Tuesday, March 7, 2023

College Ejection - Brian DeBrauwere's Intentional HBP

HP Umpire Brian DeBrauwere ejected Gonzaga pitcher Ty Buckner for intentionally throwing at Tennessee batter Blake Burke after the former yelled at Buckner about an alleged quick pitch during the 3rd inning at-bat. Even more interesting, Brian had joined CCS years earlier to discuss game management about pitch cadence disputes between batter and pitcher, and how taking steps to slow things down—by calling "Time" or working with the catcher—could also diffuse potential problems.

Coincidentally, guess what game management tools NCAA and MLB's new-ish pitch clock eliminated?

It is important to note that in NCAA baseball, the pitch clock has been around LONGER than the 2023 introduction to the Major League level, but the NCAA clock has been modified for the 2023 season as a 20-second limit with the bases empty that starts (for the first pitch of the at-bat!!!) when the pitcher is on the rubber, the catcher in the catcher's box, and batter in the batter's box...whether or not the batter is actually standing still or not.

Furthermore in college, Appendix F (20-second pitch clock protocol [to begin an at-bat]) states, "Pitchers are expected to begin the motion to deliver the pitch as soon as the batter enters the box and becomes alert to the pitcher." Thus, as soon as the batter faces the pitcher and becomes alert, it's fair game to start the pitching motion. No quick pitch can be called if the batter has become "alert" in this manner, no matter how quickly the delivery begins after the batter looks at the pitcher and becomes "alert". MLB doesn't have this precise rule, but is guided by a similar principle regarding the pitch clock.

Burke appeared to take issue with the very first pitch of his 3rd inning at-bat against pitcher Buckner, verbally complaining to Buckner about an alleged quick pitch. Buckner, pitching out of Windup Position, had begun his delivery after Burke stood in the batter's box and was alert to the pitcher, but before the batter assumed a stationary stance. Pursuant to the NCAA protocol for pitch clocks, the ball was in play.

Buckner, who briefly stared at Burke before taking a replacement ball from DeBrauwere, then threw his next pitch at Burke's ankles, resulting in a hit-by-pitch and an ejection from the game for intentionally pitching at the batter, as in NCAA Rule 9-2-g Penalty: "If the umpire believes such a violation [pitcher intentionally pitched at the batter] has occurred, a warning shall be issued to the pitcher and both opposing coaches that future violations by any pitcher will be cause for immediate ejection of the pitcher and the coach from the game. If, in the umpire’s judgment, the situation warrants drastic action to defuse a potentially volatile situation, the umpire may eject the pitcher without a warning."

The reason this video is so long (it was going to be just a few minutes) is that just a few years prior, we at Close Call Sports recorded a video podcast teachable episode with DeBrauwere and fellow high-level umpire Jeff Gosney, two umpires with extensive professional experience. One of the plays we highlighted during that discussion was—you guessed it—a dispute between a batter and pitcher about pitching cadence. The only difference? Back then, we didn't use a pitch clock and umpires had greater flexibility to arbitrarily call "Time" if the batter wasn't quite ready to go, or to work with the catcher and/or pitcher to slow down—no clock, no reason to rush.

That's all changed now, putting umpires down a pair of formerly sophisticated game management techniques. Is this college ejection uniquely pitch clock's fault? Not exactly. But is it a contributing factor? You be the judge.

For what it's worth, NCAA Rule 9-2 outlaws illegal pitches, such as a quick pitch, which is vaguely defined as "An illegal pitch made with the obvious intent to catch the batter off balance" (NCAA 2-68). Because batter Burke was facing the pitcher when the pitcher began delivery—out of Windup and not Set Position—this was most likely not a quick pitch, given Appendix F basically instructing the pitcher to start delivery AS SOON AS the batter first becomes "alert" due to...pace of play.


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