Sunday, September 4, 2022

Ask - Infield Fly No-Call Leads to Double Play in New York

After New York shortstop Francisco Lindor allowed a batted ball to drop untouched before turning an inning-ending double play during Saturday's #Nationals-#Mets game, questions surrounding the umpires' infield fly no-call sprung up: why wasn't the batter declared out pursuant to the infield fly rule?

Play: With one out and two on (R1, R2), Nationals batter Luis Garcia hit a first pitch-changeup from Mets pitcher Max Scherzer in the air, whereupon Mets shortstop Lindor let the ball drop to the dirt before fielding it and throwing to second baseman Jeff McNeil, who threw to third baseman Eduardo Escobar, who tagged advancing Nats baserunner R2 CJ Abrams.

Call: Although umpires did not signal "infield fly" on the play, and although 2B Umpire Manny Gonzalez clearly signaled Mets baserunner R1 Lane Thomas out on second based on a force play, the game score's play-by-play account has this as "[batter] Luis Garcia pops into a double play" before concluding with, "Luis Garcia out at 1st."

Conflict of Calls and Scoring Decision via Stats Stringer: Since the Mets never threw the ball to first base, the only explanation for Garcia being out would be if this play was declared an infield fly, despite replays indicating evidence to the contrary (such as no signal, and U2 Gonzalez's force out call).

Rule: The infield fly rule is defined as: "a fair fly ball (not including a line drive nor an attempted bunt) which can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, when first and second, or first, second and third bases are occupied, before two are out. The pitcher, catcher and any outfielder who stations himself in the infield on the play shall be considered infielders for the purpose of this rule."

The batter is out, and the ball remains live (runners can advance at their own peril, with liability to be put out).

Analysis: With the less-than-two-out and runners-on-first-and-second criteria clearly satisfied, we turn to the "attempted bunt" portion of the rule. Replays indicate the batter appeared to contact the ball during a check swing—this is not a bunt and thus the bunt exemption does not apply.

Furthermore, this is not a line drive ("a batted ball that goes sharp and direct from the bat to a fielder without touching the ground").

With replays indicating fielder Lindor could have caught this ball with ordinary effort, we turn to whether it satisfies the "fly ball" criterion or not. The definition for FLY BALL is of little help: "batted ball that goes high in the air in flight."

Thus, we are left with a subjective judgment call on whether this particular batted ball traveled "high" enough in the air. Judging by the ball's apex, one could certainly make an argument in favor of declaring this an infield fly. Note that the rule does not make any reference to amount of time the ball is airborne: the only criteria are whether a fair fly ball could be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort.

As for the intentional drop rule, OBR 5.09(a)(12) requires the infielder to have physically touched the baseball in order to merit a call; additionally, it is superseded by the infield fly rule: "In this situation, the batter is not out if the infielder permits the ball to drop untouched to the ground, except when the Infield Fly rule applies."

This is therefore not an intentional drop and may or may not be an infield fly, depending on your subjective interpretation of the word "high".


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