Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Blarge - Obstruction Saves Doomed Runner

Obstruction (not interference) visited Miami during Phillies batter Bryce Harper's long single to deep left field, scoring Maikel Franco and Jake Arrieta after a baserunning blunder turned into a Marlins mishap and umpires' uh-oh when catcher Jorge Alfaro's obstruction on baserunner Arrieta during a rundown led to an automatic base award following apparently conflicting calls from two umpires on the same play.

The Play: With one out and the bases loaded, Harper hit a 3-2 fastball off Marlins pitcher Jeff Brigham to the wall in left field, retrieved and returned to the infield by left fielder Curtis Granderson, to catcher Jorge Alfaro as preceding runner R2 Arrieta and trailing runner R1 Jean Segura both stood on third base. As Alfaro jogged toward and lobbed the ball toward third base, R3 Arrieta sprinted down the third baseline, colliding with Alfaro as the Marlins catcher failed to get out of the baserunner's path, resulting in an obstruction call from 2B Umpire John Tumpane as HP Umpire Ted Barrett ruled the runner out, having called no obstruction as evidenced by his "safe" mechanic in the immediate aftermath of the runner-fielder interaction.

Tumpane and Barrett make conflicting calls.
Analysis, OBS vs Not OBS: Before we get to the obstruction rule itself, let's discuss the general principle of conflicting umpire calls.

Official Baseball Rule 8.03(c) is officiating's catch-all for conflicting calls made on the same play: "If different decisions should be made on one play by different umpires, the umpire-in-chief shall call all the umpires into consultation, with no manager or player present. After consultation, the umpire-in-chief (unless another umpire may have been designated by the League President) shall determine which decision shall prevail, based on which umpire was in best position and which decision was most likely correct. Play shall proceed as if only the final decision had been made."

For MLB/MiLB, this means the crew chief will decide the final call after consultation. This play didn't merit the same level of additional discussion as portrayed in OBR 8.03(c), but why?

Barrett's call technically doesn't happen.
Because Tumpane's call of "Obstruction 1/A" causes the ball to become dead (we'll discuss this later), Barrett's no-call and subsequent out call of Arrieta technically occurs during a dead ball, after the infraction had already been ruled. Thus, Tumpane's call prevails simply because it came first and killed the play prior to Barrett having made any call. Accordingly, we don't technically have conflicting umpire calls since Tumpane's call occurred first and prevented any subsequent "live ball" calls from being made.

In the grand scheme of conflicting calls, a "safe" mechanic in the context of no-calling a violation is a rather tame conflicting call to have, as whether an umpire indicates "safe" or not, the result is the same: the potential obstruction or interference is no-called. The only difference between a mechanic vs no mechanic is "safe" clearly communicates that the umpire has seen the play and observed no infraction of the rules. In general, an umpire's ruling that obstruction has taken place (an active call) takes precedence over an umpire's ruling that no obstruction has taken place (a passive call).

The active vs. passive set of "conflicting calls" is easily correctable—much easier than what Rule 8.03(c)'s purpose is meant for, which would be a set of two active conflicting calls (e.g., "safe" at a base vs "out" at a base, or "that's interference" vs "that's obstruction").

This (conflicting calls) is also one reason why it is important to call "Time" immediately upon ruling that Obstruction Type 1/A has occurred (for Type 2/B, by contrast, play is to be kept alive).

SIDEBAR: We'll use the terms Obstruction 1 and Obstruction A interchangeably, as we will with Obstruction 2/B. The reason for this is the 'old' OBR codification for Obstruction split the types into provisions (a) and (b). The 'new' OBR numbering changed (a) to (1) and (b) to (2); hence 1/A and 2/B).

Analysis, Obstruction 1/A vs 2/B (vs Interference): There are two elements to drill into the audience here. The first is the difference between Obstruction 1/A and 2/B. Succinctly, obstruction type 1 (old OBR: Obstruction A) occurs when a play is being made on the obstructed runner.

This is an example of OBS Type 1/A.
SIDEBAR: Obstruction A also occurs if the batter-runner is obstructed prior to reaching first base on a ground ball to an infielder, whether or not a play is being made on the batter-runner. In the case of a pop-up or line drive to an infielder, obstruction against the batter-runner is identified but the ball is kept alive. If the fly ball is legally caught, the batter is out. If not, it becomes Obstruction A and the batter-runner is awarded first base. In the case of any ball hit to the outfield, the ball is kept alive. The batter-runner, however, is protected to at least first base.

