A rule change, effective with the 2020-2021 rule book, was made with regard to “if the defense requests help on a check swing, the plate umpire is required by rule to ask for help. If anyone else, on either offense or defense, asks for help, the umpire may (but is not required) to ask for help.”
Check swings can be a tough call for the plate umpire, as well as the base umpires. The crew should include this topic during the umpire pre-game discussion. The base umpire’s pre-pitch preparation must include check swing responsibility.
Here is a suggestion for a good technique to ensure a base umpire is ready for this request and is prepared to answer it correctly. Watch the batter’s movement with the bat on every pitch of the at-bat. Decide on every pitch on which the batter moved her bat – is it a swing? Unless the base umpire has another immediate responsibility, it is also a good practice to stay focused on the plate area for more than a few seconds after the pitch. Sometimes the request is delayed, and base umpires have been caught by surprise when the request finally comes.
What is a check swing?
The rule states: A check swing is the restraining action a batter takes to stop an attempted hit or slap that puts the batter in jeopardy of a strike being assessed. If the batter is attempting to avoid being hit by a pitch rather than attempting to contact it, checked swing does not apply.
A pitch should be called a strike when it is in the strike zone, regardless of whether the batter checked her swing. A pitch should be called a ball when the swing is checked (resulting in no swing) and the pitch did not enter the strike zone or did not contact the bat. It should also be called a ball if the plate umpire is in doubt regarding a checked swing or is blocked out. If the plate umpire calls the pitch a strike, it is a strike! It cannot be changed with a check swing appeal.
Here is one wrinkle on the rule: if an out is made on the bases in addition to an out on a properly appealed check swing, the check-swing out is assessed before the out on the bases. This may be important in a situation in which there are two outs the batter has two strikes, the runner is called out on an attempted steal, and then the check swing is ruled a strike. It is a rare occurrence, but the plate umpire should declare, and make sure both sides know, that the batter’s out is the last out of the inning. This eliminates any confusion as to who should be the first batter in that team’s next offensive half-inning.
Determining factors for ruling on a check swing
As a general rule, there are four factors when determining if a batter has swung at the ball or checked the swing:
• Did she make an attempt to hit/bunt/slap the pitch?
• Was the barrel of the bat out in front of her front hip?
• Did she roll her wrists?
• Did she swing through the ball and bring the bat back or draw the bat back before the pitch arrived?
Most veteran umpires will take all of these factors into consideration, but the most important factor is often whether that umpire has a gut feeling that the batter attempted to hit the pitch.
Play: With 2 strikes the batter check swings at a ball in the dirt which gets by the catcher. The batter immediately runs to first base as the catcher retrieves the ball too late to throw the runner out. The offensive head coach requests the plate umpire to go for help on the check swing.
Ruling: By rule, the plate umpire is not required to go for help on this check swing when a coach asks. However, it is a good practice to quickly go for help on a check swing as soon as you hear, or anticipate, a coach asking about it.
Play: With two outs and two strikes on the batter, the runner on first base is thrown out attempting to steal second base. The defense asks the plate umpire for check swing help. The batter is declared out on strikes.
Ruling: The batter becomes the third out for both scoring purposes and establishing the next batter.