Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Ask UEFL - Runner Tagged Out After Base on Balls?

Saturday's Clemson-South Carolina NCAA baseball game prompted an Ask the UEFL feature when 2B Umpire Scott Kennedy ruled Tigers baserunner Dylan Brewer out at second base during a base-on-balls play: the correct call, despite the walk's associated base award.

Our analysis of this play begins with reference to precedent, a similar 2017 play in Seattle we turned into a Case Play at the time. The situation was remarkably identical: none out, one on (R1) running with the pitch, and a 3-2 count on the batter. In both situations, the defense attempts to retire R1 as the catcher throws to second as the plate umpire rules the pitch ball four.

During the Seattle sequence, 2B Umpire Laz Diaz presided over Mariners baserunner Jean Segura's arrival, who like Brewer was a runner on first base running on a 3-2 count, ruled ball four by HP Umpire Cory Blaser and affirmed as "no swing" by 1B Umpire Jeff Nelson. Just as with Clemson's Brewer, Segura runs past second base, but unlike SCar-Clemson's Kennedy, 2B Umpire Diaz does not declare Segura out.

The reason Diaz no-called Seattle's play while Kennedy called Clemson's runner out is actually quite simple: In the Clemson game, the defense clearly tagged the runner while the runner was both off his base and after the runner had already passed second base; in Seattle, Astros second baseman Jose Altuve did not actually tag Segura past second base despite Segura being clearly off his base: this is not abandonment at this point (Segura did eventually return to second base, after all), and, with no continued tag attempt, this is not an out of the base path call either.

Instead, we rely on plain old Official Baseball Rule 5.09(b)(4) ("any runner is out when—he is tagged, when the ball is alive, while off his base"). The NCAA equivalent is 8-5-i and the only difference between the OBR and NCAA language is that college's rule is gender-inclusive: "The individual is touched by the ball (when not dead) securely held in the hand or glove of a fielder while the runner is not touching the base."

That said, we know that a runner is protected from liability to be put out on a base award, such as a walk (OBR 5.05(b)(1) / NCAA 2-2, 8-2-b), so the tag of Brewer's helmet is rather meaningless: ball four precludes the stolen base attempt and turns it into a base award. Instead, the question becomes at what point at or around the awarded base does the runner lose their "without liability to be put out" protection?

For instance, OBR 5.05(b)(1) Comment states, "If, in advancing, the base runner thinks there is a play and he slides past the base before or after touching it he may be put out by the fielder tagging him." So what does "past" actually mean?

The answer, it turns out, is found in the MLB Umpire Manual for "passing a base" which is a view shared by college: "A runner is considered to have passed a base if he has both feet on the ground beyond the back edge of the base or beyond the edge of the base in the direction to which he is advancing." Also see the linked article regarding Past or Prior for an in-depth discussion of the rationale and ramifications of this rule/interpretation.

NCAA's inclusive language in 8-6-a-3 is as follows: "A runner is considered to have passed a base if the player has both feet on the ground beyond the back edge of the base or beyond the edge of the base in the direction in which the player is advancing." Both OBR and NCAA use the same diagram regarding prior/past: they agree on the rule.

Putting it all together, we determine that Clemson R1 Brewer passed second base and, thus, lost his protection from liability to be put out while off of the base. As such, as soon as he was tagged while off his base, 2B Umpire Kennedy was proper in both keeping play alive and in his declaration of "out" notwithstanding the 3B Coach's distraction at third base.

Accordingly, refrain from prematurely calling "Time" during a non-HBP base on balls sequence. NCAA's guide on this is delineated by Rule 6-1-Note 2, which states, "The umpire shall not call time until a play has been completed. After a base on balls, the umpire shall not call time until the runner has stopped at first base."


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