First Base Bites

Yep, first base bites. It really can. First base is like the dog you’ve had for years – old faithful, your best friend – who suddenly goes and bites a neighbor kid and then all hell breaks loose.

First base is like that.  It’s familiar. Cozy. For the umpire working the field (on a two-man crew, or U1 on a three- or four-man crew), first base is where most of the putouts are made. But, of course, almost all of these putouts are easy to handle. Almost all of them. A couple of steps inside the line, then a slow, drawn-out fist to signal the out. Piece of cake.

You have nearly five times the number of plays at first base than at second, and the ratio over putouts at third is over a thousand-to-one. But again, you could easily make almost all of these calls from the cheap seats. That’s your old dog. And the bang-bang play? That’s the neighbor kid. And then, as I said, all hell breaks loose.

We’re going to come back to the bang-bang play in a bit, but first let’s check my claim that first base is where most of the putouts are made. Is it really true that first base is action central for fair batted balls? Common sense, along with familiarity with the game, suggests that it is, but impressions are not facts (except in politics), so let’s ask again, what am I basing my claim on?

We all know that baseball is the most data-centric sport on the planet. It’s an outcome of the nature of the game, wherein every play (except steals and pick-off attempts) begin with a single, discrete action: a pitch. And upon each pitch, a specific outcome occurs – a ball or strike, a foul ball or a fair batted ball; a caught fly ball, a base hit, ground-rule double, putout at first base, double-play, a strike out, base on balls … the list goes on. And each of these events is recorded in its special code on the score sheet – an ancient, humble page with an array of arcane scribbles that grows, over the life of a nine-inning game, into a vast pool of data. And all of those pools from all of those games drain into a gigantic ocean of data. That’s how we know that, while third base may be the hot corner, first base is action central.

Baseball stats are abundant. If you doubt, check out a site like Retrosheet. And while most published baseball stats track player performance (batting average, RBIs, ERA, and all the rest), the immense reservoir of game data is available for other investigations as well. And the data is available to any creative analyst out there. All you have to do is download it.

One such analyst is Chris Ford, the owner and proprietor of a sporting blog called All My Sports Teams Suck. While I was researching this post, Googling for data about where putouts are made, I stumbled on Chris’s blog. It was there that I came across Chris’s fascinating blog post entitled A Look At Every Out Made Since 1952. Wow!

Every single out made in Major League Baseball since 1952. If that doesn’t rev your jets, you’re one of those caught snoring in the bleacher seats. So, from Ford’s analysis, we learn that, over the past 64 years, through the 2015 season, Major League Baseball has recorded 6,377,594 outs. Not only that, but we know exactly where each and every one of these outs was made.

Here’s the first really interesting thing we learn (I was flabbergasted): the data captures over a thousand put-out scenarios. If you’d asked me before this how many different defensive scenarios could lead to an out, I’d have answered something like, oh, a couple hundred. Nope. In fact, over these 64 years, the data tracks 1,228 different put-out scenarios.

That said, roughly 96% of these six-million-plus putouts are captured in just the top twenty putout scenarios. These twenty also represent all putout scenarios whose frequency is greater than or equal to one half of one percent. So, except for oddities like six-throw rundowns, these twenty putout scenarios pretty much have the action covered.

Here’s a table that tabulates these six million (plus) putouts since 1952. Putouts made at first base are highlighted:

Scoring Description Raw count Frequency
K Strike out 1,455,075 22.80%
8 Catch, center fielder 650,819 10.20%
43 4-3 putout (first base) 509,106 8.00%
63 6-3 putout (first base) 502,374 7.90%
9 Catch, right fielder 499,270 7.80%
7 Catch, left fielder 488,288 7.70%
53 5-3 putout (first base) 387,082 6.10%
3 Catch, first baseman 339,636 5.30%
13 1-3 putout (first base) 218,715 3.40%
4 Catch, second baseman 198,778 3.10%
6 Catch, shortstop 195,575 3.10%
5 Catch, third baseman 156,198 2.40%
31 3-1 putout (home plate) 97,566 1.50%
64 6-4 putout (second base) 88,775 1.40%
2 Catch (pop up), catcher 73,045 1.10%
643 6-4-3 double play (first base) 58,058 0.90%
54 5-4 putout (second base) 56,829 0.90%
463 4-6-3 double play (first base) 47,213 0.70%
46 4-6 putout (second base) 43,315 0.70%
543 5-4-3 double play (first base) 32,185 0.50%
 TOTAL 6,097,902 95.6%

Adding up all of the putouts made at first base (1,754,733), we see that these account for 27.5% of all putouts, nearly a third, outpacing the next most frequent, strikeouts, and the third most frequent, catches in center fielder. Putouts at second base represent just under six percent of all putouts. The ratio of putouts at first over putouts at second is nearly 5:1. You have to go all the way to the 38th most frequent play to get a putout at third base (a 1-5 putout, pitcher to third baseman); the frequency of putouts at third base is just two-hundredths of a percent (0.02%). It’s not even close to making the list.

Okay, so it’s abundantly clear: first base is where most of the putouts take place. But again, almost all of these are easy. But let’s not forget about the old dog.

Let’s get back to the bang-bang play

A bang-bang play is a play that is so close, the events so nearly simultaneously, that only the most astute observer, using both eyes and ears, can make a judgment on whether the runner is safe or out. When you make this call, there are three reference points: Ball in glove (securely), the runner’s footfall on first base, and the fielder’s contact with the bag. And you’re using two senses – both vision and hearing (seeing the footfall and hearing the pop of the catch), although crowd noise can complicate hearing the pop.

What you have, then, are intersecting events that are described by the trajectories of both the runner and the ball; and then we have three reference points; and finally, we have sensory inputs from both vision and hearing. And then, on top of that, we have all of these coming rapidly together at a point in time that’s about the width of a water molecule, and then a lot of crowd noise to boot. Who can possibly judge this?

And then there’s this. There is a play at first base even tighter and closer than a bang-bang play; a play where events are in a range (it’s in the hundredths, maybe thousandths of a second) in which (like Schrödinger’s cat) it is impossible to know with certainty whether a runner is safe or out. (You can solve this with super slo-mo cameras, but only the pros have super slo-mo, and we’re not talking to the pros, so just let that drop.)

What we’re talking about here is the play that’s so close, so perfectly simultaneous, that even the term bang-bang doesn’t describe it. What we have, here … wait for it … what we have here is the b-bang play. B-bang!

