What Do You See?

As far as the ordinary rules are concerned, the strikeout on a foul bunt is unusual. Unlike a swing and miss, a foul bunt involves contact, and unlike a foul tip into the glove, a foul bunt isn’t caught. Plus, as players are constantly reminding us these days, bunting is hard, far harder than people think. But baseball is unquestionably better for having this rule in place. Without it, in theory, an at-bat could stretch on forever. In theory, any at-bat could already stretch on forever, but there would be nothing stopping a player from perfecting the skill of the two-strike foul bunt. Plate appearances might go 15, 20, 25, 70 pitches. Or strikeouts would be put off until everyone walked. Without the two-strike foul-bunt rule, baseball could very well collapse. At the very least, it would totally suck to watch.

I know about the two-strike foul-bunt rule. You know about the two-strike foul-bunt rule. It’s one of those rules baseball fans know before they turn 12. The question is, what does a two-strike foul bunt look like? That seems like a weird thing to ask, but after Wednesday’s game between the Brewers and Reds, this is suddenly in the news, and I want to know what all of you think.

It’s the perfect kind of baseball controversy — it’s controversial, but in the end, the call didn’t make that much of a difference. The judgment call in question benefited the Reds, at the Brewers’ expense. The Brewers ultimately won the game in extra innings. So this is kind of academic. Michael Lorenzen batted with two on in the bottom of the sixth.

Lorenzen spent his time trying to bunt. He failed his way into a two-strike count, when the moment took place. Lorenzen squared. Then Lorenzen arguably pulled back. The ball hit the bat and went foul. After some umpire discussion, Lorenzen was allowed to keep batting. Craig Counsell protested, to no avail. That’s the way most protests work.

You’ve probably heard about what happened. If Lorenzen struck out on the very next pitch, it would’ve all been lost and forgotten. Lorenzen, though, did not strike out on the very next pitch. Instead, on the very next pitch, he drilled his fourth home run of the season, and his third against Milwaukee alone. That made the call look all the worse in retrospect. Which isn’t entirely fair to the call, but at least it means I can write this post.

I want to know what you see here. You, the person reading this article. There’s a poll at the bottom, asking whether you see a foul ball or a foul bunt. In the judgment of the umpires, obviously, Lorenzen hit a foul ball. In the judgment of the Brewers, Lorenzen hit a foul bunt. It wound up indirectly — but kind of directly — making a three-run difference in the score. Before the poll, I’m just going to present a bunch more details. These might inform both sides of the conversation.

As it happens, earlier in the same at-bat, Lorenzen squared around and then twisted away from an inside pitch:

Here’s a screenshot of Lorenzen getting out of the way:

And here’s a screenshot of the controversial play. You might notice certain similarities, and differences.

In both cases, you can see how little time Lorenzen had to react. Never forget that the ball gets on the hitter in a damn hurry. In both cases, the bat is still kind of out there, but then, when Lorenzen twisted away, he had more of a turn in his shoulders. Down below, Lorenzen is more facing forward. Had Lorenzen fouled the ball in the first instance, it would’ve been easier to say it was an accident. When Lorenzen actually made contact with two strikes, he seemed to be more squared. An alternate view could be helpful:

I can bombard you with side angles. Here’s one!

Here’s another!

Here’s another!

After Lorenzen made contact, and after Lorenzen was allowed to stay in the box, the Brewers TV broadcast used words like “absurd,” “ridiculous,” “comical,” “embarrassing,” and “joke.” The Reds TV broadcast didn’t editorialize so much, but among the sentences used were “what am I missing here?” and “Counsell’s livid, and I don’t blame him.” In the immediate aftermath, both broadcast crews assumed the foul-bunt strikeout. It looked like a foul-bunt strikeout. Neither broadcast understood right away why Lorenzen wasn’t out. And this wasn’t just a home-plate umpire decision — the whole crew got together, and they reached the same conclusion.

From the perspective of the umpires, it’s all about intent. An excerpt:

Crew chief Bill Welke explained the situation after the game.

“It was a very unusual play,” Welke said. “Rule 5.09 says a batter is out when he bunts foul on [the] third strike. But now we have to go to, ‘What is the definition of a bunt?’ So if we go to the definitions in the rulebook, page 141, a bunt is a batted ball not swung at, but intentionally met with the bat and tapped slowly within the infield. He was in full retreat. It was not an intentionally met non-swinging attempt. He was not attempting to hit that. Therefore if he’s not bunting, it just becomes a foul ball.”

You can read the rules for yourself if you want. Here’s an excerpt from — I’ll be damned, page 141:

A BUNT is a batted ball not swung at, but intentionally met with the bat and tapped slowly within the infield.

