Friday, March 15, 2019

Stroman's Timing Experiment and the Illegal Pitch

Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman has experimented with delivery timing in an effort to keep batters and umpires on their toes, and this Spring Training proved no exception as Stroman began his delivery, broke his hands by taking his throwing hand out of his glove without the ball, only to reach back into his glove, grip the baseball, and resume his pitch to the batter.

Marcus Stroman separates his hands early.
With a runner or runners on base, this would clearly result in a balk, as Official Baseball Rule 6.02(a)(10) states that it is a balk when, "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."

But what is the call when there are no runners on base, as was the case this week when Stroman tried the wipe-throwing-hand-on-pants delivery?

And how about if I told you that Stroman has done something very similar before, during the regular season, that nearly caused Paul Nauert to eject him after Nauert pointed out the rules infraction?

The Rules Book: When the Playing Rules Committee restructured the rulebook during a recodification meeting in San Diego on December 10, 2014, the Committee's goal was to better organize the rules of baseball into a more logical or chronological format. Whereas the old system had different rules for The Batter (old Rule 6.00), The Runner (old Rule 7.00), and The Pitcher (old 8.00), the Committee felt this approach problematic because there would be plays that involved both the batter and the pitcher, or other permutation, such that the necessity of jumping around from rule to rule might prove too confusing or convoluted. The Committee wanted to make the code simpler.

2015 diagram of hybrid legality across codes.
The New Analysis: In a way, this approach works, since "standard" baseball plays—how to pitch, how to bat, making an out, scoring a run, etc.—all exist within Playing the Game (Rule 5.00), while infractions exist within Improper Play, Illegal Action, and Misconduct (Rule 6.00).

The wrinkle now is that whereas pitching deliveries in the past would exist entirely within The Pitcher (old OBR 8.00), we now have to reference both the "standard" rule on Pitching (new OBR 5.07) and the modern codification for illegal pitching (new OBR 6.02).

Rule for Pitching Deliveries: New OBR 5.07 references legal pitching deliveries—Windup and Set Positions. It doesn't particularly matter how convoluted Stroman's wacky windup is, or whether he wants to claim set position—hybrid be damned—because both rules contain the same language as to deliveries: "Any natural movement associated with his delivery of the ball to the batter commits him to the pitch without interruption or alteration."

What's the penalty for failing to complete this action? Either start over, or if it's a habitual problem, go with don't do that. (In other words, OBR does not prescribe a precise penalty.)

Sidebar: OBR's Windup vs Set "hybrid" rule, 5.07(a)(2)—wherein a pitcher with pivot foot parallel to the rubber must declare his intent to pitch from Windup lest he be presumed to be in Set Position—only applies when there are runners on base.
Related PostBalk - Pitcher Blown Off Mound, OBR Adopts Hybrid Rule (5/7/17).

Paul Nauert previously called Stroman's bluff.
That said, Rule 5.07(a)(2) Comment states: "If, however, in the umpire’s judgment, a pitcher delivers the ball in a deliberate effort to catch the batter off guard, this delivery shall be deemed a quick pitch, for which the penalty is a ball. See Rule 6.02(a)(5) Comment."

But Rule 6.02(a)(5) Comment states: "A quick pitch is an illegal pitch. Umpires will judge a quick pitch as one delivered before the batter is reasonably set in the batter’s box. With runners on base the penalty is a balk; with no runners on base, it is a ball. The quick pitch is dangerous and should not be permitted."

Analysis: So there you have it. 5.07(a)(2) wants this outlawed if the pitcher delivers the ball in a deliberate effort to catch the batter off guard, BUT 6.02(a)(5) doesn't want this called a quick pitch unless it's delivered before the batter is reasonably set in the batter's box.

U1 Nelson ejects a pitcher over "don't do that."
So...was the batter reasonably set? Let's assume that the batter sees Stroman violate the tenet of 5.07 in removing his hand without throwing a pitch, and, in turn, steps out of the batter's box.

Would the batter be deemed reasonably set in this case? Is this an illegal pitch/automatic ball, a "Time" call (similar in theory to "the batter cannot cause a balk/starting from scratch"), or otherwise? What if the batter stepped out of the box, thinking that Stroman had simply stopped his expected delivery?

As we learned from Jeff Nelson in July 2018, pitchers don't always take too kindly to a "don't do that" instruction. 1B Umpire Nelson ejected Dodgers reliever Daniel Hudson for arguing a 5.07(a) "do not do that" command. Again, the rule doesn't exactly carry a definitive one-size-fits-all penalty for violating the code, but Hudson's maneuver still violated a rule.
Related PostMLB Ejection 087 - Jeff Nelson (2; Daniel Hudson) (7/4/18).

Nauert granted McCann's request for "Time."
Precedent: In July 2017, HP Umpire Paul Nauert called "Time" at the behest of Astros batter Brian McCann when McCann, alert to the fact that Stroman had violated 5.07(a) regarding the requirement that a pitcher pitch without interruption or alteration, requested "Time" when Stroman completed a fake leg pump and paused without delivering the ball, leading to protestation from Stroman, angry that Nauert granted "Time" to a batter thrown off by Stroman's attempt to circumvent the rule.

No ejections resulted, but just like Nelson and Hudson, Nauert-Stroman goes to show that there can be game management ramifications for a rulebook that allows pitchers to routinely circumvent the delivery regulations with little-to-no penalty for deviation.
Related PostDead Ball - Stroman's Start-Stop and Contested Time Call (7/8/17).

What happens when both players break a rule?
OBR 5.04(b)(2) states that, "Umpires will not call 'Time' at the request of the batter or any member of his team once the pitcher has started his windup or has come to a set position," but Rule 5.07(a) also states that a pitcher is obligated to pitch "without interruption or alteration" once he has started his natural movement associated with delivery.

What's the penalty when both the pitcher and batter have violated?

OBR 5.04(b)(2) Comment goes on to say, "If after the pitcher starts his windup or comes to a 'set position' with a runner on, he does not go through with his pitch because the batter has inadvertently caused the pitcher to interrupt his delivery, it shall not be called a balk. Both the pitcher and batter have violated a rule and the umpire shall call time and both the batter and pitcher start over from 'scratch.'"
Related PostStarting From Scratch - Batter Disrupts Pitcher's Delivery (6/29/17).

Video as follows:

Alternate Link: Stroman breaks and rejoins hands during delivery in Spring Training


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