And that’s the play that bites. This is your old dog biting the mailman in the ass. This is all hell breaking loose on a warm summer day. This is the unwinnable dilemma, where it’s entirely possible (and not that uncommon) for you, the umpire, to see one thing (correctly), and yet for the base coach (again correctly) to see the same event entirely differently. Both are true, and both are correct. And good luck with that!

(And there’s more where this came from … that is, about the mysterious quantum physics of simultaneity in baseball. If you like mysteries like this, you’re going to like my post, The Theory of Umpire General Relativity.)


The Theory of Umpire General Relativity

Only slightly toungue-in-cheek . . .

I worked a game recently in which there was a close play at first base. I was working the plate so I had trailed the runner up the first base line and saw the play clearly. The umpire at first called the runner out (correctly). It was close, but not that close, and there is no question the call was correct.

Behind me, though, from the stands near the batter’s dugout, we heard more than just the typical groans. There are always groans from the fans on a close play, from one side or the other, but this was different. These were loud complaints: “How could he miss a call like that!”  That sort of stuff. Clearly, the umpire at first base (and me, too) saw one thing, but the spectators for the team on offense saw something completely different.

This happens all the time, of course, especially at first base, because that’s where the greatest number of close (bang-bang) plays occur. And yet, the more I thought about it, the more it got me thinking there might be more going on than simple bias for your home team.

So just how do you explain this common phenomenon, where one person sees one thing, and someone else in the same place and at the same time sees something entirely different? How do you explain this?

Well, there are several pieces to an explanation, but let’s start with the easy stuff:

  • First off, those spectators who are complaining are much farther away from the play than is the umpire who made the call. That, on the face of it, helps explain their different views of the play.
  • Then there’s the matter of angle. We all understand that angle is even more important than distance when you’re getting position for a call, and clearly the spectators’ angle was very poor when compared to that of the umpire. His vantage point was perfect.

Okay, so those are the easy and obvious points. And they work okay, up to a point. But I think there’s more to it. There’s a human factor, too. When the stakes are high, we tend to see what we want to see, and hear what we want to hear, regardless of what actually happens. That’s human nature.

This is not particularly subtle. All of us know this happens. It’s one of the reasons witness testimony at trials is so unreliable, and why you often have several eye-witnesses give conflicting versions of the same event. We frequently see (and hear) what we want to see (and hear). It happens with memories, too. The more distant the memory, the more closely it morphs into what we really want to remember, whether we know it or not. Time, it seems, is less of a long and winding road than it is a murky pond. But I digress.

But wait; let’s stay with memory for a moment.

Do you remember how, as a kid, you’d calculate dog years. You’d convert a dog’s age to its equivalent human age by multiplying the dog’s age by some number – seven, I think. Supposedly, this helps dog owners appreciate the maturity of their six-year-old mongrel. As though, somehow, 42 human years is a more difficult concept to grasp than six dog years. Go figure.

Well, just as with memory and time and dog years, umpires on the field experience space and time differently than spectators do. It sounds crazy, I know, but it’s true. To see the difference, you have to apply a conversions factor, just like when calculating dog years. But this calculation deals with space, not years. It calculates the difference between spectator views and umpire views of the same event.

The conversion factor is something like six-to-one. In other words, two inches to a spectator is equivalent to about 12 inches for the umpire on the field. So on a bang-bang play at first base, if the separation between the runner’s footfall on the bag and the time of the catch is minuscule, the umpire sees a gap. And sees it pretty clearly.

And that’s why, when there’s a really close play, and the aggrieved team’s fans and coaches and players groan and complain, the umpire is mystified. He’s thinking something like, Why in the world are they complaining? Hell, the ball beat him to the bag by a mile. And he actually means a mile.

There is something mysterious at work, because it appears that for umpires on the field, space can expand, or dilate, and time can contract. It’s been shown that such things actually do happen in nature.

This brings us to Albert Einstein  (yes, that Albert Einstein). In 1915, over a century ago, Einstein introduced the concept of four-dimensional space-time.
He formulated the concept to capture his theory of general relativity. What the concept means is that three-dimensional space, as we know it, is linked with passing time; and then, wrapped together, space and time form a single, four-dimensional space-time. Space-time, according to Einstein, is the fabric of the physical universe on the cosmological scale. Whew!

Well, according  to Einstein, one important effect of this is that events that appear simultaneous to one observer are, in fact, very different for someone else who is observing from a different frame of reference. (That’s relativity in a nutshell.) In other words, the disconnect between the view on the field and the view from the bleachers creates a space-time hiccup (if you will), such that two observers can literally see two different events.

It appears to be true, then (with only a small stretch), that in fact there does exist a special, four-dimensional umpire space-time, a dimension in which space expands and time contracts, such that ordinary events on the field take place one way for some observers, and entirely differently for others. They don’t appear different; they actually are different.

I believe that baseball relativity and umpire space-time are real. The evidence supports it. So groan if you have to, fans. Shout at the umpire if you must. But do not doubt the call of the umpire who is fixed in space and time on the very axis of the events on the field; and then go home, grumbling if you must, and satisfied that, although your view was pure, it was almost certainly wrong.

And all of this we capture in The Theory of Umpire General Relativity.



Here’s a sequence of games that I worked recently. Most of you will recognize the dilemma:

  • Saturday afternoon: 14U Pony game
  • Saturday evening: College summer league game
  • Sunday morning: Adult men’s league game – older division (old farts, like me)

On all three I had the plate (long story why). Saturday’s Pony game went well. No arguments, no problems, only a few groans. That evening, however, I had the plate on a college summer league game. On the very first batter I called a high strike. Not very high, but high for this level. And I sure did hear about it. That’s the thing about calling college ball – the guys know their shit. High strike and everyone (but everyone) sees it. And “comments.”

The thing is, that strike call would have been just fine in my Pony game earlier that day. It was about a ball under the letters, definitely the top of the zone at any level 12-and-over, but acceptable. Except when you get to 17-, 18-year-olds. That’s where the top of the zone goes down to about a ball above the belt (maybe half a ball), although get two umpires together and it’s hard to get agreement on this.

So I called a high strike on the first batter, heard plenty about it, recognized my error (and it was my error), and of course I adjusted. Because that’s what we do. We adjust.

