April 25, 2024

2024 Catcher’s Interference on the Rise

Catcher's interference has become a common violation for multiple reasons as explained in this report

2024 Catcher’s Interference on the Rise

Catcher’s Interference: 5.05 (b) (3); 6.01 (c)

Catcher’s interference has increased exponentially over the years. In 2002 there were 9 such calls the entire season. In 2022 there were 74 violations and in 2023 there were 97. According to MLB, in 2023 there were 64 challenges following a “no interference” call by the plate umpire and 45 (70%) resulted in overturns. According to Elias, through games of April 15th this season, there have already been 15 catcher’s interference calls and more have followed since. Let’s look at a variety of catcher’s interference situations.

Full Swing Catcher’s Interference

This is the most common type of catcher’s interference when the batter’s bat make contact with the catcher’s mitt.  Catchers must be especially careful how they set especially when the bases are loaded because the team at bat will score a run. In the March 31, 2024 Cardinals-Dodgers game at Dodger Stadium, the Cardinals’ Paul Goldschmidt was awarded first base with the bases loaded when his bat came in contact with the catcher’s mitt of Austin Barnes. Jordan Walker scored from third. There have been other such CIs this season with the bases loaded.

The Dodgers won the above game 5-4, but the day before, Matt Carpenter reached base via catcher’s interference when Dodgers’ catcher Will Smith was charged with the violation by umpire Nate Tomlinson. Carpenter subsequently scored that inning. Because the Cards won the game 6-5, the interference call proved critical.

Check Swing Catcher’s Interference

The Brewers hosted the Padres on April 15th. In the top of the fifth, the Padres had Jake Cronenworth at bat and Xander Bogaerts on third with one out when Cronenworth reached first base because of catcher’s interference.  Cronenworth’s bat made contact with Brewers’ catcher Willian Contreras’ mitt on a check swing. The ball was already in Contreras’ mitt when the bat made contact. Plate umpire Lance Barksdale made no call on the check swing and appealed to third base umpire Emil Jimenez who ruled “no swing.” Padres’ manager Mike Shildt challenged the call claiming that catcher’s interference should have been called. The Replay Official overturned the “no call” and Cronenworth was awarded first base. Bogaerts remained at third because he wasn’t forced to advance on the play. Both runners scored that inning in a game the Padres won 7-3. The catcher’s interference ruling might have impacted the outcome of the game since it extended a rally in which six runs scored that inning.

Brewers’ manager Pat Murphy said to MLB.com, “It’s not a great rule, and they’re going to change it at some point, I’m sure.” He added, “But it is technically the rule, even though he (Contreras) caught the ball already, then the bat hit it. That’s just the way the game goes.”

Laces of the Catcher’s Mitt Interference   

  • Interference can be called if the bat makes contact with the laces of the catcher’s mitt. The Yankees were the recipient of this type of catcher’s interference ruling on April 3rd at Chase Field where the Yanks played the D’backs. In the top of the fifth, the Yanks had Austin Wells on first base and one out when Trent Grisham lofted a fly ball to shortstop Geraldo Perdomo for an apparent out. But the out was nullified because D’backs’ catcher Tucker Barnhart was called for interference by umpire Brian Walsh when the laces of his catcher’s mitt made contact with Grisham’s bat.

Watch the play below: Keep your eye on the laces of the catcher’s mitt and notice how they flare up.

Catcher Creates Balk Charged to Pitcher

The most aggressive catcher’s interference penalty is when a catcher violates rule 6.01 (g).

It reads, “If, with a runner on third base and trying to score by means of a squeeze play or steal, the catcher or any other fielder steps on, or in front of home base without possession of the ball, or touches the batter or his bat, the pitcher shall be charged with a balk, the batter shall be  awarded first base on the interference and the ball is dead.” Many erroneously call this a “catcher’s balk.” There is no such thing as a “catcher’s balk.” Only the pitcher can be charged with a balk.

Ruleball Comments    

1. Rule 5.05 (b) (3) reads, “The batter becomes a runner when “the catcher or any fielder interferes with him.” The rule has a liberal interpretation.

