Thursday, April 4, 2024

Angel's Swinging Strike Call & the Unreviewable Play

Detroit manager AJ Hinch argued after being told he couldn't challenge HP Umpire Angel Hernandez's foul tip call in the 11th inning in New York because Hernandez's on-field ruling that batter Spencer Torkelson swung at the pitch is not a reviewable play.

In Ejection 003 - Vic Carapazza (1; Dylan Moore), we discussed how check swing decisions—specifically whether or not the batter struck at a pitch—are not reviewable. In that game, Cleveland successfully challenged that batter Ramón Laureano was hit by a pitch, with Replay Review awarding Laureano first base as a result. Seattle had contended Laureano swung at the ball as it touched him, which the on-field umpires did not call (the crew ruled Laureano did not swing at the pitch), so the scope of the replay solely focused on whether the ball struck the batter or not. Finding that it did, the natural award was first base, relying on the umpires' on-field "no swing" ruling.

In Ejection 004 - Mike Muchlinski (1; Derek Shelton), we concentrated on the mechanics of calling a check swing, finding that the home plate umpire bears primary responsibility with such a play, and if they deem that the batter did in fact swing at the pitch, then by rule they are supposed to unilaterally call the swing from behind the plate (not appeal to a field umpire). The first and third base umpires may rule on appeal when the plate umpire calls "no swing" but not when the plate umpire calls a strike (by swing or by location).

Putting these lessons together brings us to Thursday in New York, when HP Umpire Hernandez called a foul tip on Tigers batter Torkelson in the 11th inning. While Detroit initially sought to challenge this call, alleging the pitched ball touched batter Torkelson's hands and not the bat, the umpires informed manager Hinch that due to Hernandez's ruling that Torkelson did indeed swing, the play was not reviewable.

This is correct, in part, and not entirely correct, in part. First, we know that Replay cannot review whether or not a batter has attempted to strike a pitch (swing/no swing is not reviewable). But, there is an ever-so-slight difference between the on-field ruling of foul tip and what the Tigers allege happened, which is a pitched ball touching the batter. Add in Hernandez's call " he struck at it" and we find the difference Replay could make here is between a foul tip—a live ball—and a dead ball strike (obviously, a dead ball).

In this situation, it doesn't sound like much of a difference, but had the catcher tried to pick off a runner and either retired the runner or overthrew the fielder, allowing runners to advance, the live vs dead ball call would loom large. On a foul tip (live ball), the runner could be deemed out or could advance to score a run on the catcher's throwing error, while on a dead ball (dead ball strike), no further action could occur and any pickoff attempts would be nullified.


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