But this kind of adjustment is not always that easy. Let’s stay with pitching for a moment. Saturday evening I had awesome pitching from the college players. Great control, tremendous velocity, wicked movement on the breaking balls. Two of my pitchers that night were hitting upper 80s, low 90s. They popped the catcher’s glove like gunshots. But once I had them dialed in, calling the game was (relatively) easy.

Next morning I’m on the plate again, this time for the senior division of an adult baseball league. In this case, “senior” means the old guys – as I say, like me. These games are fun to work because the old guys are out there having fun, making fun of one another, not taking anything but their own mortality very seriously. They’re striving to win, but not that hard. They don’t run fast, they commit a lot of errors, and the pitching is … well, lets call it spotty. For the most part, the pitches are floaters, coming in like a 12-6 curve ball, but they aren’t actual breaking balls. They’re just slow tosses that gravity brings over the plate like falling water.

Judging these pitches is more difficult than calling the vastly more competent college pitchers. Sounds counter-intuitive, I know, but it’s true. The trajectory
of a well-thrown pitch makes tracking the pitch from release point to catcher’s mitt much easier than that of a floater that cuts into the strike zone from … well, from altitude. And making that overnight adjustment from bullets to puff-balls is difficult.

But probably the biggest difference between the play of college kids and that of mere mortals is the speed of the game. Not only do pitchers often have tremendous velocity, but runners are extremely fast (really fast), and defensively the ball moves around the infield like a rocket. Stay focused, Blue, or you’ll lose the ball. And if you lose the ball, you’re screwed. (Been there, done that.)

The speed of the base runners can really test you. This is most noticeable when, with no runners on base, you’re in the “A” position (on the foul line but back of the first baseman). If the first baseman is playing deep, you’re a long way from the bag. And then, on a ball hit to the outfield, you need to break to the infield, pivot to see the base touch, and then stay with the runner if he goes for second. (Take a look at the rotation here.)

The challenging part is the first phase – the foot-race to get inside and pivot before the batter-runner gets to the bag. When the ball is hit you go suddenly into motion. It’s a long run, and a fast one, because you’re effectively racing the batter-runner (a nineteen-year-old college athlete) to get position at first base. And if the hit turns into a triple, get ready to really run.

We do this all the time, don’t we … adjust to what the game brings us. Every game. All of it. The whole wide frickin’ world of it. Adjust, adjust, adjust. Adapt or die.


My First Game, and then some . . .

It was about fifteen years ago that I umpired my first game. I was one of those dads who was pulled out of the stands for my eight-year-old son’s pee-wee game. But then, like some few others who share this same experience, I discovered it wasn’t so bad and I stuck with it. Most don’t, but a few do.

Enzo … in the beginning

A lot of new umpires come up this way – they get started accidentally, they discover that it’s not as bad as they thought it would be, and they end up sticking with it. They discover that it’s an avocation and a commitment, and one that rewards and repays. There’s some money in it, but not very much, so it’s a rare Blue that does it for the money. I can also tell you from experience that there are few things more thrilling than having a hard-breaking slider come screaming right at your face.

In the early days, while still newbies, we learned our first lessons by seeking out advice from more experienced umpires. That helps with picking up the basic mechanics, start learning the convoluted web of baseball rules, and begin, ever so  slowly, to start feeling comfortable on the field.

And if really committed, the newbie starts attending formal training. They attend classes and workshops. Soon, they probably enroll in an extended school – one of the week-long or multi-week sessions. If they’re young and ambitious, after about three or four years of this, they go to the Pro school.  By then they understand (we hope) that the learning never ends. Some experienced umpires talk a lot, but good umpires listen more and talk less.

Not everyone who umpires goes all the way. Most stick with a local league and plateau when they have the basics: they learn the start positions and basic rotations, and learn how to work with a partner; they grasp the difference between interference and obstruction, foul ball and foul tip, and they’re comfortable with fair and foul, safe and out, catch, tag, and the infield fly. But that’s about where they settle.

And that’s not a bad thing. Not at all. Because the younger kids need experienced, competent umpires, too. Far too many umpires get a taste for high-quality ball on the big diamond and forget that there are a lot more games (and a vastly greater need for umpires) on the small diamond for kids 12 and under. It’s a good thing, in my view, for umpires who came to life on the small diamond to later, after graduating to higher levels, give a little back by volunteering some time for the kids.

Federal Field, Bellevue, Washington

So here’s the field on which I umpired my first game. Federal Field in Bellevue, Washington. Bellevue East Little League. I had come to the game to watch my eight-year-old son play his first ever baseball game, but then got pulled in to umpire (kicking and screaming, I might add). I used a balloon protector (it’s what they had in the gear box at the field and that was good enough for me). I wore jeans, and I had my hat on backwards. I had zero instruction, even less confidence, and almost certainly I sucked. But the kids were eight years old, the parents were cool with it, and there were no complaints.

Now, fifteen years on, I have games in the summer college league and work the local semi-pro summer league. That’s a big arc, from eight to twenty-three. Fifteen years in fifteen years. And on fields just 25 miles apart.



MLB Explores Changing the Strike Zone

Proposed new strike zone (image courtesy of

There’s a lot of noise in the sports press this week and last about a recent announcement from Major League Baseball (MLB) that they are exploring a significant change to the definition of the strike zone. The change would redefine the bottom of the strike zone and move it up, from the hollow at the bottom of the kneecap to the top of the kneecap. If that doesn’t sound like much, then … well …

If you’ve never pitched to good hitters, or hit against good pitching, or called balls and strikes for both, then it may be difficult to appreciate just how
big of a change this would be. In real-world physical distance it’s a change of roughly three inches; in baseball space-time, on the other hand, it’s roughly half a mile.

For the record, the bottom of the strike zone was formerly defined at the top, not the bottom of the kneecap. This changed in 1995 when MLB was concerned about an overbalance of offense in the game and lowered the bottom of the zone to below the knee. The effect was dramatic.

The situation is reversed, now, and recent concerns about declining offense seem to be driving the discussion. Peter Schmuck of the Baltimore Sun goes a bit further by suggesting that the decline in offense over the past few years results, at least in part, from MLB going “to war against performance-enhancing drugs.” The inference is that all this talk about redefining the strike zone is connected to fixing the effects of taking PEDs out of the game.

Of course, another step in the inference chain could suggest that player’s gravitating to PEDs in the 1990s may have been caused, at least in part, by the lowering of the zone in 1995. Whether the two trends were coincident or causal is pure speculation, of course, but maybe subject for another post. Another point to note is that such a change will require buy-in from the Player’s Association and syncing up the change with their bargaining agreement. So even if this idea gets traction, nothing can happen this upcoming season (2016).

