Nationals Baseball: About last night

Saturday, October 06, 2012

About last night

Nats playoff preview tomorrow - got stuffs to do. (besides the game isn't till tomorrow) 

The Infield Cry 

The BEST thing you can say about the call that led to yesterday's debacle is this:
The rule is written in such a way that allows for an interpretation so that the call made on the field is not technically incorrect.
That's it.  When that's the BEST thing you can say about a call, well, it's a terrible call. 

The rule as written is ths:
An INFIELD FLY is 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.

When it seems apparent that a batted ball will be an Infield Fly, the umpire shall immediately declare ''Infield Fly'' for the benefit of the runners.
So the judgement calls lie in the terms "ordinary effort" and "when becomes apparent".

"Ordinary effort" is usually seen as two separate pieces. The first part explicit. Does the play requires an extraordinary effort to achieve?  For example, does the infielder have to dive or run full speed to make the play? The second part is implicit. Is the play itself extraordinary? We'll get back to this in a minute.

"When becomes apparent" is usually a second or two after the ball has been struck. Enough baseball has been seen by these umpires to understand very quickly, from contextual clues and from the flight of the ball itself, where a ball will land. If it falls in range for an infield fly, the hand goes up.  If not - no hand.

Why does the infield fly exist? As we all know it exists to prevent the infielder from purposely dropping a pop-up to turn a double play.  It exists to protect the offense. That is why the umpire must rule "immediately when apparent". To give the runners the time to determine whether or not they want to try to move forward based on what they see taking place, knowing that they are not forced to do so because the batter has been called out. It is also why the implicit understanding of "ordinary effort"exists. A high enough fly ball could be tracked down at a normal jog by an infielder as far as the warning track in some parks.  While requiring ordinary effort that would be an extraordinary play, and any purposeful drop would be impossible to turn into one out, let alone a double play.

This why the park erupted and why the internet was full of angry, embarrassed baseball fans. We've all seen enough baseball to understand a SS that deep in LF was not an ordinary play, and that to turn two from a planned drop would be likely impossible. We understand that the call was made at such a late time that the runners would not be able to obtain any benefit from it. It was not an infield fly call as we have come to know it.

Under the BEST interpretation of the rule, which is in fact the normal, everyday interpretation we see used throughout the season, the protest of the play would have been upheld. However, MLB was not interested in the best interpretation, only if an interpretation existed that could technically defend the umpires call so the games could move on. Such an interpretation does exist.

As I said ANY flyball could in theory be called an infield fly by the rule as written, it's just as judgement call for the umpire on the infielder's effort.  It's not even based on whether a DP is possible off a drop, it is just on effort. A short high fly to left field could be fielded by the SS so therefore it was technically correct.

When did it become apparent that the play would take ordinary effort is again open to interpretation.  The LF ump called IF when Kozma camped under the ball. Should he have been able to determine if Kozma was going to reach the ball with ordinary effort before that? Yes, of course. But can you say it wasn't apparent to him until the infielder was actually under the ball waiting for it to drop? Yes, that is the very last minute you can say that, but you CAN say that.

What you essentially saw last night was a blown call by the LF ump, most likely because he was playing far deeper than he normally would and such assumed the IF/OF interaction was happening closer to the field than it really was.  Because all the controversial aspects call were based on an umpires judgement, the remainder of the umpires did not want to call him out.  It is one thing to say I saw something you did not, it's another to say, I saw what you saw but what you decided from that was incorrect. After that happened it was easy for MLB to rule to deny the protest, because an interpretation of the rule could be made that followed the course of action on the field. It may have in fact been the worst interpretation of the rule, twisting the rule to cover the decision, rather than using the rule as a guide to protect the offense, but it was a valid interpretation.


timeless46 said...

Helpful analysis.

All I can add is that the play confirms to me that it is unwise to add the extra umpires in the playoffs. Adding two outfield umpires is unnecessary and a recipe for problems because the two outfield umpires are not in position that they have umpired from all year long. As this play indicates, the game looks different from outfield, and the umpires -- no matter how good they are -- have virtually no experience at getting into position and making calls from the outfield.

Moreover, I don't see much in the way of value that the two additional umpires add in terms of ruling on foul balls in the outfield or home runs. Home runs will be subject to replay, and its strikes me that the umpires at first and third will likely have a better angle for foul ball calls. Maybe they will be in a better position to rule on whether a diving catch of an outfield fly ball is actually a catch or a trap, but even that is hardly certain.

K.C. said...

It was the correct call. End of story. Going by the rule book, it was the correct call. It gets called an infield fly hundreds of times during the year, we just don't see it and the SS catches it.

Good call by the umpire.

Harper said...

Hundreds of times? Hundreds? If you want to say sometimes that happens and it's called ok fine. But hundreds? Don't buy that.

Also to say "correct by the rule book so it's right" is like asking the gov't to prosecute everyone going 1 mile over the spped limit. It's the law by the book, but it misses the point.

Donald said...

My initial reaction was that it was an awful call, but then I watched this video analysis of it. I've since downgraded my opinion to it being a merely bad call.

Anonymous said...

It was the correct call. I would be upset if I was a Braves fan but it would be nothing but bias stoking that frustration. As an SS I would expect the IFR call to be made 9 times out of 10 there especially once I started drifting toward the ball.

Froggy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Froggy said...

Blown call.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the majority of rules like this are to protect the 'spirt of the game'. Infield fly rule, bunting with two strikes, balks, etc. Some are to protect the offense(IF, and balks) and some to protect the defense (two strike bunting).

So, regardless of whether it was the technically correct call (based on ordinary verses extra-ordinary effort), how does a late hand up by an umpire who suddenly realizes he is in the game 'protect' the offense?

To me, if it is an ordinary call the hand goes up before the ball reaches apogee not when the IF gets under the ball, which could be a full two seconds after the ball has begun it's downward angle.

In this case, with a ball hit this high if the ump calls IFR immediately and sees the SS that far out in LF, at least the guy on second can make a judgement if he can make it to third (unlike a normal popup where an intentionally dropped ball screws the baserunner), thereby the offense is protected from an intentional drop = DP. Conversely, since the ump waited so long to put his hand up, the baserunner has no advantage or option to take a chance. It is Win-Win for the defense IMO. What am I missing here?

But the real blown call, was the results of the huddle afterward. I think the umps knew they blew it, and the Braves fans didn't help by acting like idiots. To me that was the tipping point. Do you reward bad behavior by admitting your were wrong? And you know the league and collective bargaining would never allow it.

Blown call x 2.