Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Out of It - Calculating a 3-Foot Base Path on the Fly

In lieu of tonight's regularly scheduled ejection, we review Cubs batter-runner Javier Baez's infield single care of a base path consideration no-call, as 1B Umpire Chad Whitson answered Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts’ quest for an out with a conclusion that Chicago's athletic shortstop did not violate baseball's first-and-foremost criterion for declaring a runner out during his journey to first base.

The Play: With one out and none on, Cubs batter Baez hit a 0-2 slider from Dodgers pitcher Kenta Maeda up the first base line, where the ball was fielded by LA first baseman David Freese. Upon retrieving the batted ball, Freese turned his attention to Baez, who slammed on the breaks and juked to avoid Freese's tag, diving head-first into first base as Freese unsuccessfully attempted to tag his runner.

Call & Question: 1B Umpire Whitson ruled batter-runner Baez safe at first, eliciting a brief argument from Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts, who sought, to no avail, a pronouncement that Baez had illegally exited his base path in order to avoid Freese's tag.

Let's review the rule and the criteria for declaring a runner out pursuant to Rule 5.09(b)(1).

The Rule: OBR 5.09(b)(1) states that a runner is out when: "He runs more than three feet away from his base path to avoid being tagged unless his action is to avoid interference with a fielder fielding a batted ball. A runner’s base path is established when the tag attempt occurs and is a straight line from the runner to the base he is attempting to reach safely."

Baez was called out of his base path in 2016.
Precedent: Baez was previously declared out for leaving his base path to avoid a tag by 1B Umpire Dana DeMuth in 2016. During the May 22, 2016 Cubs-Giants game, Baez hit a ground ball to Giants first baseman Brandon Belt, who attempted a tag as Baez run to his right to avoid the tag.

DeMuth noted that Baez's starting point at the time of Belt's tag attempt was to the left of the fair line, while his point of farthest avoidance was the to the right of the 45-foot runner's lane that appears in foul territory parallel to the foul line.

Because the 45-foot runner's lane is exactly three feet from the foul line, by rule, DeMuth figured that Baez deviated from his base path by at least three feet in avoiding Belt's tag and declared him out of the base path.
Related PostBaez Out of Base Path in Rare Runner's Lane Appearance (5/23/16).

Baez dives to avoid fielder Belt.
SIDEBAR: Remember, the 45-foot runner's lane is, itself, irrelevant here. The only bearing this lane has is that we know, by rule, that it is a three-foot wide space. Therefore, by using a little imagery transposition, we can estimate what three feet may look like. Baez would never be declared out for a runner's lane violation in this situation, but the three-foot space is relevant solely as far as it helps an umpire establish that the runner may have ran more than three feet away from his base path.

SECOND SIDEBAR: From home to first base, the foul line is also known as the "baseline." Note that the proper call here refers to a base path, not a base line. The runner establishes his own base path.

Part 1: Freese fields the batted ball.
Analysis: We're going to use the following color-coding for our analysis. Green represents batter-runner Baez's base path, red represents the straight line from Baez to first base, and yellow represents the distance between the lines, drawn perpendicularly to the green line. As the accompanying graphic, captured at the moment Freese retrieves the ball, indicates, Baez's base path is, essentially, even with the fair foul line (painted white line aka the colloquial "chalk line").

Part 2: Freese attempts to tag Baez.
Here's Our Problem: OBR 5.09(b)(1) doesn't want us establishing the runner's base path when the fielder gains possession of the baseball. The rule wants us to consider "when the tag attempt occurs." Thus, we advance a few frames and find that Freese appears rather unsure of what to do. Upon realizing that Baez is cutting back toward the inside of the line, Freese changes his momentum and appears to initiate a tag attempt.

Freese initiates his attempted tag as Baez leaves the ground in his juking maneuver.

Part 3: Baez jumps to avoid Freese.
To Determine if This is Out of the Base Path: Thus, the answer to the out of the base path question can be solved thusly: If Baez jumped more than three feet laterally to avoid Freese's tag, whose attempt occurred as Baez left the ground on his left-ward leap, then Baez may be declared out for running more than three feet away from his base path. Otherwise, he is safe for having remained legal pursuant to 5.09(b)(1) in avoiding Freese's tag. You make the call.

Video as follows:
Alternate Link: Baez dives around Freese to reach on infield single (CHC)


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