But let’s get back to the point. Tweaking the rules of the game to drive a desired effect is tricky. The Game is like an ecosystem. You let one species go extinct and all of a sudden you have a cascade of side effects that you didn’t expect and don’t know what to do about. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I’m just saying, think about it.

There’s an expression about pitching – “Live low, die high.” There’s a lot of baseball in that phrase. A lot of practice and execution. A lot of coaching. A lot of missed spots and high fastballs tattooed over the wall. Millions of ’em. And a lot on the other side, too. Good hitting has learned, patiently, to handle the low pitch – how to dig it out or just lay off. So those low breakers aren’t always a strikeout pitch. Far from it. So there’s no question that raising the bottom of the strike zone a half mile (or whatever) will have plenty of effects, both direct and indirect, and on both pitchers and hitters.

For one thing, it’s going to nudge the curve of pitching competency away from the low-pitch, ground-ball specialist, and toward the power pitcher (as though we needed more of that). In fact,, for one, has explored the implications of this effect and on Friday (1/29/16) published an good piece written by Jason Cohen entitled “CC Sabathia wouldn’t survive a raised strike zone.”

The piece is an interesting read and includes heat maps and pitch graphics that tell us a lot about a pitcher who works down in the zone; that, and about sliders and sinkers and other pitches whose effect is most manifest at the bottom of the zone. Then again, leave it to to include a companion piece entitled “MLB is talking about raising the strike zone, and that’s good for Tigers’ pitchers,” this one written by Christopher Yheulon (1/28/16). The point snaps shut and it maybe makes you chuckle at how far you can take this.

Whatever the outcome, it won’t come easily. A move like this won’t likely raise the passions so much as the other hot off-season “thinking about” issue started by the new MLB Commissioner, Rob Manfred (that the National League would adopt the DH), but it’s going to generate some. It’s conceivable that a change like this will hurt the careers of some pitchers, maybe even end it for others; on the other hand, others will have the value of their native skills enhanced. And ultimately, the nature and culture of the Game will adapt.

Postscript: The image of the strike zone that we use at the start of this article does a good job representing the proposed change to the bottom of the strike zone. The image’s representation of the top of the zone, however, while it appears to represent the rule-book definition of the top of the zone (Definitions of terms: “strike zone”), instead represents the single most glaring example of the culture of the game outstripping the rule of the game; because few players over the age of twelve are going to get a strike called where that graphic says they will. What I’m saying is, it’s the only one of the Official Baseball Rules that is willfully overridden by the cultural definition (if that’s what to call it) of the top of the strike zone. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing.


Defensive (catcher’s) Interference

I had an adult league game last week in West Seattle in which I called catcher’s interference four times. Four times!  Unbelievable. I doubt that I’ve called catcher’s interference a total of four times over the last ten years. If you call it once a season, you’re on the back side of the bell curve. To get it four times in a game (by the same catcher) is utterly unheard of. If these were ten-year-olds, that would be one thing. But there were adults in their 30s and 40s. At one point – after maybe the third time he did it – I wanted to stop and ask the catcher, “Is this your first time doing this?” But of course I didn’t.

And here’s the capper: The manager of the team with the ill-fated catcher approached me between innings late in the game and said to me, “You know, there’s no such thing as catcher’s interference. We looked it up.” I smiled.

Well, if they looked it up, they didn’t look it up very well. They certainly never checked Definitions (interference)(b):

“Defensive interference is an act by a fielder which hinders or prevents a batter from hitting a pitch.”

The infraction is more commonly known as “catcher’s interference” because it’s the catcher who commits the infraction greater than 99% of the time, typically by stabbing at the pitch and having his mitt touch the bat during the swing. Often this happens and still there is a fair batted ball. Other times the ball is foul, or it’s a swing-and-miss. These situations are handled a bit differently so we’ll talk about that.

Can anyone other than the catcher commit defensive interference? Sure, theoretically. Picture a play in which another fielder “hinders or prevents” the batter from hitting the pitch – for example, the first or third baseman crashing on a bunt attempt. But even that one is rather difficult to picture. And I’ve never seen it, although I’m sure someone has. (So if you’ve seen or called defensive interference on a player other than the catcher, please let me know. I’d love to share your story.)

So let’s have a closer look at catcher’s interference and focus on how to apply the penalty, which can be tricky. We’ll also touch on the infraction’s kissin’ cousin, the catcher’s balk.

Calling catcher’s interference

We’ve covered the basics of the infraction already: A defensive player, typically the catcher, impedes the batter’s attempt to hit a pitched ball. This normally happens when the bat strikes the catcher’s glove.

Note: This does not include the scenario where the bat strikes the catcher’s glove on the follow-through (or backswing). That’s a different situation altogether, called backswing interference. It results in a dead ball, but no other penalty is applied.

Unlike all other types of interference, catcher’s interference is not an immediate dead ball. Rather, it’s a delayed dead ball. When catcher’s interference takes place, point and vocalize the infraction (“That’s catcher’s interference!”), but allow play to continue. This assumes, of course, that despite the interference, the batter struck the ball and the ball is in play. Once action on the play has concluded, call time. Then:

  • Note the disposition of the batter-runner, as well as other runners that are on base at the time of the catcher’s interference. If the batter-runner reached first, and all other runners (if any) advanced at least one base safely, then disregard the interference. Just wave it off and play on.
  • If the batter did not put the ball in play (hit a foul ball or swung and missed), kill the ball and enforce the penalty.
    • Award the batter-runner first base;
    • return all other base runners to their time-of-pitch base; runners advance only if forced.
  • If the batter puts the ball in play, and if the batter-runner or any other runner was put out on the play, enforce the penalty as described above. However, the manager of the team on offense has the option of taking the result of the play rather than the penalty.

For example, with fewer than two outs and a runner in scoring position, the batter who is interfered with might be put out at first, but a runner might have scored. In a close game, the manager might wish to accept the out and score the run rather than have the batter safe on first but the runner sent back to his time-of-pitch base.

Note. Such an election is the offensive manager’s to make. It is not your responsibility to present the manager with these options. The manager is expected to know this rule and to initiate the conversation with the plate umpire.

