Sunday, October 14, 2018

Non-Review - West ALCS Crew's Infield Fair/Foul Overturn

After HP Umpire Vic Carapazza ruled a fair ball and out on Red Sox batter Jackie Bradley's batted ball in front of home plate, fielded by Astros catcher Martin Maldonado, during Game 2 of the Houston-Boston ALCS, chief Joe West's crew initiated Replay Review and overturned the apparently non-reviewable call following a conversation with Replay Official Bill Miller, Replay Assistant Paul Nauert, and, undoubtedly, a handful of replay and umpiring supervisors at MLBAM headquarters.

Joe West got the call right, but incorrectly?
With fair/foul balls in front of home plate not subject to Replay Review, how did West and crew legally reverse Carapazza's initial ruling, is this common sense and fair play, should MLB change its replay rules, and which member of West's crew stepped up and put on a master class in situation handling?

History, West's Replays at Home: It turns out that this isn't West's first time conducting a Rules Check on a batted ball that hit a batter in front of home plate—and just like Sunday, West's prior fair/foul batted ball rules check concerned a play deemed not reviewable. The only procedural difference was that the first time around, the home plate umpire's original ruling of "fair, out" stood. Obviously, Carapazza's original "fair, out" ruling Sunday night was changed to "foul ball."

West talks to Phillies skipper Pete Mackanin.
On May 14, 2017, HP Umpire Andy Fletcher ruled Phillies batter Cesar Hernandez out after he ran into his own bunted ball outside of the batter's box, a pretty standard call. Philadelphia wanted to challenge the umpire's judgment that the batter made contact with the batted ball outside of the batter's box, the umpires went to the headsets and returned with a "non-reviewable" verdict, meaning the out call stood. Washington's field microphones then picked up audio of West telling Mackanin that the play was not reviewable and, accordingly, that Philadelphia had not been charged a Manager's Challenge for the conversation with Replay HQ.
Related VideoPHI@WSH: Hernandez out after rules check (5/14/17).

The Baseball Rule: Both the Hernandez and Bradley plays refer to the same rule, which Boston's Bradley satisfied but Philadelphia's Hernandez did not: "If the batter is in a legal position in the batter’s box, see Rule 5.04(b)(5), and, in the umpire’s judgment, there was no intention to interfere with the course of the ball, a batted ball that strikes the batter or his bat shall be ruled a foul ball" (OBR 5.09(a)(7)).

Crews can always get together to get it right.
Umpire Conference and Replay Review: Ok, so Carapazza's original ruling that Bradley was out was incorrect, but umpires are not legally allowed to consult video. During the ensuing consultation, West gathered the crew's input and headed to the replay headsets. After an extended delay, West removed his headset and signaled the play a foul ball. There really is very little, other than Rule 5.09(a)(7) and perhaps 5.04(b)(5), regarding legal batter's box position, the crew could have used the Rules Check for (before "interference?" questions arise, recall that interference is similarly not, the batter-runner was put out regardless).

Sidebar: Joe West is the first umpire to conduct two Rules Checks regarding the same rule 5.09(a)(7).

The Replay Regulation: As it pertains to the chopper in front of home plate and whether or not the batted ball subsequently hit the batter after the bat is not subject to Replay Review—this has been the case since Day 1 of expanded replay in 2014. The relevant regulation is V.C., which states, in part, "Calls involving a decision regarding whether a batted ball was "A FOUL BALL," within the meaning of the Official Baseball Rule's Definition of Terms (formerly Rule 2.00) but only with respect to balls that first land at or beyond the set positions of the first or third base Umpire."
Related PostMLB Releases Replay Review Regulations for 2014 Season (3/31/14).

Before we begin the philosophical analysis, let's clearly state our position here: this play should be reviewable. When we wrote about ways to improve replay in January 2017, adding more things to the review arsenal featured prominently. First and foremost under that bullet point? "Fair/fouls in the infield."
Related PostTmac's Teachable Moments - Let's Fix Replay (1/19/17).

Analysis: This play is clearly not subject to Replay Review and it seems curious that West would signal "foul ball" only after removing the headset. Umpires are permitted (as they have been for years) to get together themselves and elect to reverse a call based solely on crew input, without video influence. Mechanically, if this is what occurred, West is in a tough spot: the play is not reviewable, so MLBAM can't inform West of the video, but if West were to initiate a Crew Chief Review based on the concept of a "Rules Check," there stands a chance West's call of foul vs out depends on the outcome of said Rules Check.

