When rule changes occur, new mechanics may also come into play. The 2020-2021 Rule Book included a change to the Taking the Signal rule (10.2). To be more accurate, the actual change is for 10.2.2 – the pitcher must be on the pitcher’s plate to take the signal; taking the pitching signal from off the plate is illegal.
In previous years, the responsibility for properly taking the signal was the primary responsibility of the plate umpire. Now, that responsibility is not only shared with the base umpire, it may become more of their responsibility than the plate umpire’s. See the article in the Rules Corner/Pitching/Procedures – Pitcher taking the signal for a more detailed explanation of the current clarifications for Taking the Signal.
By rule, the pitcher is allowed to take defensive signals while off the plate, so the question is how do we decide what is a pitching signal, what is a defensive signal and why is the responsibility now more on the base umpire?
The plate umpire is watching the pitcher prior to stepping onto the plate but cannot see what the catcher is doing. When watching the pitcher prepare to step on the pitcher’s plate, she may stop or walk slowly onto the plate. There may not be any other visible signs to give the plate umpire enough information to credibly make that call. Simply stopping before stepping on is not illegal. This can be especially true, if the pitcher also stops and properly takes the signal while in the pitching position. That is why the base umpire must now share this responsibility with the plate umpire.
In the past, much of the base umpire’s focus was on the feet, the runners and the batter. Now, they must also focus on the catcher. Is she giving signals prior to the pitcher stepping on? A major clue would be how the catcher makes her signals. If she is using verbal signals and/or are her hands are up and in a position for the other members of the defense to see; this may be considered a defensive signal. If her hands are down and the signal is partially hidden, they should then be considered a pitching signal. If those signals are delivered to the pitcher prior to her stepping on, then a violation of Rule 10.2.2 has occurred.
Prior to stepping on, the pitcher may stop, delay her movement or walk directly toward the pitcher’s plate. Base umpires in all positions must be aware of the situation. When walking the line, they should look for the catcher’s hands being down and hidden from the offense. Off the line, they should be able to actually see if the catcher is providing hand signals prior to the pitcher stepping into the pitching position.
These mechanics applies to both 2 and 3 umpires mechanics. It is recommended that in the 3 umpire mechanics with runners on base, the umpire that is in fair territory should have the primary responsibility for making this call based on the credibility of their position. All umpires should continue to judge any violations regardless of position. Being on the line while your partner is inside in fair territory does not relieve you of your responsibilities to make the call. Prior to the pitcher stepping on the pitcher’s plate, all umpires must continue to watch for violations.