Catcher’s balk

I’m adding this section on the catcher’s balk because one of the two situations we discuss here dovetails perfectly with catcher’s interference. When the catcher interferes with a batter while a runner from third is attempting to steal home (either on a suicide squeeze play or a straight up steal), then you handle the catcher’s interference as a special case, as described in Rule 6.01(g):

“If, with a runner on third base and trying to score by means of a squeeze play or a steal, the catcher or any other fielder steps on, or in front of home base without possession of the ball, or touches the batter or his bat, the pitcher shall be charged with a balk, the batter shall be awarded first base on the interference and the ball is dead.”

This is exactly like catcher’s interference (because of course it is), but adds a twist when a runner is attempting to steal home. So you handle it just a bit differently:

  • Call time immediately and award the batter first base on the interference.
  • Call a balk on the pitcher.
  • Award home to the runner who was stealing (that’s his one-base award on the balk); if other runners are on base, they also advance on the balk.

There is a second, much less dramatic way for a catcher to incur a balk on his pitcher, this one detailed in Rule 5.02(a) and applies only when delivering an intentional walk.

“The catcher shall station himself directly back of the plate. He may leave his position at any time to catch a pitch or make a play except that when the batter is being given an intentional base on balls, the catcher must stand with both feet within the lines of the catcher’s box until the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand. PENALTY: Balk.”

We’ve all seen intentional walks a million times: The catcher steps out of the catcher’s box just as the pitcher delivers the pitch. Technically, the catcher must not step out of his box until the ball has left the pitcher’s hand. If he does, the pitcher is charged with a balk (with runners on base), or with no runners on, an illegal pitch (ball to the batter).

Truth is, I’ve never seen this enforced. Not once. Not at any level. Even in pro ball, umpires appear to give a lot of leeway. In youth ball you sometimes see a catcher who is not familiar with the rule so he sets up way outside the catcher’s box. When I see this I simply instruct the catcher to get back where he belongs and explain why. Stepping out of the catcher’s box just a fraction of a second early is no big deal and shouldn’t be penalized.


Batting out of Order

There aren’t very many baseball rules that are dealt with incorrectly more frequently than batting out of order. The applicable rule is Rule 6.03(b), which was last revised (and clarified) in 1957. So it’s been around for a while. (For an interesting read about the history and confusion surrounding this rule, see an article in the SABR Research Journal entitled, fittingly enough, Batting Out-of-Turn Results in Great Confusion, written by Mark Pankin.)

Sometimes the confusing comes from something as simple as an unannounced substitution (Rule 5.10(j)); nevertheless, the manager on defense comes storming out and wants an out on somebody (though he’s not sure who). Or he comes out in the middle of the at-bat to challenge a batter, and again he wants an out. Or the coach on offense notices that he has the wrong player at bat and freezes because he’s afraid to call attention to it (fearing he’ll get an out), but equally afraid that if he doesn’t do something about it the sky will fall. Or worst of all, you’re the plate umpire and everyone agrees there has been a batting-order infraction, and now everyone is looking at you to fix it, but nobody has appealed it yet, so there’s absolutely nothing to do.

The rule, penalties, and remedies for batting out of order are really not that difficult master, once you catch onto the logic. In fact, the only really tricky thing about batting out of order is knowing how to fix it once a successful appeal has been made. The plate umpire owns this one since the plate umpire owns the lineup.

Before going any farther, let’s be clear about two terms that are essential when discussing batting out of order: proper batter and improper batter. These two are important because when verifying and untangling a batting-order appeal, the only two players that matter are the batter presently at bat and the previous batter. We’ll see why soon enough.

  • Proper batter. The correct batter at bat with respect to the official lineup and batting order. To belabor the obvious, there is always just one (and only one) proper batter at any given time.
  • Improper batter. Any offensive player other than the proper batter who is at bat, until such time as there is a pitch to the batter following the improper batter. If there is no appeal made on the at-bat of an improper batter, that batter becomes normalized (becomes the proper batter, retrospectively) once there is a pitch to the batter following. Sounds confusing, but it makes sense.

Important: Batting out of order is an appeal play. You should never call attention to an improper batter, nor should you let the scorekeeper or anyone else “outside the fence” have any say. Only members of the team on defense can ask for time and appeal a batting order issue. That said, the offense, if it notices the error, can rectify the mistake without penalty so long as the improper batter is still at bat.

If the team on defense appeals batting out of order, you must stop and consult the official lineup to establish whether a player batted (or is batting) out of turn. If you confirm that you have batting-order infraction, there are three courses of action, depending on the circumstances at the time of the appeal:

  1. The improper batter is still at bat. If either the defensive or offensive manager asks for time and points out that an improper batter is presently at bat, after confirming this with the official lineup, you must do two things. First, you send the improper batter back to the dugout, and then you call the proper batter to the plate. The proper batter assumes the count that was on the improper batter. That’s it. Play on. There is no penalty if the infraction is discovered while the improper batter is still at bat.
  2. A pitch has been delivered to the batter following the improper batter. Once a pitch is delivered to the batter following the improper batter, then that batter (whether on base or in the dugout, if he’s been put out) is now “normalized” and now is considered to have been the proper batter. The next batter up, then, is the player in the batting order who follows this newly normalized proper batter. Any subsequent challenge to the batting order is ruled on with reference to persons in the batting order who follow the normalized batter.
  3. The improper batter has reached base or otherwise completed his turn at-bat. If the defense appeals after the improper batter has reached base by any means, or if he has completed his at bat by being put out, but there has not yet been a pitch to the batter following the improper batter, then take these steps:
    • First, identify the proper batter (the one who failed to bat in his spot in the lineup). Call that player out.
    • Next, you must nullify any action that resulted from the improper batter’s at-bat. If the improper batter is now on base, you send him back to the dugout. If other runners advanced due to action by the improper batter, return those runners to the base they occupied when the improper batter advanced. (Exception: if a runner advanced by stealing a base during the improper batter’s at-bat, that runner’s steal stands.)
    • Finally, call the next batter to the plate. The next proper batter is the batter whose spot in the lineup follows that of the batter who failed to bat in turn, whom you’ve just called out. (Often, this is the improper batter that you’ve just sent back to the dugout.) Note that if the batter now due up happens to be on base, then you simply pass over him and move to the next player in the batting order.

