Friday, March 5, 2021

Ask UEFL - Batter Interferes with Uncaught Third Strike

In this Ask the UEFL play from a UConn-Virginia NCAA baseball game, we look at a batter who inadvertently kicks an uncaught third strike, whether that qualifies as interference, and, if so, what the call should be for any runners attempting to steal during the play.

The Play begins with one out, a runner on first (R1), and a 2-2 count on the batter from the University of Connecticut. With R1 running on the pitch, the batter swings and misses on a pitch that winds up in the dirt and, as it bounces in front of the catcher, the batter begins running toward first base. While still in the batter's box, the batter's left foot inadvertently kicks the ball as the catcher tries to retrieve it; the runner slides into second base ahead of the tag.

The Call: With less than two out and first base occupied to begin the play, our HP Umpire emphatically gestures that the batter is out while the 2B Umpire calls the runner safe for having slid into the base before the tag. The result of the play is two out, R2.

The Rule: Even though the pitch resulted in an uncaught third strike, the batter is out because first base was occupied at the beginning of the play with less than two out (Official Baseball Rule 5.09(a)(3) ["batter is out when—a third strike is not caught by the catcher when first base is occupied before two are out"] / NCAA 7-11-g ["a third strike is not caught, provided a runner occupies first base and there is not more than one out"] / NFHS 7.4.1.b ["a third strike is not caught, provided a runner occupies first base and there are less than two out"]).

But what of the batter's unintentional, inadvertent kick of the loose ball?

NCAA Baseball released a series of "Major Rules Changes" prior to the 2021 season; "Batter interference - dropped third strike" is one of them. The new note for NCAA Rule 7-11-h states that "After a third strike that is not caught by the catcher and the batter-runner clearly hinders the catcher in the catcher's attempt to field the ball, the batter-runner is out, the ball is dead, and all other runners return to the bases they occupied at the time of the pitch regardless of the number of outs. If the pitched ball deflects off the catcher or umpire and subsequently touches the batter-runner, it is not considered interference unless, in the judgment of the umpire, the batter-runer clearly hinders the catcher in their attempt to field the ball, regardless the number of outs."

One thing that is important to note here is that the batter, by virtue of being out pursuant to NCAA 7-11-g, is not a batter-runner...but does that change things?

Rule 6-3-b relates squarely to the batter: "The ball becomes dead and base runners return when—The batter interferes with the catcher’s fielding or throwing by stepping out of the batter's box or making any other movement that hinders the catcher's play at home base."

Which sounds like the batter is out and R1 returns, right? Well, not so fast, as we continue reading into 6-3-b: "PENALTIES for b.—(2) If the batter strikes out, the runner is also out."

This is corroborated by NCAA Rule 7-11-f-EXCEPTION-3, which states in the case of a batter intentionally or unintentionally interfering with the catcher's fielding or throwing ("making any other movement that hinders a defensive player's action at home plate"), "If the batter also should strike out on the play, it is a double play."

Ruling: The batter is out on an uncaught third strike with first base occupied and less than two out. R1 is also out, for the batter having struck out because now the interference on a dropped third strike is no longer by a batter-runner, but by a retired batter. The batter cannot be doubly out for the uncaught third strike with first base occupied and less than two out AND for interference, so the interference puts out the runner attempting to steal, R1.

Video as follows:

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."

Video as follows:

Monday, March 1, 2021

MLB Promotes Veteran Umpire Mark Carlson to Crew Chief

Major League Baseball promoted veteran umpire Mark Carlson to the role of Crew Chief ahead of its 2021 season, filling the vacancy created by Mike Winters' retirement. Having most recently officiated the 2020 World Series, including a Game 7 plate assignment had the series gone the distance, Carlson takes 22 years of big league games and a healthy dose of regular season interim crew chief experience with him to his new supervisory role.

Named one of seven interim crew chiefs for MLB's COVID-modified 2020 season alongside Laz Diaz, Angel Hernandez, Marvin Hudson, Ron Kulpa, Paul Nauert, and Bill Welke, the Illinois-born Carlson was the only umpire of the group to serve as a Crew Chief for the Division Series round of the 2020 postseason (Diaz, Hernandez, Hudson, and Kulpa all officiated the Division Series, but only Carlson served as a crew chief [he was Hudson's chief for ALDS Series A: Tampa vs New York]).
Related PostMLB Names 7 Interim Crew Chiefs for 2020 (7/23/20).

Carlson's regular season umpiring crew for 2021 is slated to include James Hoye, Jordan Baker, and Chris Segal, but due to pandemic-related restrictions, crews may begin the season regionally, which might alter league-wide crew composition.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Angel Hernandez Trends on Day 1 of Spring as Sports Toxicity Returns to 2021 Season

Umpire Angel Hernandez trended on Twitter on Day 1 of Spring Training, receiving a flurry of vitriol and criticism after St. Louis Cardinals broadcaster Dan McLaughlin took issue with a ball/strike call that turned out to be correct, according to the computerized graphical strike zone the media generally enjoys referring to when an umpire's call is at odds with a team's preference.

The controversial call occurred during the top of the 1st inning of St. Louis' game against the Washington Nationals when Hernandez ruled a 1-1 pitch from Jack Flaherty low for ball two, a call that appeared to be supported by computerized graphics in use by MLB's own website.

AH called Pitch #3 a ball.
Nonetheless, Hernandez's correct call elicited a barrage of personal tweets from baseball fandom attacking the veteran umpire—in the top of the first inning, of the first game of spring.

