Friday, September 16, 2022

Home Plate Blocking Rule Exemption in Dodgers-DBacks

When Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes tagged Diamondbacks baserunner R3 Jake McCarthy out at home on a delayed steal in the bottom of the 9th inning of a tied game, Arizona manager Torey Lovullo sought to challenge HP Umpire Vic Carapazza's out call, alleging Barnes illegally blocked the runner's path to home plate. After review, however, Crew Chief Adrian Johnson announced a confirmed no violation call (tag out stands), with Replay determining no plate blocking violation occurred. Why?

Official Baseball Rule 6.01(i)(2) pertains to home plate collisions and restricts the catcher from illegally blocking the runner's pathway on a play at the plate unless the catcher has possession of the ball or is imminently fielding it. Given MLB's spate of overturning out calls on throws from the outfield to plate blocking violations, and thus awarding runners home plate in the process, Lovullo's plate blocking challenge made sense.

But in reality, it was doomed from the start. Embedded within OBR 6.01(i)(2) is a provision about throws from the drawn-in infield: "it shall not be considered a violation of this Rule 6.01(i)(2) if the catcher blocks the pathway of the runner in a legitimate attempt to field the throw (e.g., in reaction to the direction, trajectory or the hop of the incoming throw, or in reaction to a throw that originates from a pitcher or drawn-in infielder)."

The reason pitchers (such as Dodgers relief pitcher Evan Phillips, who threw the ball home here) and drawn-in infielders specifically are exempt, as it were, from the ordinary plate blocking restrictions is timing. As the MLB Replays twitter account explained, "the speed at which the play developed exempted the catcher from any potential violation."

In conclusion, this means that throws that originate from the infield grass (e.g., not cut-off or relays from the outfield or another infielder, and also not infielders in normal or double-play depth deep in the dirt) absolve the catcher of the pre-reception positioning responsibility since there simply isn't enough time to do both a pre-position AND field the throw AND tag the runner.

Naturally, this rule still requires the position not be taken until it is certain the drawn-in infielder or pitcher will actually throw the baseball to home plate. For this play in which the baserunner put on a delayed (attempted) steal of home plate, the throw originated from Los Angeles pitcher Phillips, thus qualifying for an exemption to the ordinary plate blocking restrictions.


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