Note: If the improper batter’s at-bat results in his being put out, and if the defense then appeals the batting order infraction, that put-out is nullified. The defense gets the out from the batting-out-of-order appeal, but they don’t get that out and the improper batter’s put-out. Taking it one step further, if the improper batter’s at-bat results in a double-play, an appeal nullifies both of those outs. In short, a defensive manager is wise to know this rule well, since sometimes it’s best to let it go and just leave well enough alone.


This all sounds very confusing and in fact it can become a really tangled mess, but if you learn the rule and approach this systematically you can usually untangle it without too much trouble. The graphic on the right summarizes the conditions and appropriate courses of action for each. Also note that Rule 6.03(b) (Approved Ruling) includes a large number of example scenarios that you can learn from.


An Umpire in a Coma

You have probably seen the YouTube video of the play in the girl’s softball game where the base runners advancing to home are knocked to the ground by the catcher, who is not only not in possession of the ball, but is also blocking the plate. That’s obstruction, of course, but that’s the least of the problems with the play. First, though, in case you haven’t seen it, here’s the clip. Watch the catcher.

This is clearly unsportsmanlike conduct (“malicious contact”) and the umpire should have ejected the catcher on the spot. Why didn’t he? That’s difficult to say. In the first instance, he was clearly looking at the play. He even turned his head to see the runner fall to the ground. But he did nothing. On the second instance, we do not see the umpire in the frame but we can assume that, with a runner scoring, he was in a position similar to the first instance.

Let’s count the ways the umpire blew this one big-time. We might learn something.

  1. First off, he’s out of position. He’s on the first baseline extended when he should be on the third base line extended. This is a high school game, so it’s surprising that an umpire at this level would make such a rookie mistake. Had he been in position, the play would have been coming right at him (and the runner falling at his feet) rather than the play passing him.
  2. The umpire fails to note or signal the obstruction. It was right in front of him, so it’s hard to believe he didn’t see it. The runner scored without a play on her, so he would have waved off the obstruction regardless. Nevertheless, he should have signaled it.
  3. He failed to react to the blatant malicious contact. This is not a difficult call. The elbow is conspicuous, as is the blocking of the plate. The base runners go flying, for crying out loud.
  4. Finally, he appears to have fallen into that mysterious umpire coma that some blues fall into for inexplicable reasons. (I once heard a story about an umpire who went down to his partner on a checked-swing appeal, but then didn’t see his partner where he should have been near first base. He noticed him then, over at the fence, trading pins.)

While we can rail at the catcher’s poor behavior (which is what most of the public shouting is about – some of the shouting revoltingly crude, I should add), in my view this cluster-flip lies squarely on the umpire, and on the catcher’s coach as well. While the latter are to blame for the first instance, the umpire is to blame for not fixing the problem, ejecting the catcher, and getting the game back on track.

But no matter, I suppose, The video clip has gone viral so not only is the catcher probably suffering a social penalty far greater than an ejection, but the umpire, too, whomever he is, has landed smack-dab in the bull’s eye of every umpire critic on earth (and then some).


Calling Balls & Strikes: The Matthew Effect

Jerry Kim

There was quite a bit of chatter in the press last year (Spring of ’14) about an academic study published in the journal Management Science entitled “Seeing Stars: Matthew Effects and Status Bias in Major League Baseball,” by Jerry Kim and Brayden King. The study analyzes Pitch f/x data for every pitch thrown in all of the 2008 and 2009 Major League games in which the batter did not swing. The data covers 4,914 games, 313,774 at-bats, and 756,848 pitches (non-swinging pitches only). That’s over three-quarters of a million pitches.

Braydon King

Kim & King’s study was not about calling balls and strikes. It focused instead on our unconscious biases that come into play when we make judgments. They simply used three-quarters of a million ball/strike decisions to test their hypothesis that subjective factors can affect these otherwise objective decisions.

So they looked at Pitch f/x data to see how often umpires mistakenly called a ball a strike and vice-versa. The error rate, according to their analysis, is 14.7%. So on nearly one in every eight pitches, MLB pitchers incorrectly undervalue a pitcher’s performance (call a strike a ball) or overvalue his performance (call a ball a strike). When you consider that the average Major League game has close to 300 pitches, and if roughly half of those are called pitches, then we’re talking about roughly 22 mistakes each game.

But even that number becomes somewhat skewed, because (as we learn) baseball superstars (pitchers like Greg Maddux and Felix Hernandez, and hitters like Ted Williams and Pete Rose), what they call “high status players,” are frequently the beneficiaries of these mistakes.

These numbers – this error rate – seems awfully high. Umpire instructors typically say that if you miss four to six pitches then you’ve had a pretty good game. These numbers, then, don’t line up well with the impression among umpires of their own fallibility. That said, it’s hard to argue with the data. Nevertheless, Kim and King are not the first to come up with this error rate for MLB umpires. A number of studies (I’ll talk about some of them in future posts) have also arrived at an error rate between 14 and 15%, or roughly one in every seven or eight pitches.

But Kim & King were interested in performance biases, not umpire error rates. So what they did next was to evaluate these roughly 216,000 umpire “errors” and analyze how they correlate with various factors like right/left-handedness, the race of the pitcher, whether home team or visitor, the current count, the stage of the game, and so forth. And this is where their study gets really interesting. Because the umpire error rate changes pretty significantly when some of these factors (but not all) come into play.

What is the Matthew Effect?

Before going farther, let’s ask, just what is the Matthew Effect and what’s it got to do with crappy calls?

In a nutshell, the Matthew Effect states that performers for whom we expect superior performance (an all-star pitcher, for example, or a league-leading batter) that they tend to be judged more favorably than performers for whom there is no such expectation. In short, we have an unconscious bias in favor of those who’ve performed well historically. Sociologists refer to the Matthew Effect as enabling the sense that “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” Academics lament that the Matthew effect leads to judgments that good readers read well and poor readers struggle.

While the Matthew Effect plays a large role in the fields of education and sociology, it has interesting applications in sports as well. Who, for example, hasn’t complained that basketball superstars like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson receive more favorable treatment than others on foul calls? Or that Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson got more strikes on the corner than, say, Danny Darwin or Bill Singer? (Remember them? Didn’t think so.)

Well, King and Kim set out to measure this Matthew Effect (what they call “status bias”) by analyzing the decision making of MLB umpires calling balls and strikes. In their own words, their goal was “to observe the difference in a pitch’s objective quality and in its perceived quality as judged by the umpire.” Three-quarters of a million pitches later, they have some pretty interesting results.

What did the study reveal?