  • Any contact between the batter’s bat and the catcher’s mitt is considered catcher’s interference even if the batter initiates the contact unless the umpire rules the batter intentionally makes contact with the catcher’s mitt which I have never seen called.
  • The Replay report of the Cronenworth/Contreras play reads, “After viewing all relevant angles, the Replay Official definitively determined that the bat struck the catcher’s mitt. The call is OVERTURNED, it is Catcher’s Interference.” Therefore, as long as the bat strikes the catcher’s mitt, the catcher’s interference rule can be invoked.
  • The reasons for the increase in catcher’s interference calls include the following:  Catchers set aggressively close to the plate as possible to frame pitches and help their pitcher get more strikes; many batters are using the launch angle which places their bat on a plane with the catcher’s mitt; batters are swinging later in the strike zone; and it’s possible that some batters might notice the proximity of the catcher and might initiate contact with the catcher, even on the check swing.
  • The batter has a right to take an unimpeded swing, but should there be language in the rule that protects the catcher if the batter initiates contact with a non-swing such as a check swing or another form of a non-full swing?
  • I was recently asked the following question. The batter squares around to bunt. He decides not to bunt and pulls his bat back and makes contact with the catcher. Is that catcher’s interference? The answer is “Yes” because the batter’s bat made contact with the catcher’s mitt? Is that fair since the batter initiated contact with no intention to swing?  Can that lead to intent on the part of the batter? Have you ever seen an umpire rule intent?
  • I think MLB should revisit the rule. In my opinion, the current interpretation of 5.05 (b) (3) unfairly penalizes the defensive team.
  • From the perspective of the defensive team, catcher’s interference is a RISK vs. REWARD rule. The risk is that the offensive team will be aided by a base award and potentially score a run and perhaps win a game. The reward is catchers can frame pitches by setting closer to the plate and gain more strikes for pitchers. Over the course of the season many believe the reward gained outweighs the risk.
  • When catcher’s interference is called, it is not a dead ball unless the ball is hit into foul territory or if the batter misses the pitch.
  • When the batter makes contact with the catcher’s mitt, including the laces of the mitt, catcher’s interference should be called. Catchers should be careful if they have loose, hanging laces on their mitt. Why give the batter a bigger target to get on base?
  • I find it interesting that a fielder cannot make a legal tag with the laces of his glove, but a catcher can be penalized when the batter’s bat makes contact with the laces of the catcher’s mitt.
  • If the ball is not put in play, the batter is awarded first base and runners on base  advance one base, if forced.
  • If a runner is attempting to steal a base when the catcher interferes with the batter, the runner is entitled to remain at the base he is attempting to steal per rule 5.06 (b) (3) (D).
  • If the ball is put in play and the batter and all runners advance one base, the interference is nullified.
  • If the catcher interferes and the ball is put in play, and all runners do not advance one base, the manager of the offensive team has the option of taking the play or the penalty per rule 5.05 (b) (3). EX: Runner on third and one out when the batter hits a ground ball to the second baseman who retires the batter-runner at first base while the runner on third crosses the plate. The plate umpire signals catcher’s interference but keeps the ball alive. If the manager takes the play, the batter-runner is called out, but the run scores. If the manager opts to take the penalty, the runner on third will remain there because he wasn’t forced to advance, and the batter-runner is awarded first base.
  • When a manager has an option, he must initiate the conference with the plate umpire. If he doesn’t, the plate umpire will invoke the penalty aspect the rule. He will award the batter first base and award any runner on base one base, only if forced.
  • If the batter makes contact with the catcher on the backswing, this is interference without a penalty for both the batter and the catcher. If the catcher retires a runner after being struck on the backswing, the out counts. If the catcher doesn’t retire the runner, the runners must return to the last base touched at the time of the interference and no runners can advance. The batter remains at bat.

Rich Marazzi

Rules consultant/analyst:  Angels, D’backs, Dodgers, Mets, Nationals, Orioles, Padres, Phillies, Pirates, Red Sox, Rangers, Royals, Tigers, Twins, White Sox, Yankees, YES, and NBC Sports Chicago. 

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