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Why didn’t the Oakland A’s challenge Jonathan Lucroy’s collision at home plate?

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The A’s catcher was thrown out at home, but the Rangers catcher appeared to illegally block the plate.

Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s and Texas Rangers had a good ol’ play at the plate Monday night. In the 5th inning, with the score tied 1-1, the A’s hit a single up the middle. Texas outfielder Drew Robinson threw home to his catcher, Robinson Chirinos, who tagged out Oakland baserunner Jonathan Lucroy trying to score. Here’s the play (or click here for full video):

The question is whether Chirinos illegally blocked the running lane. If he did, then the call should have been overturned and Lucroy should have been safe due to obstruction. Here’s the full text of the rule (emphasis mine):

Rule 6.01(i)(2): Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the umpire, the catcher without possession of the ball blocks the pathway of the runner, the umpire shall call or signal the runner safe. Not withstanding the above, it shall not be considered a violation of this Rule 6.01(i)(2) if the catcher blocks the pathway of the runner in a legitimate attempt to field the throw (e.g., in reaction to the direction, trajectory or the hop of the incoming throw, or in reaction to a throw that originates from a pitcher or drawn-in infielder). In addition, a catcher without possession of the ball shall not be 2018 Official Baseball Rules_2018 Official Baseball Rules 2/27/18 2:16 PM Page 70 Rule 6.01(i) to 6.01(j) 71 adjudged to violate this Rule 6.01(i)(2) if the runner could have avoided the collision with the catcher (or other player covering home plate) by sliding.

Rule 6.01(i)(2) Comment: A catcher shall not be deemed to have violated Rule 6.01(i)(2) unless he has both blocked the plate without possession the ball (or when not in a legitimate attempt to field the throw), and also hindered or impeded the progress of the runner attempting to score. A catcher shall not be deemed to have hindered or impeded the progress of the runner if, in the judgment of the umpire, the runner would have been called out notwithstanding the catcher having blocked the plate. In addition, a catcher should use best efforts to avoid unnecessary and forcible contact while tagging a runner attempting to slide. Catchers who routinely make unnecessary and forcible contact with a runner attempting to slide (e.g., by initiating contact using a knee, shin guard, elbow or forearm) may be subject to discipline by the League President

When Chirinos planted his leg in the running lane, he had not yet received the ball and Lucroy was still several steps away. Lucroy and the ball arrived at the same time. Chirinos should not have had his leg blocking the lane yet.

Furthermore, nothing about that throw caused him to jump into the lane. Sure, standing in the lane is one place he could have received it. But he also could have just taken a step to the side, still stayed in front of the plate where he was supposed to be, and caught the ball just as well. But doing it that way would have allowed the runner to score, so instead he blocked the plate. This is so simple that I can’t believe it’s up for debate.

Here’s another angle:

What do you see? I see a catcher stepping back into the lane long before he had the ball, a ball which was coming more or less straight at him in a predictable trajectory. I see a runner approaching the plate with absolutely no lane in which to run/slide, even though the catcher doesn’t have the ball yet. Here’s the key still-frame:

Screen shot of MLB.com video

What am I not understanding here? This appears cut-and-dried. In fact, this is exactly the kind of collision (or, one of the kinds) that this rule was designed to prevent. If what Chirinos did isn’t illegal under the rules, then I’m not sure why there are plate collision rules at all. This should be textbook. Ten years ago Lucroy could have tackled him to knock the ball away, but now he has to slide feet-first; he did exactly what he was supposed to, even though it reduced his chances of scoring. Chirinos was not held to the same 2018 standard.

To be clear, none of this is a criticism of Chirinos. He made a great play, and he got away with toeing the line of the rulebook. His job is to get Lucroy out, and he succeeded. I’m also not judging the umpire, because the multiple minute details of this play are certainly difficult to discern live; that’s why there’s a replay review process to back him up. My question is for Bob Melvin.

The kicker here is that it doesn’t even matter if I’m right. Even if there was only a low-to-moderate chance of winning the challenge, it’s still worth doing. It was a tie game, approaching the late innings, and this was a matter of run-vs-out. Not getting a retired runner placed back on second base or something, but immediately adding a run to the scoreboard and taking the lead. The A’s have used two challenges so far in five games, so it’s not like they’re at a premium and must be saved. Even if an opportunity did come up later, it’s exceedingly unlikely that it would have been more valuable or promising than gambling to gain the tiebreaking run more than halfway through the evening.

The A’s had a great case for getting this call overturned. Furthermore, they had absolutely nothing to lose by trying. And yet, they sat on their hands and allowed the world to roll them yet again. This was a mistake by Melvin, the managerial version of an outfielder clanking a fly ball off his glove.

Poll

Should the A’s have challenged the play at the plate between Lucroy and Chirinos?

This poll is closed

  • 93%
    Yes, it was worth a try at the very least
    (862 votes)
  • 6%
    No, it would have been a waste of a challenge
    (57 votes)
919 votes total Vote Now