The study revealed a lot. It revealed that there is an expectation that high status pitchers will throw more strikes and that high status hitters are better at evaluating the quality of a pitch as it approaches the plate. Of course, having that expectation is just common sense. We all have it, more or less. What’s not common sense is what happens to our judgments (unconsciously) while swimming in the stew of our expectations. So here are a few of the study’s more interesting outcomes.

  1. They showed that the home team pitcher experiences a nearly eight percent advantage over visiting pitchers with respect to the “over-recognition” mistakes (that is, mistakenly calling a true ball a strike).
  2. There are nearly five percent more over-recognition mistakes in the ninth inning than in the first. That’s odd, isn’t it? You would expect the opposite – that is, that accuracy would increase (and the error rate decrease) over the life of the game. But I suppose that’s why we collect the data.
  3. Here’s my favorite: Umpires are more accurate with right-handed batters than lefties. In fact, left-handed batters have a 41 percent greater likelihood of getting a mistaken call than right-handed batters. Of course, this high frequency of mistakes include both over-recognition errors (balls called strikes) as well as under-recognition errors (strikes called balls), so many of these (they don’t say how many) cancel each other out. To me, though, it’s incredibly interesting that there is such a vast difference here. We know from experience that the view for lefties is different from our view for righties, but I’m surprised that the difference in the viewpoint results in such a large difference in the error rate.
  4. No surprise here: The closer the pitch to the edge of the zone, the greater the likelihood of a mistake. We all know that. And I’ll have more to say about this in the next section of this post.
  5. Here’s where it gets good (and this shouldn’t be surprising, though many of us will deny it):  The count (balls and strikes) at the time of a given pitch has a huge influence on the error rate. The odds of mistakenly calling a strike is 62 percent lower with an 0-2 count; with a 3-0 count, on the other hand, the likelihood of getting a mistaken strike call is 49 percent higher. This certainly validates that an 0-2 zone shrinks, while a 3-0 zone expands.
  6. Several pitcher-related factors influence the error rate, including the number of years a player has been in the major leagues and the reputation for control (or wildness) for a given pitcher. (For control/wildness, the researchers used a pitcher’s base-on-balls percentage.) A pitcher’s ethnicity, it turned out, has no effect on the error rate, but pitcher’s status (measured arbitrarily by the number of All-Star game appearances) had a very definite impact. Pitcher’s with five All-Star appearances enjoyed a 15 percent greater chance of getting mistaken strike calls (over the baseline), and a 16 percent advantage over non-All-Star pitchers in getting such favorable calls.
  7. The “under-recognition” errors (that is, a true strike called a ball) follows a similar pattern. High-status pitchers are less likely to experience these errors. While the baseline across all pitchers showed the under-recognition error rate of about 19 percent. For pitchers with five All-Star appearances, this drops two full percentage points. That’s not a huge amount – that is, until you count each pitcher’s total number of pitches in a season; then do the math.
  8. The Matthew Effect works for batters, too. Again, using the number of All-Star appearances as a proxy for status, high-status batters get a 1.3% bump for each All-Star appearance in both types of error. The two error types combine for a nearly three percent advantage for each of a batter’s All-Star appearances. So a five-time All-Star has (statistically) a nearly 15% advantage in combined under- and over-recognition errors. Of course, a high-status batter facing a high-status pitcher (who is getting his own favorable errors) is going to have some of this effect nullified.
  9. Finally, Kim and King analyzed error rates for 81 MLB umpires that called more than 1,500 pitches over the two seasons and (as you’d expect) detected patterns for given umpires. The image below is taken directly from the article and is, unfortunately, difficult to read. But it nevertheless shows that MLB umpires vary noticeably one from another. The predominant tendency (shown in the upper left quadrant) is to over-recognize high status while at the same time under-recognizing low status. That’s tough on the rookies. Only a handful of MLB umpires over-recognize low status.

So what does this all mean?

Your initial reaction to all of this information might be a rather jaw-dropping recognition that umpires are really bad at calling balls and strikes. That was my first reaction … and that reaction was the impetus for my deciding to write this post: To basically cop to our fallibility behind the plate. Because if the pros are missing one in eight pitches, what does that suggest about the rest of us? I’m suddenly very grateful that Pitch f/x is not installed at my fields.

But in the roughly two weeks that I’ve been working on this post, I’ve softened. And my softening has to do with item #4, above: That the closer the pitch is to the strike zone, the higher the likelihood of an error. In other words, it’s all about the corners.

In their study, the researchers used a variable they called “distance,” which is measure of the number of inches from the border of the strike zone of a given pitch. They go on to report that “…the relationship between distance and over-recognition exhibits a non-linear relationship with a rapid decline in the odds of mistake as distance increases” (p. 27). What they mean by “non-linear relationship” is that the error rate does not decline gradually as the distance from the edge of the zone increases. The relationship is not proportional. Rather, the error rate changes very rapidly as the distance begins to increase. This means that there is a measurable error rate within an inch or two right at the corners, but then the errors decline very significantly as you get to three and four inches from the corner.

And what does that mean? Well, it means what we all know already – that the corners are soft. Pitches off the plate are pretty easy to call. Pitches in the meat of the zone are pretty easy to call. And all of us get almost all of those right almost all of the time. But the corners are different, especially the pitches that hit two corners (down and in, down and up, up and away, low and away). In fact, I would guess (the data doesn’t tell us) that most of the under-recognition errors (true strikes called balls) are at the four corners, where the strike zone gets rounded just a tiny bit.

Here’s another look at Pitch f/x data on MLB batters. This is from The Hardball Times and this article (written by Jon Roegele) focuses on the expanding strike zone (particularly at the bottom). But for our purposes the point is the obvious rounding of the zone at the four corners. That, as you can plainly see, is where a great many (probably most) of the under-recognition errors occur. Even the “expanded” 2014 strike zone shows the rounding effect.

So what about the over-recognition errors? Where are those errors coming from? Well, I can’t say for certain, but I suspect they’re on the outside of the zone, a ball to a ball-and-a-half out, roughly six to eight inches above and below the vertical center of the zone. In other words, right around the belt, but just off the plate.

So the MLB umpires we watch and model on aren’t so damn bad after all — or so I say.


Batter’s Interference

The rules that governs batter’s interference are Rules 6.03(a)(3) and 5.09(b)(8). In fact, the rules themselves are pretty straightforward. In fact, we have an entire article devoted to Batter’s Interference in the Rules Plainspoken library at the UmpireBible.