According to the umpires, it was a foul ball in much the same way as this was a foul ball:

Lorenzen, in their judgment, was pulling back, and not trying to bunt the ball in play, as soon as he recognized where it was headed. At that point, it didn’t matter how he was holding the bat itself, or whether he’d shown bunt earlier on. Players pull back after showing bunt all the time. Lorenzen did it just moments earlier. A bunt can be rescinded mid-pitch. Still, even after the game, and even after the Brewers won, Counsell still thought Lorenzen had bunted foul. He thought Lorenzen was still sufficiently square. Sometimes players can mean to bunt those pitches:

And, on top of that, less than two months ago, this is how Chase Anderson once struck out:

Anderson was called out for that. He didn’t even try to stay in the box. But, visually, Anderson and Lorenzen don’t look so different. Now, granted, their behavior might matter here, in that it might reveal the intent. By walking away, Anderson made it look like he’d been trying to bunt. By staying put, Lorenzen made it look like he’d been trying to pull the bat back. Maybe that’s all the umpires needed to see. But, side by side, Anderson and Lorenzen appeared to make similar attempts. One was called a foul bunt. One was called a foul ball. The rule book leaves room for interpretation, and it’s not quite always black and white.

I reached out to former big-league umpire Dale Scott, and while on the one hand he supported the standing interpretation, he also admitted that it could’ve been seen the other way. And so we’ve come to this, a FanGraphs community poll. This, again, is the play we’ve been talking about:

So, now that we’ve gone over the circumstances, what do you see? I honestly don’t know on which side the majority of you are going to fall, which is entirely what makes this so fun.

We hoped you liked reading What Do You See? by Jeff Sullivan!

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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dirtbag
Member
dirtbag

I don’t see what’s so complicated here — he was obviously pulling his bat back, not trying to bunt at it.

If the ball had missed his bat, would anyone suggest that it should be called a strike because he was “trying to bunt?”

Also, so many TV announcers don’t understand the rules that it makes me ragey. It seems like that would be one of the first requirements to get paid to comment on a baseball game.

hardball14
Member
hardball14

Same thing with the catcher/home plate collision rule. Most announcers are clueless and think all collisions are banned, which is incorrect.

If the catcher has possession of the ball, they can block the plate. If the catcher is blocking the plate with possession of the ball, the runner can initiate contact. Its not that hard.

Pwn Shop
Member
Pwn Shop

Not correct, see Rizzo, Anthony. Still must slide/avoid contact. So, it is complicated.

BravoBravo
Member
BravoBravo

No, hardball14 is correct. If the catcher has the ball and is ready to make a play, then contact is permitted as long as the runner does not deviate from his path to the plate.

Here is the Comment to the Rule: “If a catcher blocks the pathway of the runner, the umpire shall not find that the runner initiated an avoidable collision in violation of this Rule 6.01(i)(1) (Rule 7.13(1)).”

Here is Craig’s take from last year’s Rizzo collision: “If [catcher] had the ball and he was blocking Rizzo’s path, then Rizzo is free to collide with [catcher].”

Rizzo was out because he deviated from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate a collision. Not because he failed to slide.

There’s a different Comment that says if the runner wants to be deemed *automatically* safe when a catcher *without* the ball blocks the plate, then the runner has to slide, but the “automatically safe” rule is almost never invoked on plays at home. It’s the “automatically out” rule that causes all the controversy.

jtrichey
Member
jtrichey

Of all TV announcers, the Reds Chris Welsh knows the rulebook better than anyone. He writes a rulesbook newletter as a matter of fact. I didn’t hear what he said, but it is surprising to me if he didn’t understand the call.

Balk off
Member
Balk off

I don’t think the letter of the rulebook is the issue with how the announcers called this. It’s precedent. I’ve never seen this call, ever, and I doubt they had either, even if it’s the right one.

v2micca
Member
Member
v2micca

Failed attempts should not get calls. He attempted a bunt, tried to pull it back and failed. A closer analogy is a batter attempting to check his swing on a ball in the dirt and still breaking the plane. I don’t care that he attempted to stop his swing, he broke the plane, its a strike. I don’t care that Lorenzen tried to pull back the bunt, he make contact and it went foul.

Mattabattacola
Member
Mattabattacola

That’s a whole other debate. Breaking the plane isn’t the definition of a swing anyway

Roger McDowell Hot Foot
Member
Roger McDowell Hot Foot

What is “breaking the plane” and where is it in the rule?

Dooduh
Member
Dooduh

Just because he held the bat in bunt position doesn’t mean he’s not allowed to pull it back. And it’s not a foul “bunt” simply bc the pitch bore was inside and found the bat. If it hadn’t hit the bat, it would have been a ball, not a missed bunt (or strike). Pretty easy call.

Balk off
Member
Balk off

So a check swing foul on a ball out of the zone, in which the bat only goes a third of the way around, should not be ruled a foul, either. It should be a ball, because “if he hadn’t made contact, it would’ve been a ball.”

Brad Johnson
Member

Which rule covers what you care about?

ThomServo
Member
ThomServo

This is an opinion on what the rules should be.

It’s a fair opinion imo- (1) made contact, (2) ball went out of play, therefore should be foul. This surprising rule makes an exception, though, for intent. The case above clearly shows no intent to bunt- the player fell down and was trying to avoid a pitch near the face.

