A Series of Thoughts on the Call

The final play of Game 3 of the World Series has generated some very strong opinions. In the poll just below this (that includes a GIF of the play), most of you have sided with the umpires, believing that the obstruction call on Will Middlebrooks was correct. Rather than offer a strong opinion of my own, I’d like to simply offer some connected thoughts that have come from watching the play a few hundred times.

The rule, as written, seems pretty clear in addressing plays very similar to this. I don’t know how the umpires, guided by the rulebook as written, could have called anything else.

The rule, as written, is problematic. Will Middlebrooks simply had no way to not interfere, given that definition of interference, so once he dove to try and catch Saltalamacchia’s errant throw, his fate was sealed.

The leg kick issue seems to be a sideshow. Craig’s path to home plate included running directly through Middlebrooks, and had Middlebrooks laid perfectly still, Craig still seemingly would have tripped. The leg kick doesn’t appear to be the cause of the trip, to me, but instead, the fact that Middlebrooks body was laying in the path Craig chose to run.

Craig’s path took him to the very edge of the defined baseline. His feet actually touch the grass, and I think one could make a reasonable case that he was attempting to run in an area that is not generally considered to be the domain of the runner.

That was one pretty fantastic play by Dustin Pedroia.

If you believe in karma, the Red Sox kind of deserve this, since Shane Victorino has mastered turning pitches barely inside into free bases. Live by the technicality of the rulebook, die by the technicality of the rulebook.

This ending overshadows a series of pretty brutal decisions by John Farrell. I’m sure he doesn’t feel very lucky at the moment, but had this game not ended in controversy, a huge part of the postgame conversation would have centered on the Brandon Workman/Koji Uehara decision tree.

The more I watch the play, the less of a problem I have with the call, and the less I like how the rule is written. It seems like a fielder should be given a reasonable opportunity to attempt to not interfere. One could argue whether or not Middlebrooks was trying to trip Craig or stand up to get back into fielding position, but we probably shouldn’t have a rule that penalizes defenders for not having the ability to teleport instantaneously off the ground.

Anyone who says baseball is boring is nuts. That game was amazing.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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Migs
Member

The result of the play is caused by a poor decision and a bad throw. This just happened to be one of the possible outcomes. And it happened.

Pet Charles
Guest
Pet Charles

I think the determination by the umpire that obstruction occurred – whether one likes it – is the action that directly led to the result. While there’s validity in evaluating the wisdom of some decisions made by the players on defense, this view is a red herring. Stick to analyzing the incident in a vacuum.

Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
Cool Lester Smooth

I think Will Middlebrooks’ obstructing Allen Craig’s path to the plate is the action that directly led to the result, personally.

Seeing as how his obstructing Craig was caused by a poor decision and a bad throw, I think Migs is perfectly reasonable.

AC_Butcha_AC
Member
AC_Butcha_AC

In my opinion it was CLEARLY obstruction.

To all the guys claiming it is a bad rule, becuase Middlebrooks wasn’t in any way able to not obstruct him after missing the ball.

What about swinging strikes? The batter gets a penalty for doing everything he could and there was no way he could have hit the ball. Still he gets penalized.

A batter hitting a deep fly ball with an outfielder waiting under it. What should the batter do for not being called out? Hit a Home Run every time?

Exact same thing here. It doesn’t matter at all if Middlebrooks had no chance of avoiding this obstruction. This argument could be taken so far as to say a Home Run should not count as a hit because the OF had no chance to catch the ball. Think about a towering drive with no fans directly behind the fence and the OF already there long before the ball arrives.

I think you get my point… so DEFINATELY OBSTRUCTION! There really isn’t even room for argument…

Pet Charles
Guest
Pet Charles

I wouldn’t assume anyone gets whatever point you’re trying to make. For your analogies to work, the pitcher would have to be debited when the batter swung and missed, and the hitter would bear responsibility when the fielder couldn’t catch a ball hit over the fence. As one option, the rules CLEARLY allowed Joyce to call obstruction. He wasn’t mandated to do so, but hisi call is justifiable. However, it’s absurd to unconditionally attribute all liability to the fielder. The rule needs to be fixed in the off-season. For now, it’s tough luck for the Red Sox.

AC_Butcha_AC
Member
AC_Butcha_AC

my point is just that there are a lot of examples where a player on offense or defense is not able to be in any other position at point X but gets penalized for that.

so if the obstruction rules have to be fixed… what should have been called then?

Would you penalize Craig for not making it to home plate in time because somebody not in the act of fielding the ball clearly obstructed his way to home plate?

I mean i don’t even get why people argue that call…

It does not matter why Middlebrooks lay there. And it matters next to nothing that he couldn’t be in any other position. It jut matters that he was obstructing a straight basepath for Craig.

and baseball is full of these situations where it is not a player’s fault for being in such situation in which he gets penalized for being.

i am saying it is not Middlebrooks fault for being in that position. BUT I am also saying that the rule is fine like it is and needn’t be fixed!

Pet Charles
Guest
Pet Charles

“so if the obstruction rules have to be fixed… what should have been called then?”

