Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Ask UEFL - Foul Bunt or Ball Fouled Away?

When does a bunt attempt give way to an inadvertent foul ball off the bat? Such was a question for HP Umpire Tony Randazzo during Wednesday's Brewers-Reds game when Cincinnati batter Michael Lorenzen fouled a two-strike pitch that, moments earlier, he had shown an intent to bunt.

Randazzo explains why it wasn't a bunt.
The Play: With none out and two on (R1, R2), Reds batter Lorenzen squared to bunt at the 1-2 offering from Brewers pitcher Taylor Williams. As the pitch approached home plate, Lorenzen, sensing the pitch would be a ball, pulled his bat back and, in doing so, the pitched ball made contact with Lorenzen's bat, sending the batted ball flying behind home plate for a foul ball.

The Call and Argument: After HP Umpire Randazzo ruled the play a foul ball (affirmed as no swing by 1B Umpire Nick Mahrley on appeal), Brewers Manager Craig Counsell argued that Lorenzen had bunted the two-strike pitch foul, while Randazzo maintained his ruling of 'simple' foul ball (no bunt attempt). Who's right?

Analysis: Umpire Randazzo is correct. Lorenzen's foul is not a bunt attempt and, thus, not a foul bunt. The proper call here is "foul ball" and the count remains 1-2. Had Lorenzen attempted to bunt the ball and bunted foul, he would have struck out.

The Rule: The three relevant rules are the definitions of Bunt, Foul, and Strike.

The Official Baseball Rules states that, "A BUNT is a batted ball not swung at, but intentionally met with the bat and tapped slowly within the infield."

The relevant portion of the rulebook's foul ball definition is, "A FOUL BALL is a batted ball that settles on foul territory between home and first base," while the two relevant provisions of the strike rule are as follows:
(c) Is fouled by the batter when he has less than two strikes;
(d) Is bunted foul.
If the batter pulls the bat back, it is not a bunt.
Conclusion: If you missed it, the answer to this play lies in the definition of BUNT: the ball must be met with the bat intentionally. Because Lorenzen was in the act of pulling the bat back when it struck the ball, the contact was not intentional, which means, by rule, it cannot be considered a bunt attempt.

Related Ejection: In 2012, 1B Umpire Jim Joyce ejected Astros Manager Brad Mills for arguing a very similar play when Pirates batter Clint Barmes fouled a 1-2 pitch while attempting to pull the bat back after initially squaring to bunt. In ruling the play a foul ball, the crew determined that Barmes did not intentionally meet the ball with his bat.
Related PostEjection 026: Jim Joyce (1) (5/11/12).
Related Video: HP Umpire James Hoye and Joyce crew rule play a foul ball; Joyce ejects Mills.

Alternate Thought: Another way to think of the issue of foul bunt vs non-bunt foul ball is to consider the play from an aspect of, "If the ball hadn't touched the bat, would this have been strike three based on the batter's attempt to strike at the ball?" If the answer is yes, you have a bunt. If the answer is no, it is not a bunt.

To recap, a foul bunt requires intent. A foul ball does not require intent.

Insult to Injury: After Counsell's unsuccessful campaign for a strikeout, Lorenzen hit a home run.

Video as follows:
Alternate Link: Lorenzen hits a home run after foul ball argument that keeps him at bat (MLBAM)

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