Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Wild Walk-Off - Analysis of 6 Rules for 1 Play in Houston

The final play of Houston's walk-off victory over Oakland Tuesday featured an overcharged bouncing ball and at least six rules situations for HP Umpire David Rackley to quickly consider as A's catcher Jonathan Lucroy and Astros batter Alex Bregman danced around home plate before Lucroy finally threw the baseball wildly into right field, plating Houston's game-winning run. This article and video analyzes each individual phase of Tuesday's final play in Houston, as well as the plate umpire's responsibilities and reactions.

Rackley's Rapid Response™ passed the test.
The Play: With one out and two on (R1, R2), Astros batter Alex Bregman hit a ground ball softly to the right of home plate, where A's catcher Jonathan Lucroy fielded the ball in fair territory, attempted to tag batter-runner Bregman while fumbling and dropping the ball, which bounced off of HP Umpire David Rackley, before Lucroy retrieved the loose ball and threw it off of batter-runner Bregman's helmet, past first baseman Mark Canha, and down the right field line, allowing Astros baserunner R2 Kyle Tucker to score the game-winning run, affirmed following an A's challenge for Lucroy's attempted tag of Bregman.

Analysis: There is a lot to unpack here, so let's go step by step, rule by rule, and solve this wild play.

Call #1: Fair or Foul: This complex play begins, simply, when batter Bregman hits A's pitcher Blake Treinen's 1-2 pitch, which bounces in foul territory before rolling back into fair territory, whereupon catcher Lucroy makes initial contact with the baseball.

This ball was fielded in fair territory.
Rule #1: Amongst other criteria, and relevant to the play at hand, "A FOUL BALL is a batted ball that settles on foul territory between home and first base" while "A FAIR BALL is a batted ball that, while on or over fair territory touches the person of an umpire or player."

Analysis, Call #1: Because Lucroy makes first contact with the baseball while it is over fair territory, this is a fair ball.

Call #2: Interference or Incidental: As Lucroy attempts to field the ball, batter Bregman considers running to first base, and moves from his position in the right-handed batter's box toward first base. Seeing that Lucroy is about to field the ball, Bregman stops to avoid the imminent tag.

The batter did not interfere with the fielder.
Rule #2: The relevant portion of interference rule 6.01(a)(10) states the batter or runner is out when—"He fails to avoid a fielder who is attempting to field a batted ball," whereas, "Offensive interference is an act by the team at bat which interferes with, obstructs, impedes, hinders or confuses any fielder attempting to make a play."

QOC, Call #2: Bregman does not impede Lucroy's ability to field the batted ball, which means he has not interfered with the fielder's attempt to field a batted ball.

Call #3: Out of Base Path or Legal: As Lucroy attempts to tag Bregman, Bregman jumps backward, toward home plate, in an effort to avoid the tag.

The runner did not illegally exit his path.
Rule #3: According to retiring-a-runner rule 5.09(b)(1), a runner is out when—"He runs more than three feet away from his base path to avoid being tagged unless his action is to avoid interference with a fielder fielding a batted ball."

QOC, Call #3: The batted ball exemption doesn't apply here, as Lucroy has already fielded the ball, leaving us to consider whether Bregman is three+ feet out of his path, established at the time of the tag attempt. It appears Bregman never quite arrived at (returned to) home plate, which also renders moot an MLB Umpire Manual interpretation regarding a batter-runner who retreats to home ("In situations where the batter-runner gets in a rundown between first and home, if the batter-runner retreats and reaches home plate, the batter-runner shall be declared out").

Call #4: Umpire Interference or Play On: As Lucroy fumbled the ball and HP Umpire Rackley stepped in for a closer look, the ball bounced off Rackley and settled in the dirt.

