Monday, July 30, 2018

Comparison - Infield Interference or Only Obstruction?

A pair of similar-yet-seemingly oppositely-officiated plays occurred during this weekend's Nationals-Marlins and Dodgers-Braves series concerning the question of catcher obstruction (WAS-MIA) or batter interference (LA-ATL) on a batted ball in the vicinity of home plate.

Two similar plays met very different outcomes.
With both series' various broadcasters perplexed by the rulings from HP Umpire Tim Timmons (WAS-MIA obstruction) and Shane Livensparger (LAD-ATL interference)—not to mention a generous dose of "obstruction" vs "interference" terminology cross-contamination—the following analysis clarifies why the former was ruled obstruction and the latter interference.

In general, the following right-of-way rules apply:
On a batted ball, the fielder has the right to field it.*
At any other time, the runner has the right to run.

*Only one fielder is entitled to right-of-way protection.

In other words, the default condition for contact between fielder and runner is obstruction, unless the fielder is 1) actively attempting to field a batted ball and 2) receiving "protection" from the default condition of obstruction (e.g., determined to be the fielder entitled to the benefit of the rule).

Hint: We already discussed this exact issue earlier this year in both article and UEFL video form.

Related PostProtection Question - HS Obstruction on Fielding Catcher (5/22/18).

Related Video Analysis: Tangle/Untangle Between Batter-Runner and Catcher (UEFL)

Timmons ruled this Miami play obstruction.
The Play - Obstruction: With none out and one on (R1) in the bottom of the 10th inning of Saturday's Nationals-Marlins game, Marlins batter Miguel Rojas bunted a 1-0 fastball from Nats pitcher Kelvin Herrera in front of home plate, resulting in contact with catcher Spencer Kieboom as Kieboom ran toward the batted ball. HP Umpire Tim Timmons called catcher Kieboom for obstruction, awarding Rojas first base and forcing baserunner R1 Magneuris Sierra to advance to second base.

Rule - Obstruction: "OBSTRUCTION is the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner." (Definition of Terms). A batter-runner obstructed before he reaches first base on a ground ball or bunt to the infield is, by rule, an example of Obstruction Type 1/A (play being made on the runner at the time of obstruction...ball is dead, obstructed runner automatically awarded at least one base...6.01(h)(1)).

Livensparger ruled this ATL play interference.
The Play - Interference: With one out and one on (R1) in the bottom of the 2nd inning of Sunday's Dodgers-Braves game, Braves batter Sean Newcomb bunted a 1-0 fastball from Dodgers pitcher Ross Stripling in the air near home plate, resulting in contact with catcher Yasmani Grandal, attempting to field the ball. HP Umpire Shane Livensparger called batter-runner Newcomb for interference, awarding Grandal the air out and returning baserunner R1 Ender Inciarte to first base.

Rule - Interference: "Any runner is out when—he fails to avoid a fielder who is attempting to field a batted ball, or intentionally interferes with a thrown ball, provided that if two or more fielders attempt to field a batted ball, and the runner comes in contact with one or more of them, the umpire shall determine which fielder is entitled to the benefit of this rule, and shall not declare the runner out for coming in contact with a fielder other than the one the umpire determines to be entitled to field such a ball" (OBR 6.01(a)(10)).

Right-of-Way Protection: As 6.01(a)(10) specifies, only one fielder is entitled to the benefit or protection of the rule, known as right-of-way protection. Referring back to our right-of-way rules (batted ball = fielder; all else = runner), any fielder not given this protection may be said to not be in the "act of fielding a batted ball," insofar as the enforcement of 6.01(a)(10) is concerned.

Analysis, Obstruction (WAS-MIA): Earlier this year, we had an extremely similar play in Reagan High School's playoff game against Lake Travis when the plate umpire ruled that the catcher obstructed the runner when the two had contact up the first base line as the catcher pursued the batted ball (as did the pitcher) and the runner attempted to advance to first base.

It all goes back to this play from May.
The Reagan-Lake Travis play best represents what occurred with Timmons, who likely ruled the pitcher, and not the catcher, was entitled to right-of-way protection. As such, the unprotected catcher's collision with the runner constitutes obstrucion, for any unprotected player is said to not be in the "act of fielding," which means, pursuant to the aforementioned right-of-way rules, "the runner has the right to run."

Accordingly, Timmons' call is correct as long as the pitcher (not the catcher) is the protected fielder.

See the following related article concerning the Reagan-Lake Travis play for more information and analysis, as well as our Tangle/Untangle video that illustrates OBR 6.01(a) / NCAA 7-11f / NFHS 8-4-1.
Related PostProtection Question - HS Obstruction on Fielding Catcher (5/22/18).

Analysis, Interference (LAD-ATL): There exists a rather severe and inaccurate mythical belief that a batter-runner is protected from interference as long as the batter-runner remains in the batter's box. This is categorically false—the batter's box may shield the batter from interference insofar as running into a batted ball is concerned—but the box does not protect a batter-runner from his obligation to avoid a fielder who is attempting to field a batted ball, as in 6.01(a)(10)...if it did, then Rule 6.01(a)(10) would mention the batter's box. Obviously, it doesn't.

To reiterate, the batter's box is not a safe space. The batter-runner may still interfere with the catcher or any other fielder attempting to field a batted ball while standing within the batter's box, assuming the catcher (or other fielder) is the fielder entitled to right-of-way protection.

The only time the batter's box protects the batter against interference is when he fouls a pitch off of his body while still in a legal position within the box, or for consideration as to a catcher's attempted play or throw back to the pitcher (MLBUM interpretation of 6.03(a)(3)...see the following related post regarding HP Umpire Dale Scott's no-call on Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin's throw back to the pitcher during Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS vs Texas that hit batter Shin-Soo Choo's the box = live ball, out of the box = dead ball). That's it.
Related PostCarefree Throw, Extended Bat, and Blue Jays Protest (10/14/15).

Armbrister's tangle in the 1975 World Series.
Rule 6.01(a)(10) Comment provides further clarity: "When a catcher and batter-runner going to first base have contact when the catcher is fielding the ball, there is generally no violation and nothing should be called." This comment is also known as an Ed Armbrister tangle/untangle, named for Armbrister's 1975 World Series entanglement with Carlton Fisk that produced a "that's nothing" ruling from HP Umpire Larry Barnett.

The Armbrister tangle/untangle only applies in the immediate vicinity of home plate, only when the catcher is the protected fielder, and only when the batter-runner is going to first base.

As we noted in our Reagan-Lake Travis analysis—citing a 2011 interference call involving batter Matt Kemp when HP Umpire Dan Iassogna called Kemp for interfering with Angels catcher Hank Conger on a ground ball in front of home plate—if the batter is not "going to first base," then 6.01(a)(10)'s comment does not apply and the runner is guilty of interference by failing to avoid a protected fielder attempting to field a batted ball.

In other words, if the batter—like Newcomb—stands in the box without making any effort to run or satisfy the "going to first base" criterion, then the play is not an Armbrister tangle, and the batter is liable for interference if he hinders the protected catcher.

That's precisely what happened here, and why HP Umpire Livensparger correctly ruled interference.

Conclusion: These are two very similar plays ruled in very opposite ways, but both rulings are proper given the differences in A) Which fielder is entitled to right-of-way protection/benefit, and B) Whether or not the batter-runner was actually running toward first base.

Video as follows:
Alternate Link: Compilation of the Marlins obstruction & Braves interference plays (MIA/ATL)

Alternate Link: Breaking down the contact in Texas between batter-runner and catcher (UEFL)


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