Mechanics for Plate Umpire – HBP, IBB, Batted ball near plate

Read the article Strike Zone Mechanics in this same section of the Locker Room website for detailed mechanics for calling balls and strikes. This article covers other situations involving the plate umpire but not related to the strike zone – hit by pitch, illegally batted ball, batted ball near the plate.

Batter hit by pitch

This can be a difficult call but can be made easier through a proper plate stance and alignment. See the article Batter Hit By Pitch in the Rules Corner/Batting/The Pitch for details on how to determine and adjudicate this situation.

Most high-level umpires do not miss the batter leaning into the pitch or diving out of the box in an attempt to “wear” a strike. It can be difficult to stay still when a pitch comes inside and appears to be heading into the area in front of the slot position and right at the umpire. It is imperative to not move. Keeping your head still and your eyes focused on the pitch are essential in getting this call right. If you move your head, your perception will be off and if you blink, you will miss the action.

Batters are wearing protective equipment more often now than at any time in the past. Due to the hard plastic used for these protective devices, it may be difficult to determine if the pitch hit the brace or the bat. You need to be able to see what it hit and not guess. Take your time on this call. Once you know the ball hit something, there is no need to rush this call. You can always ask your partners for their input on this call.

Be watchful for the elbow braces that extend farther than the actual elbow. The rule book makes it clear that optional protective equipment be worn or used as intended. In the past few years, we have seen a lot of batters being hit on the extended part of the brace and immediately advancing toward first base, even before the plate umpire has a chance make a ruling. This is a good clue to ascertain that they are wearing this extended brace for a reason. Do not award a batter first base if the pitch hits the part of the brace which is extending beyond the actual body part. This pitch did not strike the batter or her clothing. Be ready to rule on this with a strong “dead ball, no, come back here.” This is an easy one to explain to the complaining coach.

The most difficult call to make in regard to a hit batter is whether or not she attempted to get hit by the pitch, and then whether that pitch is ruled a strike. Anytime you keep a batter at the plate after she gets hit by a pitch is going to upset her coach. And if you rule the pitch a strike, especially strike three, it will make things even more difficult. Watch for a batter immediately running to first base as a hint to the batter’s intention, especially when the game situation dictates the importance of having a base runner.

Remain calm and explain the ruling to the coach using rulebook language. As batters wear more and more protective gear and crowd the plate to take away the inside part of the plate from the pitcher, these situations are becoming more prevalent.

The key is staying focused on the pitch all the way through and allowing the play to develop. Do not let a batter’s reaction fool you and do not be too quick to make this call. Give your brain time to process what your eyes have seen and then make the decision. Since the ball is dead, there is no need to rush this call.

After Batter Hit by Pitch (Lost Mechanic)

A good mechanic which must be used whenever a batter is hit with a pitch –get your mask off, come out quickly from behind the plate and get between the batter going to first and the circle. You must still use this mechanic as a good preventive umpiring technique even if it is not specifically covered in the current CCA manual. The most seemingly non-confrontational situation can escalate quickly. You may not be aware of the types of situations below. his is why we encourage umpires to discuss their experiences with teams and include a discussion on team tendencies during the umpire pregame.
• Perhaps this pitcher and batter have past history and this hit-by-pitch is the last straw for one or both of them.
• Perhaps the pitcher has already hit multiple batters in this game and one of them is this batter’s best friend.
• There has been bad blood between these teams
• You hear a coach yell to the pitcher to move the batter off the plate; the batter probably also heard it
• The pitcher is fed up with batters who have been hit by a pitch on their elbow guard while hovering over the plate and the plate umpire has awarded first base.
Watch for these “red alert” signs immediately after the batter is hit and as you are moving out from behind the plate:
• Batter immediately stares at the pitcher before starting toward 1b
• The pitcher stares at the batter, makes a move toward the plate area, or gives any indication that there may be a confrontation
• The batter turns around and says something confrontational to the catcher.
• The catcher immediately moves from her position as if something might happen (perhaps the catcher has a beef with the batter)
• Even the on-deck circle batter may want to get involved. A quick glance at her is advised.
• One of the coaches, either from the coach’s box or the dugout may move aggressively toward the plate area and/or starts yelling anything to the effect “this is bullsh#%t, that’s the third batter who has been hit…”, or other argumentative communication

NOTE: Base umpires should also be aware and alert to these situations and “red alert” signs. You should be watching the action at the plate area and as the BR is moving toward 1b. You can do this as you are watching any runners who are your responsibilities on the bases. Look for the same “red alert” signs as listed above. Perhaps the plate umpire did not see the actions or hear the coach. Perhaps the plate umpire does not know of past history and it was not discussed among the crew before the game

Illegally batted ball

Calling a batter out of the batter’s box on contact can sometimes be difficult. However, that ruling should be made with consistency and accuracy and can often be a critical call or no-call. Remember, in a three- or four-umpire crew, a base umpire can make this call.

Batted ball hits bat or batter-runner

When a batted ball comes close to the batter-runner it can often be tough to rule:
• Did the ball hit or miss the bat or batter-runner.
• Was it a fair ball or foul ball when the contact was likely made.
• Did it happen before or after the batter-runner was completely out of the batter’s box.

Proper alignment for the pitch can contribute to the success of this difficult situation. The key is to put yourself in position so you can see all the elements of the play and allow your eyes to see the entire play. Often there is a catcher who is moving to potentially make a play and a batter moving to run toward first base. You must have an angle and see the entire play in order to make the right call.
• Sometimes, the best movement is to take a step back and allow the play to open up in front of you.
• Sometimes, the best thing to do is not move at all; the play can happen so quickly that if you move you may miss it.

The last thing you want to do is kill the play and later realize the ball did not hit the bat or the batter-runner – you just took away an opportunity for the defense to make an out or the offense to have a runner on first base. Use all of the information available to you — your eyes and ears, batter reaction, potential welt on the batter, information from your partners — to get this call right. This is another play for which you may need to get input from your partners.

It takes time and experience to know which decision to make on all the above difficult situations. Even the best plate umpires in the world sometimes get screened and simply cannot see the play and they know they must rely on their partners to help them. If you are screened, the best thing to do as the plate umpire is to not make a signal. The worst thing you can do is guess and potentially get the call wrong. Allow the play to continue and then if your partners have information, they can assist.