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Making sense of the eighth inning in Friday night's game

What exactly happened in the eighth inning last night? Let's take a look at it.

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The umpires were tested in their knowledge of MLB rules in Friday night's game.
The umpires were tested in their knowledge of MLB rules in Friday night's game.
Mike McGinnis

After last night, we're all still trying to figure out exactly what happened in last night's game. Hopefully this all will help round up everything that happened in the inning. This will be a long post and will look at the MLB rulebook in a little bit of depth, so I hope you're ready for that.

Let's start with the play-by-play of the bottom of the eighth, according to MLB Gameday (at least as of this writing):

  1. Pitching Change: Kevin Gregg replaces Jeff Samardzija, batting 9th.
  2. Jean Segura singles on a ground ball to shortstop Starlin Castro.
  3. With Ryan Braun batting, Jean Segura steals (2) 2nd base.
  4. Pitching Change: Shawn Camp replaces Kevin Gregg, batting 9th.
  5. Coaching visit to mound.
  6. With Rickie Weeks batting, Ryan Braun caught stealing 2nd base, pitcher Shawn Camp to third baseman Luis Valbuena.
  7. Rickie Weeks strikes out swinging.
  8. With Jonathan Lucroy batting, Jean Segura caught stealing 3rd base, catcher Welington Castillo to second baseman Darwin Barney.

Just looking at that, you may notice how odd the two caught stealing plays are, according to MLB Gameday. Ryan Braun was caught stealing second on a tag by the third baseman, and Jean Segura was caught stealing third by the second baseman. Unless the second and third basemen switched places, that makes no sense. So, our focus will be on plays 7 and 9.

I explained this part in the recap, but here it is again. First, here is the video, and the text explanation of everything that happened is below it.

With Jean Segura at second, Ryan Braun at first, and Rickie Weeks at the plate, Segura tried to steal third base. Shawn Camp saw Segura take off and made a quick throw to third baseman Luis Valbuena, and had him picked off between second and third. Braun did what he should have done by going to second with Segura in the rundown, but Segura also went back to second trying to escape the rundown. Both Segura and Braun ended up at second base, where Valbuena tagged them both. Second base umpire Phil Cuzzi ruled Braun out, but Segura thought he was out and started heading back to the dugout. When he found out that he was not out, he ran to first and was able to get there safely since no Cub was covering it. Replay appeared to show that Segura had been tagged when he was off of second base, but the umpires ruled he was never touched. The final result was that Braun was out and Segura was at first base. Segura would then attempt to steal second again with Jonathan Lucroy at the plate, but was unsuccessful this time and was thrown out.

As I was doing research on this, every site with a play-by-play had difficulty noting what happened. Each one took their own approach to noting it in the game. Here's a few of them:

  • FanGraphs: With runners on first and second, Ryan Braun is caught stealing and gets a -.038 WPA on the play. They noted a runner on second for Weeks at bat, then moved the runner to first for the next play. Jean Segura's CS in the inning was worth -.017 WPA.
  • Yahoo: They just tried flipping Segura and Braun's roles on the bases. Here's what they had: J. Segura out at third; R. Weeks struck out swinging; R. Braun caught stealing, catcher to second.
  • ESPN: They got the play right. Their description of the play: "R Braun caught stealing second, pitcher to third to second. J Segura to first." Still might be confused if that's all you saw, but at least it's accurate.

You can't really fault any of these sites for trying to cope with it in any way they could. Most of these sites are dealing with programmed systems, and the software isn't capable of understanding a play like that. They just had to make something up to get it to work. As someone who programmed extensively in college and a little in the work place, I can understand that difficulty.

After the sequence of plays, the question of rules came into play. Did the umpires follow the rules over this sequence of plays? During the game, Adam McCalvy was able to talk to ump supervisor Larry Young and tweeted the following:

In this situation, there are four questions that need to be ruled on with the official MLB rules. First of all, what happens with both Segura and Braun at second base? Second, did Segura pass Braun on the basepaths? Third, did Segura give himself up before trying to run to first base? Finally, is it illegal to go to a previous base after tagging a base past that base?

The first question is answered through MLB rule 7.03, which deals with this situation of two runners at the same base. This is the rule that McCalvy is referring to in his tweet. Rule 7.03 reads as follows (page 60 of the MLB rulebook):

(a) Two runners may not occupy a base, but if, while the ball is alive, two runners are touching a base, the following runner shall be out when tagged and the preceding runner is entitled to the base, unless Rule 7.03(b) applies.

