Monday, June 25, 2018

Replay Rewind - Runner Pushed Off Base

A Blue Jay possibly pushing an Angel off a base for an out headlines this edition of Replay Rewind.

Hrbek/Gant Part III: Saturday's Blue Jays-Angels game took an interesting turn in the 7th inning when Anaheim batter Ian Kinsler hit a fly ball to Toronto left fielder Teoscar Hernandez, who caught the ball as Angels baserunner R1 Jose Fernandez tagged from first base, arriving at second ahead of infielder Devon Travis' tag, as the pair collided.

Did the runner or fielder cause the breach?
Replays indicate that as Travis kept his glove on Fernandez's inner-thigh, he may have pushed the runner upward as Fernandez's left leg momentarily broke contact with the base. Did Travis' action cause the runner to lose his balance and break contact with the base or did runner Fernandez place himself in jeopardy?

Perhaps a rules check might help. Rule 5.09(b)(4) places the runner out when—"He is tagged, when the ball is alive, while off his base," while the Definition of Terms states, "OVERSLIDE (or OVERSLIDING) is the act of an offensive player when his slide to a base, other than when advancing from home to first base, is with such momentum that he loses contact with the base."

As to the issue of a fielder acting on a runner in legal contact with a base, "A runner acquires the right to an unoccupied base when he touches it before he is out. He is then entitled to it until he is put out, or forced to vacate it for another runner legally entitled to that base" (Rule 5.06(a)(1)). To reiterate, only another offensive player can force a runner to vacate a base.

The runner clearly beat the tag, and the tag clearly was held on the runner as the runner came off the base, but did the runner's momentum cause him to lose contact with the base or was it the fielder's action in pressing on his upper leg with the glove? What's the call?

In 2015, we first discussed the issue of a fielder pushing a runner off a base relative to Replay Review: in short, whether illegal pushing has occurred is not reviewable. If the on-field umpire rules that the fielder pushed the runner off the base, the runner is safe and the play cannot be reviewed. If the on-field umpire judges that the fielder did not push the runner off the base—as 2B Umpire Laz Diaz ruled here—the play is reviewable and the runner will be safe or out depending on if he was tagged off the base or not.
Related PostReviewing the Unreviewable, the 2015 Hrbek/Gant Play (5/2/15).

Gil's Call: One way of looking at this play is to consider whether the runner or fielder is responsible for the runner's broken contact. In general, unless proven otherwise, the runner is responsible for his/her own actions and must ensure that the base is held. This means that the runner must slide into a base that does not cause the runner to overslide or otherwise lose contact with the base due to excess momentum.

Travis' glove presses upward on Fernandez.
The exception occurs only when a fielder interrupts a runner to such a degree that the fielder overwhelmingly causes the runner to lose contact with the base.

The MLB Umpire Manual tells it this way: "If in the judgment of an umpire, a runner is pushed or forced off a base by a fielder, intentionally or unintentionally, at which the runner would have otherwise been called safe, the umpire has the authority and discretion under the circumstances to return the runner to the base he was forced off following the conclusion of the play."

That said, if, in the umpire's judgment, the runner has proven body control—proven that the base can be held—and the runner's broken contact is thus a result of the fielder's action through no fault of the runner, only then should the runner be declared safe.

Conclusion: The totality of the play, which features a legal collision between fielder and runner, suggests that the runner, due to his significant speed into second base, would have likely momentarily broken contact with the base had the fielder not been present, due to the speed and force of impact during his feet-first pop-up slide.

We've seen this type of review before.
It was this same force that downed the fielder and primarily caused the runner to lose his balance. As such, the runner's lack of body control suggests he would not have been able to remain on the base absent the fielder's actions, which means Rule 5.06(a)(1)'s interpretation does not apply and the runner should be declared out pursuant to Rule 5.09(b)(4).

That said, this all goes back to one of the most fundamental arguments against Replay Review: Is this—the issue of oversliding a base by mere fractions of an inch—really the type of play we want to overturn? Is replay too technical?
Related PostReplay Rewind - Technically Correct or Spiritual Travesty? (6/9/18).

Video as follows:
Alternate Link: Fernandez briefly steps off second base, resulting in a replay-aided out call (TOR)


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