I think the split in the poll (currently 40-60) comes down to a split between those focusing on what they feel the rules should be (40%, foul bunt) and those focusing on applying the written definition including the portion on intent (60%, foul ball).

Balk off
Member
Balk off

That’s fine, but they never, ever call it this way.

RonnieDobbs
Member
RonnieDobbs

As a lifelong baseball fan I don’t have the first clue what it means to break the plane… well, I know what it sounds like, but have seen enough baseball to know that that isn’t how anything is enforced.

Roger McDowell Hot Foot
Member
Roger McDowell Hot Foot

I agree, I don’t think this is a hard call at all. (Edited after reading the thread to add that it seems to me what’s making it hard is that people aren’t sure how to define a bunt attempt, and in my opinion are wrongly seeing him holding the bat in position to attempt a bunt as the same as attempting one.) In the same vein as a checked swing, though, it’s very surprising how many professional, daily baseball commentators think there’s some kind of physical definition in the rule, rather than it being a judgement call about whether the batter made the attempt or not.

Bronnt
Member
Bronnt

I think the check swing analogy is apt. If you watch the first gif, you can go through frame by frame and notice that he’s still attempting to line up the bunt until the last 4-5 hundredths of a second before it hits the bat.

If you attempt to swing and then decide, too late, that you don’t want to swing, it still counts as an attempt. To my mind, if you decide to bunt, and then decide too late that you don’t want to bunt, it’s still a bunt attempt-you spent 98% of the time the ball was in flight lining up your bat to hit it, and then you suddenly decided that you don’t want the ball to hit your bat after it’s too late.

Brad Johnson
Member

This was very clearly not a bunt attempt. I get why Counsell would be upset in the moment, but there’s no way to view this on replay and say he attempted to bunt. There’s no gray area here.

RonnieDobbs
Member
RonnieDobbs

You have to pull your bat back – that is what makes a bunt attempt not a bunt attempt. His fundamentals were poor and I think he should be held accountable for those – no need for a tedious rule definition or debate. Intentional doesn’t mean what people here are pretending it does in this context. In the rule, intentional means not a full swing – it doesn’t have to do with intent. A good bunt attempt does not look like it has intent (cushion the ball) – bad bunt attempts look like intent (stab at ball). IMO this looked like a non-attempt, but a lousy one. The correct analogy here is that batter who ducks under a pitch and the pitch hits his bat – its a foul ball. If I fouled a ball off on a bunt attempt with two strikes I would expect to be called out. it is the batter’s responsibility to pull back the bat in a bunt situation. If the bat is in a position to make contact with a pitched ball…

Brad Johnson
Member

“You have to pull your bat back”

This is factually incorrect. All you have to do is not make an attempt. If I square around before the pitch and never move, it is not a bunt attempt. In this case he very clearly disengaged from his bunt attempt.

I’m not sure what you’re referring to re: fundamentals. There are no fundamentals involved with dodging a mid-90s pitch at your chest. Nobody practices that. There’s no “correct” way to do it. Just get the hell out of the way.

Ryan DC
Member
Member
Ryan DC

“If I square around before the pitch and never move, it is not a bunt attempt.”

What? Where is that in the rulebook?

Brad Johnson
Member

Squaring around is not the same as offering at the pitch. Functionally, this is only relevant if the player were to square around with no intention of attempting to bunt. The moment he begins to track the pitch with his bat – which usually happens before the ball is even released – it becomes an attempt. The hitter can then cancel the attempt – like a checked swing – by pulling the bat back. But it’s a common misconception that the act of squaring around is the same as a swing. The batter also has to try to hit it.

ThomServo
Member
ThomServo

The intent portion makes it an easy call.

I can understand thinking that the intent part is dumb, or that the rule should be different, or that any contact ought to count as a foul- but those aren’t the rules. The player was on one-knee, the ball was likely to hit him if he did not move, during moving out of the way he obvious fell down and made incidental contact.

Foul ball is the correct call, easily.

It’s just that before this probably 100% of us did not know the rule. There might be literally noone, between us commentators and the author, who knew that (1) there was any sort of contact-with-the-bat that (2) goes out-of-play and (3) is not a foul.

Bronnt
Member
Bronnt

I don’t get how this is an easy call. Go through the first gif literally frame by frame and tell me the instant he first decided he wasn’t bunting. His intent for the vast majority of the ball’s flight was to bunt the ball, and we’re basing this all on intentions.

ItsPoPtime
Member
Member
ItsPoPtime

If you had heard the Brewers announcers you’d know two guys that would NOT like any evidence supporting anything but he was out. What I almost got from it was a kind of “if with two strikes the picture is still trying to bunt throw one high and tight so it hits the bat and he’s out”.

sgp2204
Member
sgp2204

That’s absolutely where a pitcher should throw the ball with a guy trying to bunt.

RonnieDobbs
Member
RonnieDobbs

The ball hit his bat and ended up in foul territory. What is complicated about that?

Roger McDowell Hot Foot
Member
Roger McDowell Hot Foot

There’s an article near here that you might enjoy reading!

gotit99
Member
gotit99