April 6, 2023

Catcher’s Interference: Some Batters Will Do Anything to Get On Base

Catcher’s Interference: Some Batters Will Do Anything to Get On Base

The Golden Age of Catcher’s Interference

It’s safe to say that we are in the golden age of catcher’s interference. In the last three full seasons excluding the truncated 2020 shortened 60-game campaign, the number of catcher’s interference calls has increased each year. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, there were 61 violations in 2019; 62 in 2021; and 74 in 2022.  For the sake of comparison, in 2002 there were only 9 such calls the entire season.  In the first four days of the 2023 season, we already have had four catcher interference calls. Rockies’ catcher Elias Diaz was nailed twice for the infraction while Martín Maldonado (Astros) and Logan O’Hoppe (Angels) each had one.

Maldonado’s infraction occurred on Opening Day in the top of the seventh inning when the Astros hosted the White Sox. With one out, the Sox had Oscar Colas on second, and Tim Anderson on first with Luis Robert at bat. Robert fouled-off Hector Neris’ first pitch but Maldonado’s mitt made contact with Robert’s bat. Plate umpire Bill Miller correctly called Maldonado for catcher’s interference and Robert was awarded first base. Because both Colas and Anderson were forced to advance by reason of the batter becoming a runner, they advanced to third and second base respectively.  This created a bases loaded situation. But the White Sox did not score in the inning in a game which they won 3-2.

Here is the play:

Ruleball Comments

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

  1. When the plate umpire invokes the rule, the ball remains alive and in play unless: (1) the ball settles in foul territory; (2) the batter misses the pitch; or (3) until continuous action stops if the ball is put in play.
  2. It is not always a dead ball when the ump rules catcher’s interference. If the batter puts the ball in play and all runners, including the batter-runner, advance one base when the infraction occurs, the interference is nullified. If any runner advances beyond his one awarded base, he does so at his own risk. Let’s say with a runner on first base, the batter singles to right field and catcher’s interference is called. The runner on first attempts to reach third base and is thrown out. In that situation the out would remain because both runners had advanced the one base necessary to nullify the interference.
  3. It should be noted that if the catcher interferes with the batter when he checks his swing, this is a violation of the rule. The batter will be awarded first base and any runner on base advances one base, if forced.
  4. It should also be noted that if the catcher interferes with the batter before the pitcher delivers the ball, it shall not be considered interference.
  5. If there is a pitch clock violation by the pitcher and the pitcher delivers the pitch and the batter reaches base in a situation when he is interfered with by the catcher, the play is nullified because the pitch clock violation creates a dead ball. The pitcher will be charged with a “Ball” and the batter returns to bat. The offensive team does not have the option of taking the play or the automatic “Ball” penalty.
  6. If a runner is attempting to steal a base when the violation is called and arrives safely, he is allowed to remain at that base whether or not he is forced to that base.
  7. When catcher’s interference is called, if the batter does not reach base, the catcher is charged with an error and the batter, who is awarded first base, is not charged with a time at-bat.
  8. There is a situation where the manager of the offensive team has the option of taking the play over the penalty. This football sounding application of the rule can occur when the catcher interferes with the batter and the ball is put in play but not every runner advances the one base necessary to nullify the violation. (Example: Runner on third base and one out. The batter hits a ground ball to second base and is put out at first base as the runner on third crosses the plate. In that situation, the manager of the offensive team has the option of taking the play, (he trades the out for the run) or the penalty (the runner remains on third and the batter is awarded first base.)
  9. If the manager opts to take the play, he must initiate the meeting with the umpire. If he doesn’t, the umpire will invoke the penalty aspect of the rule.
  10. There are several theories for the escalation of the infraction: (1) Catchers aggressively set close to the plate to help pitchers get low strikes before the ball disappears from the strike zone; (2) Many batters use the launch angle technique that may place their bat on a closer plane to the catcher’s mitt; and (3) More batters are letting the ball travel deeper into the strike zone before swinging due to a variety of breaking pitches that pitchers are throwing.
  11. The violation has been reviewable since the 2020 season.  There is no doubt that the value of saving strikes for the pitcher in the long run most likely supersedes the over-aggressiveness of the catcher who is called for interference. A wise catcher, however, will be alert to the situation, (time of game and score) especially with the bases loaded.
  12. Catchers must be very sensitive to the rule especially in late inning pressure situations. The Reading Phils hosted the Binghamton Mets on June 20, 2007, in a seven-inning game because the first game, a suspended contest from the night before, went 11-innings. With the score tied in the bottom of the seventh, the Phils had the bases loaded and two outs when Jason Hill hit a liner to the shortstop for what looked to be the third out, sending the game into extra innings. But plate umpire Mark Buchanan correctly called catcher’s interference on Mets’ catcher, Mike Nickeas. Hill was awarded first base and all runners, because they were forced, advanced one base, allowing Michael Spidale, the runner on third, to score the winning run on a catcher’s interference walk-off.

 The Batter’s History

Catchers should also be aware of the batter’s history involving the rule. For instance, the Reds’ Nick Senzel is the career leader among active players reaching first base via catcher’s interference 15 times. Other frequent beneficiaries of the rule include Jesús Aguilar (14), Jorge Soler (14), Jake Cronenworth (8), Nelson Cruz, (8), Tommy LaStella (8), and George Springer (7).

Jacoby Ellsbury is the King of catcher’s interference calls having reached base 31 times in that manner including a mind-blowing 12 in 2016. But at his current rate, Senzel is easily on a pace to surpass Ellsbury in that department.

Former catcher, Milt May, was charged with 15 interference calls, the most in baseball history. But former Twins’ catcher, Gary Sanchez, who might return to major league baseball, is closing in with 12 nicks. He is followed by James McCann (9), and Jose Trevino (9).

Rich Marazzi

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

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