Javier Baez’s Slightly Controversial Brilliance

It’s convenient the way this worked out. In the worst-case interpretation, Javier Baez got away with something on Sunday. In the best-case interpretation, Baez might’ve taken advantage of a rule-book loophole. What Baez did provoked Dave Roberts to complain at least a little bit, but in the end, the Dodgers scored one run, and the Cubs scored less than that. Because the Dodgers won, Baez’s play doesn’t matter. So now we can talk about it a little bit without emotions threatening to take over.

In Game 2, Baez was praised for his casual on-the-fly brilliance, and it came up because of a double play he started in the top of the sixth. The play allowed for the Cubs to get out of a jam, keeping the deficit at the narrowest margin. The Dodgers wouldn’t have any real protest if Baez started a regular double play. But this double play started with Baez very much intentionally not catching a catchable baseball.

Odds are, most of you have seen it. But I’m sure not all of you have seen it, so, let’s take care of that. Top of the sixth, two on, one out. Joc Pederson at the plate. Pederson’s jammed, and the result is a flare.

The baserunners react immediately, freezing because they recognize the ball is headed for a glove and they don’t want to get doubled off. About that! Baez takes a little step back and fields the ball on the shortest of hops. It’s not a fly ball anymore. The throw to second gets one out. And then there’s a little confusion. Baez kind of deked everyone, but the ball finds its way to third, and then it finds its way back to short, and Adrian Gonzalez is hung up and he’s not outrunning anybody. It’s an odd double play, but it’s a double play. Carl Edwards Jr. enjoyed it.

The praise for Baez was immediate. That took either some instincts or it took some thoughtful planning, but whatever the case, Baez turned a one-out play into a two-out play. If you’re into this stuff, that extra out improved the Cubs’ odds of winning by about five percentage points. That’s a pretty big difference, as plays in the sixth inning go, and this all fits within the theme that in this particular October, Javier Baez is truly coming of age. He’s exciting *and* he’s playing like a veteran. The only thing here was the slightly controversial aspect of it.

Because Javier Baez could’ve made that catch. He sort of had to try to not make that catch. He wouldn’t have had to go to any extra effort, and, there’s a rule about that. Except that there kind of isn’t? It’s a chance for all of us to learn!

Here are the official Major League Baseball rules. Let’s begin here with the less obvious one. I’ll just copy and paste:

A batter is out when:
[…]
(12) An infielder intentionally drops a fair fly ball or line drive, with first, first and second, first and third, or first, second and third base occupied before two are out. The ball is dead and runner or runners shall return to their original base or bases;

APPROVED RULING: In this situation, the batter is not out if the infielder permits the ball to drop untouched to the ground, except when the Infield Fly rule applies.

The key part is in the approved ruling — the part about the ball dropping untouched to the ground. Baez made sure to not touch the ball before it got to the grass:

baez-grass

That leaves us with the infield-fly part. The reason the previous thing is in there is because no infielder would want to intentionally let a line drive fall in untouched. It would bounce away, all fast-like. Pederson’s batted ball wasn’t an ordinary line drive. It also wasn’t an ordinary pop-up. It just functioned a lot like an ordinary pop-up. And Baez was right there to catch it if he wanted:

baez-ordinary

I will now copy from the definitions of terms:

An INFIELD FLY is a fair fly ball (not including a line drive nor an attempted bunt) which can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, when first and second, or first, second and third bases are occupied, before two are out. The pitcher, catcher and any outfielder who stations himself in the infield on the play shall be considered infielders for the purpose of this rule.

You see why the infield-fly rule wasn’t called. The ball was too much like a line drive, getting to Baez in roughly two seconds. Yet according to Statcast, the ball left the bat at 22 degrees, and 59 miles per hour. That is a very poorly-hit batted ball, which anyone can tell from the video. It’s a classic tweener, underscoring the problems with classification buckets and subjective determinations. It’s a judgment call, and in the judgment of the on-field umpires, Pederson’s ball wasn’t fly-y enough.

For Baez, there was very little downside doing what he did. It’s possible he could’ve misplayed the short-hop, and it’s possible he could’ve made another kind of error. The upside, though, was the relatively easy double play, and even if an umpire called the infield-fly rule, catching or not catching the ball wouldn’t matter. It would be smart for every infielder to do this provided said infielder is almost certain he isn’t going to mess it up. Baez wasn’t going to mess that up.

The debate has to do with what should be done about this, if anything. I feel like it’s clear this isn’t in the spirit of the rules. If it’s all about catches being made with ordinary effort, then just going along with the thought, this should’ve just been Pederson’s out. The Dodgers should’ve kept batting, because Baez intentionally let a ball drop so as to take advantage of the baserunners being frozen. The rule just isn’t written to cover all its own bases, not that there’s any way to make it perfect. And not that this even comes up all that much. This just could’ve been a very significant play. And it’s just right in that gray area. If the Dodgers had suffered worse, they could be justified in being deeply upset.

Having gone over the rules, I feel like the right call was made. I also feel like the right call shouldn’t be the right call. I also understand I’m just one man with one set of opinions, so now I’m soliciting yours. I’d love to know what you think about this. And I’m ever so thankful there were no greater repercussions.





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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tz
Member

What does Sam Holbrook think?

TKDC
Member
Member
TKDC

He probably thinks that it is hard enough to not screw up the infield fly rule on fly balls to the outfield, so there is no way umpires should be expected to make this judgment call in less than a second.

Sultan of Say
Member
Sultan of Say

I was struggling with whether an infield fly should have been called. But from the time that it’s apparent that the ball could be caught to when the ball hits the ground, I can’t even get “infield fly, batter’s out” (assuming that’s what they say) out of my mouth.