More on Rule 7.06, Obstruction

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The Cardinals just won Game 3 of the World Series on an obstruction call by third base umpire Jim Joyce. You can read how the play went down in the recap right here or watch this video:

This post will deal with the intricacies of the rule for those of you who may find the jargon used in MLB’s official rules confusing. The official definition:

OBSTRUCTION is the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner.

Rule 2.00 (Obstruction) Comment: If a fielder is about to receive a thrown ball and if the ball is in flight directly toward and near enough to the fielder so he must occupy his position to receive the ball he may be considered “in the act of fielding a ball.” It is entirely up to the judgment of the umpire as to whether a fielder is in the act of fielding a ball. After a fielder has made an attempt to field a ball and missed, he can no longer be in the “act of fielding” the ball. For example: If an infielder dives at a ground ball and the ball passes him and he continues to lie on the ground and delays the progress of the runner, he very likely has obstructed the runner.

As you can see in the video above, Middlebrooks was clearly “in the act of fielding a ball” as he was attempting to retrieve an errant throw by catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but that’s not the part in the timeline that matters. When Craig attempts to run home, the ball had already skipped past the dirt of the infield towards the left field stands. Middlebrooks was no longer “in the act of fielding”.

The next objection many have to the call is the intent of Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks. Intent does not matter. Middlebrooks prevented Craig from attempting to run home, and that’s all that matters. It is patently obvious Middlebrooks did not mean to get involved in a collision, but it does not make a difference.

Another objection deals with the baseline. Rule 7.08 states that “a runner’s baseline is established when the tag attempt occurs and is a straight line from the runner to the base he is attempting to reach safely.” As you can see in the following picture tweeted by MLB’s official Twitter account…

… they were to the right of the third base line but the baseline starts at the spot of the collision. From there, draw a straight line home, as Craig had already reached third base safely. That is the baseline. From there, Craig ran in a straight line home. He did not venture out of the baseline.

As for the rest of the play, Rule 7.06(b) states:*

(b) If no play is being made on the obstructed runner, the play shall proceed until no further action is possible. The umpire shall then call “Time” and impose such penalties, if any, as in his judgment will nullify the act of obstruction.

Rule 7.06(b) Comment: Under 7.06(b) when the ball is not dead on obstruction and an obstructed runner advances beyond the base which, in the umpire’s judgment, he would have been awarded because of being obstructed, he does so at his own peril and may be tagged out. This is a judgment call.

Craig was tagged at home, but because of the obstruction, the umpire used his judgment to determine if he would have been safe absent the obstruction. Here, because Craig was running hard home, the umpire ruled — correctly, all video evidence suggests — that Craig would have been safe absent the obstruction.

Ultimately, third base umpire Jim Joyce made the correct call. It will be hotly debated, but all the evidence seems to support Joyce here.

How often does obstruction happen? According to an unofficial look by Baseball Reference, obstruction has been called twice in the post-season: in Game 4 of the 1986 NLCS between the Mets and Astros and in Game 3 of the 2003 ALDS between the Athletics and Red Sox. They found one game that ended on an obstruction call: a 2-1 victory by the Devil Rays over the Mariners on August 6, 2004.

*An earlier draft of this post cited Rule 7.08(a), which automatically awards a player a base for situations in which a play is being made on an obstructed runner. Since Middlebrooks did not have the ball and was not making a play, Rule 7.08(b) applies. We apologize for the error and any confusion it may have caused.

Report: White Sox acquire Mark Lowe and Jean Machi from Mariners

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Tacoma Rainiers’ broadcaster Mike Curto reports that the White Sox have acquired veteran right-handed relievers Mark Lowe and Jean Machi from the Mariners in exchange for cash considerations. Neither team has officially confirmed the deal yet.

Lowe, 34, signed a minor league deal with the Mariners in late March. He pitched to a 6.23 ERA in Triple-A Tacoma and tacked on a 4.6 BB/9 and 8.5 SO/9 through 39 innings. He last appeared in the majors with the Tigers, and finished his run in 2016 with a 7.11 ERA through 49 1/3 innings before getting released by the club prior to the 2017 season.

Machi, 35, struggled to find a place in the Mariners’ bullpen this season. A nerve issue in his thumb derailed his efforts at the start of 2017, and he was outrighted to Triple-A after pitching to a 1.17 ERA through 7 2/3 innings in Seattle. In Tacoma, the right-hander’s numbers weren’t too shabby: he split his efforts between the rotation and bullpen and worked a collective 3.44 ERA, 2.0 BB/9 and 7.1 SO/9 through 36 2/3 innings.

Lowe and Machi will help flesh out a White Sox bullpen that has been depleted by recent injuries and trades. They’re expected to report to Chicago’s Triple-A affiliate in Charlotte and could see time in the big leagues by the end of the season.

Yoenis Cespedes: “I’m going to play the last year of my career with Oakland”

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Yoenis Cespedes told Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle that he wants to finish his career with the Athletics, according to an exclusive interview released on Friday. The Mets’ 31-year-old outfielder praised Oakland manager Bob Melvin, telling Slusser, “I don’t think there’s a better manager than Melvin” and adding that while he didn’t know if a return to Oakland would be possible, his love for the city had not faded.

Melvin, for his part, said he wasn’t surprised that the slugger wants another go-round with his first major league club, even if only as a final hurrah. Cespedes hit well over two and a half seasons with the A’s, compiling a cumulative .262/.318/.470 batting line from 2012 to 2014 and enjoying two postseason runs with the club before he was traded for Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes in 2014.

There’s been relatively little for Cespedes to complain about since his departure from Oakland, of course: he turned in a career-best performance in 2015, slashing .291/.328/.542 with 35 home runs and 6.7 fWAR in back-to-back gigs with the Tigers and Mets, and netted a whopping three-year, $75 million contract prior to the 2016 season. Still, there’s something special about the A’s, as the slugger relayed to teammate Jerry Blevins:

I told Blevins, ‘I don’t know how many years I’m going to play, but I’m going to play the last year of my career with Oakland.’ I don’t know if that’s possible or not, but that’s my goal.

Whether or not Cespedes gets his wish, it’s unlikely he’ll pursue any kind of deal with the A’s for the time being. He’s still owed $23.75 million in 2017 and 2018 and isn’t scheduled to hit free agency until 2019.