Sunday, August 19, 2018

Walk-Off Balk - Dodgers' Floro Does Too Much at Once

Rarer than a perfect game, a walk-off balk plagued Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Dylan Floro in Seattle Saturday night, handing the Mariners a 5-4 extra inning win as baserunner R3 Cameron Maybin scored on Floro's botched step-off and illegal move from the rubber.

Rare? Seattle's was only the 22nd balkoff win in MLB history, compared to 23 perfect games.

Analyzing a rarity: LA-SEA's walk-off balk.
The Play: With one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the 10th inning, Mariners batter Kyle Seager prepared to face the 0-1 pitch from Dodgers pitcher Floro as Mariners baserunner R3 Maybin danced down the line, distracting Floro such that Floro attempted to step off the rubber, resulting in a balk call by 1B Umpire Andy Fletcher, the resulting award of home plate ending the game in balkoff fashion.

The Rule: To see if Fletcher had this call correct or not, we turn to Official Baseball Rule 6.02(a)(1), which states that with runners, it is a balk when—"The pitcher, while touching his plate, makes any motion naturally associated with his pitch and fails to make such delivery." Rule 6.02(a)(10) is also relevant to this play, so we will reference that provision of the balk rule as well: "The pitcher, after coming to a legal pitching position, removes one hand from the ball other than in an actual pitch, or in throwing to a base."

Analysis: Floro, seeing Maybin relatively far from third base, attempted to slow the runner by stepping off the rubber. First, we establish that Floro is pitching from Set Position (occurs when a pitcher stands facing the batter with the pivot foot in contact with the pitcher's plate and the other foot entirely in front of the plate, 5.07(a)(2)).

This is important because prior to assuming Set Position (i.e., before coming set), "the pitcher may elect to make any natural preliminary motion such as that known as 'the stretch'...After assuming Set Position, any natural motion associated with his delivery of the ball to the batter commits him to the pitch without alteration or interruption."
Related PostOdd Position - Limits of a Legal Pitching Delivery [Set vs Windup] (3/6/18).

Floro's walk-off balk in three parts.
During this play, Floro comes set in Frame A, after which he moves both his arms leg(s), and torso in Frame B, before separating his hands in the time between B and Frame C.

This qualifies as a "natural motion associated with delivery" and, because Floro failed to deliver the ball to the batter, this is a balk. It is also a separation of hands without pitching or throwing to a base.

Conclusion & Plain English: Whether you want to use knee pop, double set, or even start-stop as rationale, it all leads to the same place: Floro's body was far too "busy" during the fateful sequence to be legal.

Lest this sound too subjective, let's break it down in a more mechanically objective fashion.

This is a balk because when Floro attempts to disengage from the pitcher's plate, he simultaneously moves other parts of his body—be it his arms, free leg, torso, or hands—and in doing so, makes a series of natural motions associated with delivery.

For instance, Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts after the game called it both a "buckle of the knee" and a "flinch after he came set," crediting Fletcher with making the correct call.

Back to our snapshot: Frame B looks very much like a pitcher in the midst of a delivery to the batter, who has opted to abort said delivery by the time he arrives at Frame C. This is a balk.

But what about the "deceives the runner" provision of the balk rule? Who did he deceive?

Roberts seeks an explanation after the game.
Critics of the call and the balk rule itself are quick to cite Rule 6.02(a) Comment (ironic for a critic of the rule to cite the rule as a defense, but I digress...), which states, "Umpires should bear in mind that the purpose of the balk rule is to prevent the pitcher from deliberately deceiving the base runner. If there is doubt in the umpire’s mind, the 'intent' of the pitcher should govern."

The answer to Rule 6.02(a) Comment's question of intent is simple: F1 Floro attempted to step off for and because of one primary factor: Baserunner R3 Maybin. It is illegal for a pitcher to stop his delivery to interact with a runner and this is the "intent" that Rule 6.02(a) Comment refers to.

Floro's intent was to prevent Maybin from getting too big of a lead, or to stop Maybin from jogging along the baseline. Accordingly, this "intent"—even if only to reset the play, thus depriving Maybin of his legal competitive advantage—shall govern.

That's a balk.

How Could Floro Fix It? As stated above, Floro balked because he did too much at once: he kept his arms and hands moving as he attempted to step off with his pivot foot, twitching his torso and popping his free knee in the process. There are many ways to grab a balk here and, accordingly, many ways Floro can fix his disengagement to make sure he doesn't balk.

The secret? Slow things down, keep the arms still, in their alignment from coming set, and try not to twitch the non-pivot leg. A pitcher legally disengages by stepping back and off the rubber with his pivot foot, but the key for a legal step-off is to keep the rest of the body silent while doing so. For instance, don't start to pull the hands apart before the pivot foot has disengaged the rubber (unless, of course, a pickoff throw is involved; remember that fakes to first and third are illegal).

Isolating motion to only that vital to step off the rubber (the pivot foot and leg) will help avert a balk.

Gil's Call: My only wonderment is how the first base umpire saw this ahead of, or even in place of, the rest of the crew, since the pitcher's back was to him more than to anyone else. There appears to be a definitive twitch or body-rotation prior to the attempted disengagement, but to see it from behind the pitcher is some kind of accomplishment that proves why Fletcher is a big leaguer. Nonetheless, this is an excellent pickup by U1.

Video as follows:
Alternate Link: Floro balks in Maybin to give Seattle a 5-4 victory in extras (SEA)
Second Video: Dodgers broadcast is flummoxed as Fletcher calls Floro for a balk (LAD)


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