What’s not straightforward is interpreting and applying the rule. In fact, few calls generate more heated arguments than this one. The argument almost always centers on the issue of what the batter should do (and should not do) when the catcher comes up throwing to retire a runner stealing second or third, or when there is a runner stealing home (as on a passed ball, for example) and the batter doesn’t know where to go or what to do.

Batter’s interference covers two scenarios:

(1) Batter interferes with a catcher’s attempt to retire a runner stealing second or third

This play may have started with a wild pitch or a passed ball, but it could also be a straight-up steal. Regardless, the catcher is entitled a clean opportunity to retire the runner. If the batter does something that impedes the catcher’s opportunity, that’s interference. Dead ball. Batter is out. Runners return.

A play with the runner stealing second is the easier play to judge. If it’s a straight-up steal then the catcher has an unimpeded throwing lane to second, so the batter can only interfere if he steps across home plate into the catcher’s path. That’s easy to see. (And if you don’t see it, the coach certainly will.) When this happens, there does not need to be contact with the batter to have interference. Nor does the catcher need to make the throw. If you judge that the catcher intended to attempt a throw, any move by the batter that impedes the attempt is interference. Call it immediately.

When the steal of second results from a passed ball or a wild pitch the situation changes. The catcher is going to scramble to recover the ball and then throw from pretty much anywhere behind the batter. Where the batter gets into trouble is when he tries to avoid interfering by moving out of the batter’s box to try getting out of the way. When he does that but then inadvertently impedes the catcher, that’s interference.

There is a related scenario that causes confusion. When there is a wild pitch or passed ball and the ball rolls into the batter’s box and the batter tries to dance out of the way to avoid interference, but in doing so inadvertently kicks the ball, you would think this is interference. But it’s not. The situation results from a mistake by the offense (wild pitch or pitch misplayed by the catcher), so unless the batter’s action is intentional, there is no interference. Just play on.

The biggest problem you’re going to have is on the steal of third. That’s because, with a right-handed batter, the catcher’s throw is pretty much straight through the batter’s right ear. So what is a batter to do?

The short answer is “nothing.” Unless the batter makes a movement that hinders the catcher, or otherwise intentionally impedes using his body or bat, the batter is pretty much immune from interference if he remains still in the batter’s box. As you’ll often hear in discussion groups, the batter can’t simply disappear. (That said, if it were me at the plate, I’d duck. But that’s just me.)

Absent interference by the batter, the catcher must find a way to throw around the batter. If the batter does nothing, there is no interference. If the catcher’s throw hits the batter, then just play on. If the catcher intentionally throws the ball at the batter, you have unsportsmanlike conduct (Rule 6.04). Allow action to conclude, then call time and eject the catcher. If you think the coach instructed the catcher to intentionally throw at the batter, then eject the coach too.

Important: In all of the cases discussed thus far, if you observe batter’s interference, and yet the catcher gets the throw off and successfully retires the runner, then ignore the interference and the ball remains live. By definition, there is no interference if the put-out is made.

Penalty: The penalty for batter’s interference with a play on the bases is dead ball (call time immediately). Call the batter out. Runner(s) must return to the base last touched before the interference.

(2) The batter interferes with a play at the plate

A batter can interfere with a play at home plate when a runner from third attempts to steal home. This typically starts with a passed ball or wild pitch, but can also be a suicide squeeze. In any event, here again the batter is in the middle of action that he dare not become a part of.

But this situation is different from the first scenario. Whereas with a play on the bases the batter is advised to hold his ground and remain still in the batter’s box, with a play at the plate the batter is obligated to avoid any position that impedes the opportunity to make a play on the runner who is stealing home.

Let’s visualize the situation. There is a runner on third (R3) and a wild pitch goes to the backstop. The catcher bolts for the ball and the pitcher sprints to cover home. So you have two players, R3 and the pitcher, sprinting for home plate, and you have the catcher throwing the ball to the pitcher to attempt the put-out at home. That’s a lot of people and a lot of action converging on a 17-inch piece of real estate. The batter had better get his ass out of the way (and he better know where the ball is, too, so he doesn’t get between the ball and the play).

So the batter must vacate the area to allow the defense an opportunity to make the play. If he doesn’t, and if his failure disrupts the opportunity to play on the runner (the throw from the catcher hits the batter, for example), you have interference.

Penalty: The penalty for batter’s interference on a play at home plate depends on how many outs there are. In all cases call time immediately to kill the ball. If there are fewer than two outs, call the runner out (the run does not score, of course). If other runners were also stealing, they must return to the base last touched before the interference. The batter remains at bat. However, with two outs, call the batter out (not the runner), and no run scores. (But why do you call the batter out when there are two outs? So he is not rewarded with a fresh at-bat at the start of the next inning.)

A few edge cases

There are a handful of quirky edge cases related to batter’s interference. You may go an entire career without seeing some of these cases, but it’s a good idea to at least be familiar with them:

  • The batter interferes on strike three. Jaksa/Roder (p. 94) tells us that if the batter strikes out while interfering, he cannot be called out for interference because he is already out. In this situation, you must call an out on the runner. Other runners must return.
  • The batter interferes on ball four. Wendlestedt (p. 175) gives us the following: “If [batter’s interference] occurs on ball four, there is no penalty (because the batter is now a runner) unless there was intent, even if the batter-runner crosses over the plate and hinders the catcher. Be aware than on ched swing a ball four may be changed to a strike. If this occurs, you may have to call interference retroactively.” Wendlestedt cites case plays AD1-AD3.
  • Pitcher disengages the rubber and throws (not a pitch) to the catcher to retire a runner stealing home. If the batter swings a throw from the pitcher (thinking it is a pitch), that’s interference.
  • Backswing interference. If the batter swings and the follow through touches the catcher, this is “interference without a play.” There is no out. However, the ball is dead, and if runners are stealing they must return to their time-of-pitch base.
    Exception [Jaksa/Roder  (p. 96)]: If the catcher is already throwing to retire a runner when the backswing interference takes place, the ball is not dead and play should continue. If the throw retires the runner, the interference is ignored. If the throw does not retire the runner, or if the throw is not made, then you again have interference without a play. Runners must return.
  • The catcher’s return throw to the pitcher hits the batter. If on the catcher’s “relaxed” return toss to the pitcher, if the toss hits the batter, the ball is alive and in play.