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Saturday, April 09, 2016

Infield fly double plays and knowing the game and the rules

On Friday, the New York Mets turned a double play against the Philadelphia Phillies on an infield fly call--the Mets infielder did not catch the ball (the wind* pushed it away from him), the runner on first's instincts took over upon seeing the ball hit the ground, and he took off for second, getting tagged out in a 5-3-4 rundown.

[*] Given the wind, a case could be made the IFR should not have been called. The umpire considers "weather conditions" in deciding whether the ball was playable with "ordinary effort" as required for the rule to apply.

Having watched every IFR call in Major League Baseball from 2010-15, I can recall at least 4-5 times (perhaps more) that the defense turned a similar double play in the identical situation. That may not sound like much, until we consider that the infielder failed to catch the ball on an IFR call at most 15-20 times in those six seasons--and several of those were intentional non-catches to deke the runner into trying to advance. That means the defense turns a double play roughly 20 % of the time the infielder fails to catch the ball.

What is interesting is the media reaction to the play. The themes that emerge--from game announcers (video from Mets broadcast in link) and blogs--are that this is another sign of how bad a team the Phllies are (and they are bad, 0-4 on the young season), that this is a Little League mistake, and that the players do not know the infield fly or how it works (this is how the Mets announcers talked about it yesterday); the announcers and writers, in turn, have a chance to (somewhat condescendingly) explain the Infield Fly Rule. For one thing, the criticism is not accurate. As the Cincinnati Reds manager said defending a player who made a similar mistake and ran into a double play in 2015, it was not that the player did not know (or understand) the rule, but that the player had the wrong reaction to the ball hitting the ground (i.e., instinct took over). For another, many announcers routinely show that they do not really understand  the rule, as by openly questioning its application to balls in the outfield with quips such as "boy, the infield is awfully expansive if that ball qualifies under the rule."** So scolding the players this way rings false. Finally, the "wrong reaction" may cut both ways--in 2014, a runner scored from third base on an uncaught infield fly when the catcher failed to tag the runner coming from third base.

[**] Commentary on the rule explains that the question is whether an infielder could have caught the ball with ordinary effort, without respect to artificial boundaries such as the outfield grass.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 9, 2016 at 12:56 AM | Permalink


0-4 actually understates how terrible the Phillies are. Three of those losses came at the hands of the Reds, who are almost as bad. (I have nothing to say about the substance of your post; I just can't pass up the opportunity to rag on the Phillies).

Posted by: Michael J.Z. Mannheimer | Apr 9, 2016 2:27:42 PM

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