In that same situation where the rule was hypothetically modified, the umpire wouldn’t call anything and the runner would advance at his own peril. My biggest beef with the rule isn’t that the fielder can be cited for obstruction simply for being in the wrong spot, but that the runner isn’t considered responsible to any degree for choosing his base path. I’m not comfortable with the unconditional waiver the rule gives to runners. Just tweak the rule.

When you ask what should have been done, I answered presuming you meant hypothetically. It seems pretty clear Joyce’s ruling was defensible.

Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
Cool Lester Smooth

It’s not tough luck for the Red Sox. The only reason Craig was out at the plate was his tripping over WMB due to WMB’s obstructing his path to the plate.

Rulebook - Blech
Guest
Rulebook - Blech

The rule is interpreted correctly as written. However, they should specifically put intent in the rule and give the umpires power to unilaterally decide how much intent is in there. A player can’t be blamed for a bad baseball play. It’s not like Salty did an intentionally bad throw to try and obstruct the runner. People get in the way of each other during the course of play and players should take that into account during the play. Craig went regardless of tripping over WMB. He wasn’t thinking, “If I get close enough to being home, that’s good enough.” He was thinking that he has to touch home plate. Many of the players probably thought intent was part of the obstruction rule and that’s why there was so much confusion.

For those saying WMB intended to impede, that’s just hogwash. He dove. The bottom of his legs flipped up. He looked for the ball. Tried to get on his knees, but Craig came tripping over him in the buttocks area causing him to go prone again, but causing the bottom of his legs to go up. If anything the bottom of his legs came up in the act of trying to get his midsection back down when he felt the pressure from Craig and his hand pushing him down to regain his balance. WMB had no idea he was part of Craig’s newly established baseline until he felt the pressure on his back. Then he went down in the area on which he felt the pressure. No intent to obstruct.

AC_Butcha_AC
Member
AC_Butcha_AC

“JOE TORRE: You remember a few years ago I think Tejada ran into a fielder and then stopped running, and even though he was pointing back, he’s obstructed, but he stopped running, so he was out.” source: mlb.com

so there is absolutely no point in saying Craig went home anyway. even as he felt being obstructed. he HAD to continue running!

Vince
Guest
Vince

“A player can’t be blamed for a bad baseball play.” On the list of things that a baseball player can and ought to be blamed for – shouldn’t a bad baseball play be near the top?

People with a rooting interest naturally see this as a “what was poor widdle WMB supposed to do?” issue. You can almost see the tears between the words. But his feelings aren’t the focus of the rule. The Red Sox threw the ball into left field, and a run was supposed to score. If a fielder isn’t making a play, he has no legal right to be in the way – and there’s nothing ambiguous about it.

LaLoosh
Guest
LaLoosh

This.

LaLoosh
Guest
LaLoosh

“For those saying WMB intended to impede, that’s just hogwash. He dove. The bottom of his legs flipped up. He looked for the ball. Tried to get on his knees, but Craig came tripping over him in the buttocks area causing him to go prone again, but causing the bottom of his legs to go up. If anything the bottom of his legs came up in the act of trying to get his midsection back down when he felt the pressure from Craig and his hand pushing him down to regain his balance. WMB had no idea he was part of Craig’s newly established baseline until he felt the pressure on his back. Then he went down in the area on which he felt the pressure. No intent to obstruct.”

The above is so absurdly presumptuous that Red Sox fanatic bias is written all over it. You have no idea what WM’s intention was there.

As to the DC claim that the rule is faulty, the obstruction of base runners rule is part of the game. Proposing that to be changed seems pretty dramatic imo. Speculating whether or not WM was *able* to get out of the base path and avoid obstruction seems beside the point. Blocking the base path is either obstruction or it isn’t. As others have said, Middlebrooks was put in that “obstructable position” as a result of a poor throw from Salty. Under normal circumstances (without the throwing error), WM would not have been unable to get out of the base path had Craig taken a turn toward home plate.

Suggesting to alter the obstruction rule seems like a pretty dramatic overreaction to a play that rarely happens and was the residue of an error in the first place, so the Sox really have no place to hide from blame even if criticizing the rule book seems like a convenient scapegoat.

Patrick
Guest
Patrick

Intent matters not. A good throw would not have obstructed the runner. A bad throw led directly to the obstruction. Bad throws lead to bad things for the defense. This game can be as simple as throw and catch if you let it.

As a side not, if you do want to discuss intention — ‘The kick’ as Dave mentions (but shrugs off) was a clear attempt to obstruct the runner once Middlebrooks hit the ground. The intention was to slow Craig down.

GreggB
Guest
GreggB

The issue in my mind isn’t the rule. It is that Craig, after sliding into third, arose with both his feet on the bag, and a clear path to home. Watch it in slo mo. While watching the ball behind him, he started to step toward the pitcher’s mound on the second base side and stumbled before he had ANY contact with Middlebrooks, clearly disoriented and not in control of his body. He pushed off with his hand from Middlebrooks before his left foot finally dragged over his torso. Middlebrooks never blocked his path from third to home. He only blocked his path from third to the pitcher’s mound. Should not have been obstruction.

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