HP Umpire Rackley did not interfere.
Rule #4: Umpire interference occurs under very specific circumstances, which are presented in 6.01(f) [5.06(c)(2), delineating when the ball is dead, also describes that which is depicted by 6.01(f)(1)]: "Umpire’s interference occurs (1) when a plate umpire hinders, impedes or prevents a catcher’s throw attempting to prevent a stolen base or retire a runner on a pick-off play; or (2) when a fair ball touches an umpire on fair territory before passing a fielder. Umpire interference may also occur when an umpire interferes with a catcher returning the ball to the pitcher." To put it even more bluntly, "If a thrown ball accidentally touches a base coach, or a pitched or thrown ball touches an umpire, the ball is alive and in play."

QOC, Call #4: There is no call to make here, as a fumbled ball bouncing off of an umpire's chest is not one of the scenarios depicted nor covered by the umpire interference rule.

Call #5: Obstruction or Legal: As catcher Lucroy fumbles the ball into the left-handed batter's box, batter-runner Bregman reverses his retreat and sprints toward first base, avoiding the catcher in the process.

The runner did not obstruct the fielder.
Rule #5: The definition of terms holds that "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."

QOC, Call #5: It appears batter-runner Bregman was not impeded by catcher Lucroy, so no obstruction occurred. Had this been obstruction, it would be an instance of OBS Type 2 (Type B), as in rule 6.01(h)(2), because Lucroy had already fumbled the ball away after fielding it and making a play on the runner: "If no play is being made on the obstructed runner, the play shall proceed until no further action is possible."

Call #6: Runner's Lane Interference or Nothing: Lest we give up too quickly, the final aspect of this play concerns whether Bregman legally ran to first base as catcher Lucroy threw to first baseman Canha.

The runner did not commit RLI (INT).
Rule #6: Rule 5.09(a)(11) allows the batter-runner to be declared out if, "In running the last half of the distance from home base to first base, while the ball is being fielded to first base, he runs outside (to the right of) the three-foot line, or inside (to the left of) the foul line, and in the umpire’s judgment in so doing interferes with the fielder taking the throw at first base."

QOC, Call #6: Replays indicate Bregman's running lane adventure was entirely legal; he entered the lane on or between the two chalk lines and remained in the lane until the ball was already up the right field line, well past the infield.

At least six rules were involved in just one play Tuesday.
BONUS Call #7: Obstruction (on F3) or Nothing: Once Lucroy's throw eluded first baseman Canha, we were left with a first baseman standing in front of the base and a batter-runner who had to change his path in order to avoid the first baseman and touch first base. As Call #5 states above, if first baseman Canha impeded batter-runner Bregman from timely touching his base, the umpires would be within their rights to allow play to proceed through its conclusion and (let's assume Bregman was thrown out at second base prior to the winning run scoring...with two outs) make whatever call or runner placement that, in their judgment, would nullify the act of obstruction.

Mechanically Speaking: Rackley employs two "safe" mechanics here. The first signifies "no tag," "no interference," "not out of the base path," and "no obstruction"—essentially saying "everything that just happened is legal"—and the final safe call pertains to the runner's lane interference no-call, all of it the proper decision. Hunter Wendelstedt is on this crew and you sure hope he'll add Rackley's play to his curriculum at Umpire School for what to do when a crazy play finds you.

Postscript: Perhaps the most obvious call isn't even included in the aforementioned analysis—whether or not the catcher tagged the runner! As Replay Review confirmed, following an A's challenge, Lucroy did not tag Bregman—that is to say, Lucroy did not "touch a runner with the ball, or with his hand or glove holding the ball (not including hanging laces alone), while holding the ball securely and firmly in his hand or glove" [Definition of Terms: TAG]—but it just goes to show you what type of a call an umpire analyst can take for granted when confronted with no less than six additional considerations, all within a mere matter of seconds. As for HP Umpire Rackley, score that a QOC of Correct, multiplied by at least six.

Video as follows:

Video Analysis: David Rackley quickly processes at least six aspects of one very crazy play (UEFL)
Raw Video: A's challenge a safe call during game-ending play in Houston (HOU)


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