Saturday, May 18, 2019

Maddon Protests Game Over Pitcher's Toe-Tap

Cubs Manager Joe Maddon protested Saturday's Cubs-Nationals game, asserting HP Umpire Sam Holbrook's crew failed to apply Official Baseball Rule 5.07(a) Comment to Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle, alleging that Doolittle took a prohibited second step during his delivery, and that the umpires failed to call an illegal pitch, as in 6.02(b).

Unfortunately for Maddon, this protest is built on shaky ground.

The Play: With one out and none on, Maddon observed that Doolittle, during his delivery, tapped the ground with his free foot before lifting his leg and retouching the ground further down the pitcher's mound as he released the ball.

The Rule: Official Baseball Rule 5.07(a) Comment states, "The pitcher may not take a second step toward home plate with either foot or otherwise reset his pivot foot in his delivery of the pitch. If there is a runner, or runners, on base it is a balk under Rule 6.02(a); if the bases are unoccupied it is an illegal pitch under Rule 6.02(b)."

OBR 5.07(a) outlaws a second step to home.
Precedent: Earlier in the week, on Monday, Crew Chief Fieldin Culbreth initiated a Replay Review/Rules Check in Seattle after HP Umpire DJ Reyburn instructed Mariners pitcher Cory Gearrin not to step twice via a double-tap of his free foot during delivery to home plate.

That game too went to Replay HQ for a Rules Check, upon which Reyburn's instruction prevailed and Gearrin modified his delivery to only take one step with his free foot toward home plate, so as to comply with OBR 5.07(a).
Related PostSEA Replay - Cubby's Pitching Motion Rules Check (3/14/19).

Lentz, Wolf, Holbrook & Iassogna confer.
Saturday's Cubs-Nats Game: Maddon must have been paying attention to Monday's game in Seattle, for he attempted to get Holbrook to enforce the same rule Reyburn addressed in his AL game. Maddon then formally protested Doolittle's first pitch to Cubs batter Kyle Schwarber, ruled a ball by Holbrook.

After Rules Check at Nationals Park, Doolittle's delivery was declared legal and Holbrook signaled the game under protest.

Video Replay: Replays indicate Doolittle's free foot made contact with the mound dirt twice during his delivery.

Analysis: The first item to note is that the pitch Maddon protested from Doolittle to Schwarber was ruled "ball one." Assuming theoretically that Doolittle's delivery violated OBR 5.07(a), the penalty for an illegal pitch with no runners on base is a ball. The outcome of the pitch in question was a ball.

The second item to note is that Maddon, in postgame comments, stated that Holbrook told him, "in our judgment..." and further stated, "I don't know how many he made that were illegal pitches."

Setting aside Maddon's admission that he didn't know how many illegal pitches purportedly occurred, Holbrook responded to Maddon's initial allegation thusly: "He thought he was tapping his foot, which in itself is not illegal, and this all kind of stems from his pitcher being called on something that was a little bit different than what Doolittle was doing. So in our judgment, Doolittle did nothing illegal at all."

Carl Edwards' second step was very obvious.
Holbrook is referring to Cubs pitcher Carl Edwards, who was caught taking a definitive second step toward home plate during delivery in Spring Training and told to stop. In Holbrook's judgment, Doolittle's maneuver did not constitute a second step toward home, as Edwards' motion had.

As we've written many times, judgment calls cannot be protested. If Holbrook and crew judged that Doolittle did not take a violative second step toward home plate in his delivery, that judgment cannot be protested. It may be correct, incorrect, or any variation thereof...but it is not subject to protest and "pitching motion/balk/illegal pitch" is not a reviewable call.

When Would Maddon's Protest Be Valid? Had Holbrook stated that Doolittle took a second step toward home plate, and that "in his judgment" this second step was legal, then Maddon would have a valid basis for protest because the rule clearly states that a second step is illegal. If the umpire acknowledges a second step has occurred, the penalty of illegal pitch (or balk with runners aboard) must be enforced. If the umpire states a second step has not occurred, that is a judgment call not subject to protest.

Gil's Call: As it stands, if Holbrook's contention is that Doolittle did not take a second step toward home plate—in spite of Maddon's toe-tap allegation, which is not a rule in and of itself—is the prevailing piece of the pie and, for this reason, Maddon's protest should be denied.

The only way this protest is affirmed is if Holbrook admits that in his judgment Doolittle took a second step during delivery, for under this scenario, Doolittle's move would be a clear rules violation. Without this precise ruling and admission from the umpires, the protest is dead on arrival.

Video as follows:
Alternate Link: Maddon protests game over pitcher's double-tap delivery (FOX)
Second Video: Cubs pitcher Carl Edwards steps twice during his Spring delivery (ARI)


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