That said, mechanically speaking, this is a reversal of a call initiated by the on-field crew, which means HP Umpire Carapazza should have optically been the one to signal "foul ball" (Replay Review is the only time that a Crew Chief should visually appear to be "overruling" another on-field umpire). The crew should likely have had an on-field ruling ready to go prior to initiating its Crew Chief Review.

Mark Carlson speaks with AJ Hinch.
Crew Chief Carlson: What slips under the radar here as the TBS broadcasters note that Astros Manager AJ Hinch would have a grievance if the call were to be reviewed and overturned, and West and Carapazza are on the headset with New York, is that 2B Umpire Mark Carlson has come over and speaks with Hinch, remaining with Houston's skipper for a majority of the Replay Review process.

After West removes the headset and rules the play "foul," Hinch, who could have easily blown up about the call's reversal, calmly walks back to his dugout as Carlson jogs back to his position. This is an underrated piece of situation handling that speaks to Carlson's leadership abilities as a number two, even when this ALCS crew's true number two (other than Bill Miller, who was the Replay Official tonight in New York) is LF Umpire and regular season crew chief Mark Wegner.

Philosophy: So onto the value of getting the call right: We know full well that Carapazza's fair/out call was in error and the ultimate decision of "foul ball" was correct. "Rules Check" not withstanding, our only question is whether it's worth it to disregard the Replay Review regulations that specifically prohibit reviewing this exact play in order to get the call right. Remember, we want this play to be reviewable—and on this site we've been hoping for four years that MLB would add fair/foul in the infield to its list of reviewable plays—but under the current code, this play is simply not eligible for video review.

Hypothetically, if an umpire makes a clearly erroneous call on a play that, pursuant to regulation, cannot be reviewed, is it ever acceptable to disregard the regulation and review the play anyway?

If your answer is "YES," read on (also read on if your answer is not "YES").

Andy Green was ejected arguing a non-review.
History, Replays at Home: This isn't the first time MLB has had some trouble with plays near home plate.

On September 16, 2018, 3B Umpire Fieldin Culbreth ejected Padres Manager Andy Green after the Replay Official denied Green's request to review a fair/foul call at home plate. As Rangers batter Robinson Chirinos attempted to check his swing, the pitched ball made contact with his bat and/or hand, ruled a foul ball by HP Umpire Ryan Blakney. By rule, in order for this to be a foul ball, Blakney would have had to rule that the pitched ball hit Chirinos' bat and then hit Chirinos' hand (see the aforementioned Rule 5.09(a)(7)). Green's attempted challenge concerned whether the ball was actually fair—whether, after hitting the bat, the ball touched Chirinos or not. When informed by Culbreth that MLBAM's Replay Operations Center had rejected the review, Green vehemently argued to the point of ejection.
Related PostMLB Ejection 168 - Fieldin Culbreth (3; Andy Green) (9/16/18).

Pursuant to the Green standard, Sunday's ALCS Game 2 play was not reviewable. Or, alternatively, someone should explain to Andy Green what happened Sunday night relative to what happened on September 16 in San Diego and why his call wasn't reversed but Sunday night's call was.

John Farrell was not happy about his rejection.
On May 25, 2017, on-field umpires accepted Boston's challenge that Texas' Nomar Mazara was hit by a pitch on a swinging third strike (HP Umpire Chad Fairchild had initially ruled the play a swinging strikeout and wild pitch, which had allowed the batter-runner to reach first base). The Replay Official incorrectly deemed the play non-reviewable when it should have been subject to Replay Review because it involved the question of whether a batter was hit by a pitched ball. Had the play been reviewed, Mazara would have been out due to the deal ball strike, rather than on first base. By contrast, whether a batter (or runner) is hit by a batted ball is never reviewable.
Related PostMLB Admits Error on Swinging HBP Strike Non-Review (5/26/17).

So there you have it and it all seems to point back to our Tmac's Teachable from January 2017: if we want to fix replay, let's just make more things reviewable. That way we avoid this technicality mess that sometimes produces more arguments than it solves. Until then, somebody explain to Green why his play wasn't reviewed.

Video as follows:
Alternate Link: Carapazza's original fair & out call is reversed to foul ball after Replay consultation (TBS)
Second Video: Full-length, real-time clip shows four minutes of confusion at Fenway Park


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