On an outfield hit like Harper's, Obstruction A ordinarily occurs during an ensuing rundown when a fielder hinders or impedes the baserunner's attempt to run the bases. It's important to contrast this with an Obstruction B play, which occurs when there is no play being made on the obstructed runner at the time of obstruction.

If OBS occurs at this moment, it is OBS 2/B.
The 2013 World Series Jim Joyce/Dana DeMuth (Allen Craig/Will Middlebrooks) play is an example of this second obstruction type. Even though the defense may have attempted a play on the runner at some point during the live ball—or may even try to retire the runner later during the same play—Obstruction A only applies to a runner who is obstructed while there is an active play being made on him/her. If, for instance, the defense throws the ball away and the runner is obstructed while attempting to advance while the defense is pursuing the loose ball away from the runner, this would be an example of Obstruction B.
Related PostObstruction 1 or A vs 2 or B - The Difference is Crucial (6/23/17).

Graphic: Timeline of Obstruction.
As you read the following scenario, take a look at the attached Timeline of Obstruction graphic for an illustration of when Obstruction B turns to A, and back again: With baserunner R2 leading off from second base, the batter hits a ball on the ground to shortstop F6. F6 notices R2 halfway between second and third base and throws to second baseman F4. F4 catches the ball and runs toward R2, who is attempting to run toward third base. F4 throws the ball to third baseman F5, who misses the catch as the ball bounces toward the third-base dugout and into foul territory. R2 slides into third base.

If obstruction occurs between baserunner R2 and a fielder while the shortstop is fielding the ball but before he has turned his attention to R2, the obstruction is Type B. If obstruction occurs after F4 has started his attempt to play on the baserunner (and before F5 misses his attempt to field F4's throw), the obstruction is Type A. If obstruction occurs after F5 fails to make the catch and while the ball is loose on the field, the obstruction is Type B. Rinse and repeat.

Obstruction A: Play on runner or BR.
Knowing whether a play is Obstruction 1 or 2 is crucial, because the penalties are different. For Obstruction 1, the ball is immediately dead and all non-obstructed runners are placed where they would have been had there been no obstruction. The obstructed runner is awarded at least one base beyond the base last legally touched at the time of obstruction. It's important to note that the nullify-the-act principle explicitly does not apply to the obstructed runner in the sense that the obstructed runner cannot be returned to a base. The obstructed runner must be awarded at minimum one base and may even be awarded two or more bases. The obstructed runner shall not be declared out.

Obstruction B: No active play on runner.
In OBS 2, all runners are placed where the umpire believes they would have been had obstruction not occurred in the "nullify the act" resolution. This means a runner may be declared out under this scenario if the umpire deems the runner would have been out regardless of the obstruction.

Commentary Critique: The second point to drive home is a broadcasting nightmare wherein announcers have a tendency to confuse "interference" and "obstruction." Here's a quick guide:

Obstruction: The defensive team generally obstructs the offense.
Interference: The offensive team interferes with the fielders.

Catcher's Interference: A limited exception to the general principle occurs with catcher's interference against a batter (an illegal act by the catcher against a runner is always obstruction), but CI can only exist during a pitched ball. Once the ball is no longer pitched (e.g., it is batted, becomes a passed ball/wild pitch, etc.), illegal hindrance by a defensive player against a runner is referred to as obstruction, not interference. NFHS makes it even easier and replaces what OBR/NCAA ordinarily refers to as "catcher's interference" with the term "catcher's obstruction."

Official Baseball Rules, Obstruction:
[Definition of Terms]: "OBSTRUCTION is the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner."
Rule 6.01(h)(1): "If a play is being made on the obstructed runner, or if the batter-runner is obstructed before he touches first base, the ball is dead and all runners shall advance, without liability to be put out, to the bases they would have reached, in the umpire’s judgment, if there had been no obstruction. The obstructed runner shall be awarded at least one base beyond the base he had last legally touched before the obstruction. Any preceding runners, forced to advance by the award of bases as the penalty for obstruction, shall advance without liability to be put out."
Rule 6.02(h)(2): "If no play is being made on the obstructed runner, the play shall proceed until no further action is possible. The umpire shall then call 'Time' and impose such penalties, if any, as in his judgment will nullify the act of obstruction."

Video as follows:

Alternate Link: Tumpane's obstruction call scores Arrieta in Miami (PHI)


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