserunner). The key difference, naturally, is that while both McCutchen and Travis made bat contact with the respective catchers on the backswing, Travis illegally stepped out of the batter's box, as in 6.03(a)(3), whereas McCutchen remained in the box. Travis = INT (batter out, runners return); Cutch = Backswing Contact (Dead ball strike, runners return).
Related PostSorry Toronto - Batter's Interference Call Was Correct (4/24/17).

Wrap: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. San Francisco Giants (Spring Training), 3/4/18 | Video as follows:
Alternate Link: McCutchen goes down on strikes as Rip sends runners back to bases (LAD)


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