Friday, August 17, 2018

Replay Review and the Seven-Minute Balk Call

A botched pickoff attempt and balk call against Toronto in Kansas City turned into a seven-minute delay as 2B Umpire and acting Chief Marvin Hudson consulted Replay Review for a rules check, affirming the crew's original ruling to award Royals baserunner Rosell Herrera second base on Blue Jays pitcher Sam Gaviglio's fumble at the mound.

A balk in KC resulted in a seven-minute delay.
The Play: With two out and one on (R1) with Royals batter Jorge Bonifacio at the plate, Blue Jays pitcher Sam Gaviglio attempted to pick off Royals baserunner R1 Rosell Herrera at first base. Replays indicate Gaviglio fumbled the ball while attempting a jump-turn pickoff maneuver, and the errant ball came to rest in the grass between the pitcher's mound and first base foul line aside the home dugout.

The Call: Initially ruled a balk by 2B Umpire and crew chief Marvin Hudson, who convened his crew of HP Umpire Bruce Dreckman, 1B Umpire Mike Estabrook, and 3B Umpire Chris Segal following the play, the umpires agreed to a rules check upon request from Blue Jays Manager John Gibbons, after which the balk ruling prevailed and Herrera was awarded second base.

The Rule: The relevant rule here is OBR 6.02(a)(11), which states, "It is a balk when—The pitcher, while touching his plate, accidentally or intentionally has the ball slip or fall out of his hand or glove."

John Gibbons states his case for a reversal.
So why the seven-minute delay for a non-reviewable balk?

Recall that a balk of this sort requires the pitcher to be "touching his plate." If the pitcher is not on the rubber when he loses the ball, it is treated the same as if he were another fielder who has bobbled the ball: no penalty.

Thus, if the ball slips out of his hand/glove while the pitcher is making a move from the rubber, it is a balk, but if the ball slips out after he has already legally disengaged the rubber, thus becoming an infielder, there is no call to make.

Was F1 Touching His Plate? As we previously explained during Pat Hoberg's reversed balk call and ejection of Twins Manager Paul Molitor in June, the MLB Umpire Manual states that such a jump-turn pickoff move is to be interpreted as occurring from the rubber: "It is legal for a right-handed pitcher to begin a pickoff move to first base by first moving his pivot foot in the direction of third base provided that he makes a legal step toward first base with the non-pivot foot before throwing there and provided that the move is continuous and without interruption. A pitcher who makes such a pickoff move is considered to be in contact with the rubber when he makes his throw to first base."
Related PostMLB Ejections 081-82 - Davis, Hoberg (1, 3; Glynn, Molitor) (6/27/18).

Pitcher Gaviglio loses the ball during pickoff.
Analysis: Right-handed pitcher Gaviglio's continuous move toward first without interruption is a legal pickoff move that is considered "in contact with the rubber." Because it is considered in contact with the rubber (aka "while touching his plate"), Rule 6.02(a)(11) is applicable.

Conclusion: This is a balk because the ball accidentally or intentionally slipped or fell out of the pitcher's hand or glove while the pitcher was said to be in contact with the rubber. Recall that during a balk, the ball remains live until playing action has subsided and the ball otherwise may be declared dead.

SIDEBAR A: Upon slow-motion review of the play, it is apparent that pitcher Gaviglio's front leg may have flinched prior to his jump-turn pickoff move. If called, the leg-flinch balk is covered under OBR 6.02(a)(1) ("The pitcher, while touching his plate, makes any motion naturally associated with his pitch and fails to make such delivery").

SIDEBAR B (aka PITFALL TO AVOID): This is not a situation where the play would be considered "ball one" if the baseball crossed the foul line because this was not a pitched ball, and, moreover the bases were not unoccupied.

The illegal pitch/foul line issue is irrelevant.
The rule about a ball that slips out of the pitcher's hand and crosses the foul line is 6.02(b) Comment (which is called "Illegal Pitches with Bases Unoccupied" and, again, is not applicable here), and states: "A ball which slips out of a pitcher’s hand and crosses the foul line shall be called a ball; otherwise it will be called no pitch. This would be a balk with men on base."

Even if one were to consider this a delivery (assuming that, for instance, the ball rolled across home plate), it would be a balk pursuant to Rule 6.02(a)(6), which states, it is a balk when—"The pitcher delivers the ball to the batter while he is not facing the batter."

Again, this was clearly not a delivery to the batter so 6.02(a)(6) is not applicable, but just in case the "what if it crossed the foul line?" argument were to be made, this should adequately demonstrate that the "call it a ball" rule is not applicable to this play with a runner on first.

Video as follows:
Alternate Link: Balk call finds its way to Replay Review and lengthy rules check delay (KC)


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