Saturday, July 9, 2022

Ask UEFL - Tampa Flinches as Cincinnati Walks Off on Balk

As quickly as a glove rises and falls, Cincinnati won its extra-inning game against Tampa Bay thanks to a walk-off balk by Rays pitcher Matt Wisler, but was HP Umpire Edwin Moscoso's call the correct one? In this Ask the UEFL, we thumb through MLB's rulebook concerning legal and illegal pitching actions, with a specific point of emphasis on start-stop balks.

Play: With one out and runners at the corners for Cincinnati in the bottom of the 10th inning of a tied ballgame, umpire Moscoso called Tampa pitcher Wisler for a game-ending balk based on the premise of start-stop, or failing to go directly from the stretch to set position.

Result: The balk-off's base award Reds runner Mark Kolozsvary to score from third, and brought Rays manager Kevin Cash out for a brief discussion with Moscoso, 2B Umpire Lance Barrett, and 3B Ramon De Jesus; Cash left the conversation before Crew Chief Alfonso Marquez arrived. Upon arriving, Marquez convened the crew to affirm the call before leaving the field.

: Official Baseball Rule 5.07(a)(2) [The Set Position] indicates the requirement to move from stretch to set in a fluid motion: "Before assuming Set Position, the pitcher may elect to make any natural preliminary motion such as that known as 'the stretch'...Preparatory to coming to a set position, the pitcher shall have one hand on his side; from this position he shall go to his set position as defined in Rule 5.07(a)(2) without interruption and in one continuous motion."

Rules Analysis: It is this "without interruption and in one continuous motion" language that is often associated with OBR 6.02(a)(1)'s "makes any motion naturally associated with his pitch and fails to make such delivery" rule concerning balks, and is colloquially known as a "start-stop" balk.

Although the balk rule's comment discusses the intent of the rule relative to preventing deception of the base runner, we analyze this play from the perspective of OBR 5.07(a)(2) and 6.02(a) proper.

Longtime umpire school operator and instructor (and former major league umpire) Jim Evans, formerly of the Jim Evans Academy for Professional Umpiring, previously criticized the Official Baseball Rules themselves as an "anachronism" in the sense that a number of rules are simply outdated, obsolete, and the book itself is fairly disorganized and somewhat confusing.

Case in point: The start-stop balk rule. Before we talk about the specific TB-CIN play, we first must figure out if failing to go from stretch-to-set without interruption and in one continuous motion is, itself, a balk. There are two trains of thought here, and neither has been officially endorsed as correct or incorrect.

> Analysts led by Evans have stated that a start-stop in the stretch-to-set pre-delivery period is eligible for a balk call, deeming the infraction a "common practice balk."
> Others have stated a start-stop in the stretch-to-set pre-delivery period is not eligible for a balk call because it does not explicitly fall under the OBR 6.02(a) balk rules, deeming the infraction a "don't do that" offense with no actual penalty.

Play Call Analysis
: Regardless of which theory you subscribe to (sidebar: and it's wild that such a chasm even exists for such a rule that could be cleared up if the rules committee were to simply address it once and for all), pitcher Wisler appeared to move his glove in a way ordinarily seen when a pitcher asks for the catcher to repeat signs or requests new signs. Thanks to MLB's anti-sign-stealing technology, the catcher no longer drops visual signs, but instead punches them into a device on his arm, so even though we don't see the catcher giving physical signs, that doesn't mean he isn't sending them digitally.

Umpire Moscoso interpreted Wisler's action in raising then lowering the glove to the hip, however, as a start-stop from stretch-to-set, and thus balked it a violation of OBR 5.07(a)(2)"s "without interruption and in one continuous motion" rule. Which, again, may or may not actually be a balk.

BASEBALL! | Video as follows:

Alternate Link: Key balk-off gives Reds extra inning victory over Rays (CIN/TB/CCS)


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