(b) If a runner is forced to advance by reason of the batter becoming a runner and two runners are touching a base to which the following runner is forced, the following runner is entitled to the base and the preceding runner shall be out when tagged or when a fielder possesses the ball and touches the base to which such preceding runner is forced

In this situation, only point (a) applies since no force outs exist. With both Segura and Braun at second base and neither forced to advance, the rule favors Segura and his position on second base. That was why Braun was ruled out on the play, because Braun could not occupy second base while Segura was there.

The second question is whether Segura ran past Braun before he was out, and if that would result in him being out as well. The rule in the MLB rulebook that deals with this situation is 7.08(h). The rule reads as follows (page 65,67):

Rule 7.08(h): Any runner is out when--He passes a preceding runner before such runner is out.

If you look at the video, Segura started to head towards first in about the same moment that Braun was ruled out. Didrule 7.08(h) come into play here? It is possible, but it would also be a moot point. The runner that would be declared out in this situation would be Braun, not Segura. Since Braun was ruled out anyway, this rule would not come into play.

The third question actually came to my attention thanks to formick in the recap comments. He mentioned that Segura should have been out from leaving the base path as he went back to first. I looked up the official rules to see what it says on the situation. The rule I found also brought up another possibility, that Segura may have given himself up and could have been declared out. The rule here is 7.08(a), and it reads as follows (page 65):

Rule 7.08(a): Any runner is out when--He runs more than three feet away from his base path to avoid being tagged unless his action is to avoid interference with a fielder fielding a batted ball. A runner’s base path is established when the tag attempt occurs and is a straight line from the runner to the base he is attempting to reach safely;

Rule 7.08(a) Comment: Any runner after reaching first base who leaves the base path heading for his dugout or his position believing that there is no further play, may be declared out if the umpire judges the act of the runner to be considered abandoning his efforts to run the bases. Even though an out is called, the ball remains in play in regard to any other runner.

If you watch the video, it looks like Segura is giving himself up and going back to the dugout before realizing he is not out and running to first base. He could have been called out for giving himself up, and by the letter of the rules, that would have been the right call. However, it does not appear to be an automatic out if he does that. The rule leaves this to the discretion of the umpire. Remember that they have to look at the play live and do not get the benefit of replay (which is a different discussion that we will not talk about). It's not obvious that Segura is giving himself up right away, so no call there would make sense and not be against the rules. Also, he would not be out for leaving the base path since he never moved more than three feet out of the base path that he had established, and no tag was attempted as he headed to first base.

Finally, there is the question of whether Segura can legally progress backwards around the bases. There is one rule in the rulebook that deals with this, and Joe Block posted a tweet to explain the rule:

This brings up the question of what rule 7.08(i) is exactly. Joe Block alludes to what the rule is talking about, but we can't get much from a tweet. After the game, Tom Haudricort wrote a blog post for JSOnline and provided the text from 7.08(i), along with comments from a few of the umpires and Ron Roenicke. Here is the official rule from the MLB rulebook (page 67):

Rule 7.08(i) After [the runner] has acquired legal possession of a base, he runs the bases in reverse order for the purpose of confusing the defense or making a travesty of the game. The umpire shall immediately call "Time" and declare the runner out;

Rule 7.08(i) Comment: If a runner touches an unoccupied base and then thinks the ball was caught or is decoyed into returning to the base he last touched, he may be put out running back to that base, but if he reaches the previously occupied base safely he cannot be put out while in contact with that base.

Because Segura was not trying to confuse the defense, he was not in violation of the rules. Since it was a legal move, he was allowed to remain at first base in this situation. Adam McCalvy expanded on this in a post he made on the Brewers website. He also had more quotes from the Brewers, and even was able to find the reason that this rule was in the rulebook in the first place.

It was definitely one of the most bizarre plays I had ever seen in a baseball game, and it would be hard to find one that would challenge it. Fortunately, the Brewers ended up winning the game, so the error will not cost the Brewers much. In the end, it was all a result of a mental mistake by Jean Segura, who is still young and will learn from it. Roenicke warned us that aggressive baserunning would have days like today. Hopefully this is as bad as it will get.

(You can find a copy of the MLB rulebook in PDF form from the website, or a direct link to the PDF is available here. The pages referred to in the post are from the PDF link.)