Thursday, August 29, 2019

MLB Rules Gearrin's Toe Tap Legal - Analysis

MLB informed New York that Yankees pitcher Cory Gearrin's toe tap pitching delivery is legal and does not constitute the second step portrayed by Official Baseball Rule 5.07(a). HP Umpire Manny Gonzalez called a balk in Seattle based on this rule, and he isn't the first umpire to have taken MLB's fairly-new OBR 5.07(a) Comment to heart.

To understand this Ask the UEFL question, we go all the way back to MLB's introduction of OBR 5.07(a) Comment, which 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)."

Also known as the Carter Capps rule, the Rule Committee incorporated the second step prohibition prior to the 2017 season. The rule outlaws both crop-hops/resets with the pivot foot and second steps with the free foot.
Related Post2017 Rules Mods, Including IBB Change, Announced (3/2/17).

Other than helping to end Capps' big league career—and prompting a series of illegal pitch calls against Capps in the minor leagues—the 5.07(a) Comment prohibitions set in motion a slow-moving set of problems relating to the question, "what constitutes a 'step'?"
Related PostCarter Capps - Back to Old Tricks or Just a Spring Thing? (3/14/18).

This festering issue came to a head in early 2019, when a multitude of big league pitchers began testing the limits of the traditional pitching motion known as the slide step. Ordinarily, a slide step is effected by sliding the free foot along the dirt of the pitchers mound during delivery before landing at a final resting point and throwing the pitch toward home plate.

At what point does a tap become a set/reset?
As early as Spring Training, however, pitchers who had already begun to experiment with delivery styles started lifting their free feet and legs during delivery such that the traditional slide transformed into more of a bounce, with the pitcher's free foot making contact with the ground more than once during delivery—the act of planting a foot became much more fluid.

On May 13, Fieldin Culbreth initiated a Crew Chief Review—Rules Check—after his crew observed Cory Gearrin, then a member of the Seattle Mariners, warming up and appearing to bounce quite animatedly with his free foot during delivery. After a six-minute Replay Review, the crew determined that Gearrin should be instructed to keep his free foot off the ground until reaching its final landing place.
Related PostSEA Replay - Cubby's Pitching Motion Rules Check (5/14/19).

Joe Maddon already tried protesting the rule.
This seemingly strict interpretation of a step caused more problems just days later when Cubs Manager Joe Maddon—already steamed because his pitcher, Carl Edwards, had been counseled on an illegal second step earlier in 2019—attempted to protest a game in Washington when Sam Holbrook refused to call Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle for an illegal pitch due to an alleged second step. The protest was doomed to fail because whether or not a slide/bounce/jab/toe-tap constitutes a second step has traditionally been a judgment call, for lack of MLB specifically addressing the matter.
Related PostMaddon Protests Game Over Pitcher's Toe-Tap (5/18/19).

The umpires and Yankees discuss pitching.
MLB didn't address the issue in May, which leads us to August and Manny Gonzalez's balk call on Gearrin for taking an illegal second step (Holbrook via a pool reported described it as a second setting of the free foot) as in OBR 5.07(a) Comment, which is a balk pursuant to Rule 6.02(a).

MLB Legalizes The Move: According to skipper Aaron Boone, MLB informed the Yankees organization that Gearrin's move is, in fact, legal. Thus, the toe tap now officially no longer constitutes a second step...a matter that could have been resolved in May—the first time Gearrin's delivery caused a delay in Seattle.

Instead, we're left with an umpire in Manny Gonzalez exercising on-field judgment to call a balk, which has now been precluded after-the-fact by a league interpretation that the toe tap is legal.

Try and observe the pitch holistically.
Gil's Call: In my estimation, the question of toe tap vs second step is somewhat of a misnomer. Yes, the two terms are very useful to describe and discern the difference between legal and illegal, but from what I've gleaned, here's the fundamental difference between a legal and illegal delivery, and it goes beyond the sole action of a leading free foot: Simply making contact with the ground more than one time with the free foot isn't enough for an illegal pitch call (and never has been). What is illegal—watch the Carl Edwards delivery—is a free foot that lifts, comes back to the ground, stops, and lifts again, and whose action effectively interrupts the entire delivery.

In other words, if a potential second step causes the pitcher to stop the movement of his delivery, such that his motion can be described as a "start-stop-start," he has violated the rule. If the pitcher has set his foot down, only to lift it and set it down again, it's illegal. Otherwise, a toe tap or sliding action that doesn't constitute an actual "set" of the foot should be deemed legal.

A word of caution: This is the MLB interpretation. Lower levels may still deem this an illegal step.

Video as follows:

Alternate Link: Cory Gearrin and the Legal Toe Tap vs Illegal Second Step (CCS)


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