As we have noted time and time again using the article label "Umpire Abuse," the sports world suffers from severe issues, including a harmful cultural attitude toward its officials.

In Hernandez's case, the existence of a lawsuit filed against Major League Baseball alleging discrimination based on race and national origin complicates matters in a way that compounds the abuse he, as an umpire, receives.

For instance, the consequence and character of Hernandez's pitch call in the first inning Sunday—very likely his first borderline call of 2021—in no way corresponded to the level of backlash he received ( the stadium, there was no such negative reaction). In other words, Hernandez's history influenced what occurred virtually, and largely for reasons previously discussed.

Hernandez, through his audacity in attempting to challenge a potentially oppressive system that sees a tremendous underrepresentation of Latino umpires relative to players (27% Latino players / 5% Latino umpires at the time of Hernandez's 2017 filing), or Crew Chiefs outright (0% Latino crew chiefs at the time of his filing), has drawn the scorn of a sports world not ready to reconcile a potentially uncomfortable reality that marginalization exists.

And for the crime of standing up for himself, it hardly comes as a surprise that Hernandez remains a favorite target of online bullying, personal attacks, and unmeritorious insults.

Oddly enough, McLaughin's quip that Hernandez was in "midseason form" actually was correct after all: the umpire correctly ruled a borderline pitch out of the strike zone and it is statistically true that umpires tend to get most calls right.

Video as follows:

2021 MLB Spring Training Umpire Roster

Major League Baseball published its 2021 Spring Training Umpire roster with 76 MLB and 21 MiLB call-up umpires for a total of 97 officials assigned to spring games in Arizona's Cactus and Florida's Grapefruit Leagues.

This represents one more umpire than 2020's MLB Spring Training roster of 96 officials, and a return to the 2019 MLB Spring roster's level of 97 umpires, but is more than 2018 (91 umps) and less than 2017 (102 umps).

The following list features sleeve numbers for all umpires who have them is categorized by MLB staff vs MiLB invitees and fill-in personnel. As of Spring's start, all but one 2020 call-up umpire appears on the 2021 Spring Training list, with one promotion to the full-time staff to fill one vacancy, and the addition of several triple-digit umpires to the invitees & call-ups list.

Umpires in bold are new to the Spring Training list and may receive formal uniform number assignments later this Spring. A sleeve number for a minor league umpire/invitee signifies that this umpire is qualified to work MLB regular season games. Regular season crew chiefs are italicized. Observations follow the list.

MLB Spring Training Umpires' Roster - 2021 Pre-Season
MLB StaffMLB StaffMiLB Invitees & Call-Ups
Baker, Jordan 71
Barksdale, Lance 23
Barrett, Lance 16
Barrett, Ted 65
Barry, Scott 87
Bellino, Dan 2
Blakney, Ryan 36
Blaser, Cory 89
Bucknor, CB 54
Carapazza, Vic 19
Carlson, Mark 6
Conroy, Chris 98
Culbreth, Fieldin 25
Cuzzi, Phil 10
Danley, Kerwin 44
Davis, Gerry 12
De Jesus, Ramon 18
Diaz, Laz 63
Drake, Rob 30
Dreckman, Bruce 1
Eddings, Doug 88
Emmel, Paul 50
Estabrook, Mike 83
Fairchild, Chad 4
Fletcher, Andy 49
Foster, Marty 60
Gibson, Greg 53
Gibson, Tripp 73
Gonzalez, Manny 79
Gorman, Brian 9
Guccione, Chris 68
Hallion, Tom 20
Hamari, Adam 78
Hernandez, Angel 5
Hickox, Ed 15
Hoberg, Pat 31
Holbrook, Sam 34
Hoye, James 92
Hudson, Marvin 51
Iassogna, Dan 58
Johnson, Adrian 80
Knight, Brian 91
Kulpa, Ron 46
Layne, Jerry 24
Lentz, Nic 59
Little, Will 93
Marquez, Alfonso 72
Meals, Jerry 41
Miller, Bill 26
Morales, Gabe 47
Muchlinski, Mike 76
Nauert, Paul 39
Nelson, Jeff 45
O'Nora, Brian 7
Porter, Alan 64
Rackley, David 86
Randazzo, Tony 11
Rehak, Jeremie 35
Reyburn, D.J. 17
Reynolds Jim 77
Ripperger, Mark 90
Scheurwater, Stu 85
Segal, Chris 96
Tichenor, Todd 13
Timmons, Tim 95
Torres, Carlos 37
Tumpane, John 74
Vanover, Larry 27
Visconti, Jansen 52
Wegner, Mark 14
Welke, Bill 3
Wendelstedt, Hunter 21
West, Joe 22
Whitson, Chad 62
Wolcott, Quinn 81
Wolf, Jim 28
Additon, Ryan 67
Bacchus, Erich 101
Bacon, John 70
Barber, Sean 29
Beck, Adam 102
Ceja, Nestor 103
Clemons, Paul 104
Libka, John 84
Livensparger, Shane 43
Mahrley, Nick 48
May, Ben 97
McCrady, Kyle 106
Miller, Brennan 55
Moore, Malachi 108
Moscoso, Edwin 109
Navas, Jose 110
Ortiz, Roberto 40
Riggs, Jeremy 112
Tosi, Alex 66
Valentine, Junior 115
Wills, Ryan 118

(21 MiLB Umpires)
(76 MLB Umpires)
(97 Total Umpires)

Information obtained by
UEFL on 2/28/2021.
Some observations, year-over-year: