More on Rule 7.06, Obstruction

89 Comments

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:

[mlbvideo id=”31185453″ width=”600″ height=”336″ /]

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.

Justin Verlander changed his mechanics to prolong his career

Justin Verlander mechanics
Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Last week, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reported that Astros starter and reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander changed his mechanics in order to prolong his career. Specifically, Verlander lowered his release point from 7’2″ to 6’5″.

As Brooks Baseball shows, Verlander drastically altered his release point after being traded to the Astros from the Tigers on August 31, 2017. The change resulted in a huge bump in his strikeout rate. Verlander’s strikeout rate ranged between 16% and 27.4% with the Tigers, mostly settling in the 23-25% range. With The Tigers through the first five months of 2017, Verlander struck out 24.1% of batters. In the final month with the Astros, he struck out 35.8% of batters. He then maintained that rate over the entire 2018 and ’19 seasons with respective rates of 34.8% and 35.4%. Just as impressively, the release point also resulted in fewer walks. His walk rate ranged from 5.9% to 9.9% with the Tigers but was 4.4% and 5.0% the last two seasons with the Astros.

Verlander finished a runner-up in 2018 AL Cy Young Award balloting to Blake Snell before edging out teammate Gerrit Cole for the award last season. Despite the immense success, Verlander described his mechanics as unsustainable. Per The Athletic’s Jake Kaplan, Verlander said, “I changed a lot of stuff that some people would think was unnecessary. But I thought it was necessary, especially if I want to play eight, 10 more years.”

Verlander is 37 years old, so 10 more seasons would put him into Jamie Moyer territory. Moyer, who consistently ranked among baseball’s softest-tossing pitchers, pitched 25 seasons in the majors from 1986-2012.  He threw 111 2/3 innings with the Phillies in 2010 at the age of 47 and 53 2/3 innings with the Rockies in 2012 at 49. But aside from Moyer and, more recently, Bartolo Colon, it’s exceedingly rare for pitchers to extend their careers into their 40’s, let alone their mid- and late-40’s.

The Astros have Verlander under contract through 2021. The right-hander will have earned close to $300 million. He’s won a World Series, a Rookie of the Year Award, an MVP Award, two Cy Youngs, and has been an eight-time All-Star. Verlander could retire after 2021 and would almost certainly be a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2027. That he continues to tweak his mechanics in order to pitch for another decade speaks to his highly competitive nature.