Sports

We need to double-check checked swings


Dave Roberts blew a gasket as the Dodgers lost on a checked-swing ruling.

Dave Roberts blew a gasket as the Dodgers lost on a checked-swing ruling.
Image: Getty Images

The NL West is shaping up to be one of the best divisional races we’ve seen in quite some time. Currently, the Giants, Dodgers, and Padres are on pace to win over 90 games. There hasn’t been a division with at least three teams reaching the 90-win threshold since the NL Central in 2015 (I miss when the Pirates were good). Last night, the Giants and Dodgers wrapped up a three-game series in Chavez Ravine that — even with more than 60 games left on each team’s schedules — had huge implications on the league standings.

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Coming into that series, the Dodgers were two games back of the Giants. A sweep would push the Dodgers into first place for the first time since late April. Over the course of the three-game set, the scores heading into the ninth inning were, in order:

6-5 SF

2-1 LA

3-1 LA

Based on those scores, you’d think that the Giants won Game 1 and the Dodgers won Games 2 & 3. Well, you just fell for the oldest trick in the book. In actuality, the Dodgers won Game 1, and the Giants won the final two games.

In each game of the series, there was an opportunity for a save. In each game of the series, the save was blown. In Game 1, Giants’ closer Tyler Rogers blew his FIFTH save of the season when he gave up a three-run shot to Will Smith (not the Fresh Prince). In Game 2, Kenley Jansen blew his fourth save of the season when he allowed Mets’ legend Wilmer Flores to take him deep for a two-run shot in the ninth. And wouldn’t you know it, Jansen would blow save number five after a Darin Ruf walk (more on that in a moment) led to a LaMonte Wade Jr. single that would knock in the tying and go-ahead runs.

However, it wasn’t just the Giants who were setting off fireworks in last night’s game. For the final pitch of that walk to Ruf I just mentioned, Kenley Jansen threw a 3-2 fastball above the zone. Ruf started to go after the ball, but according to first base umpire Ed Hickox, Ruf held back and was allowed to take first base, pushing in Wilmer Flores for the tying run. Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts came storming out of the dugout in a furious rage that would make Bobby Cox proud.

When looking at the replay from many angles, it’s fairly obvious that Ruf went around. However, the official MLB rulebook does not detail what, exactly, is considered a swing. The rulebook only states that a swing is “an attempt at a pitch, that is not a bunt.” This includes checked swings. The concept of a “checked” swing has been widely misconstrued to the point where most fans believe a checked swing should be called if the hitter’s wrists or his bat breaks the front plane of home plate. That’s how several umpires make the call, and that’s how several managers have long made that call. Yet, officially, there is no clear distinction on what is or isn’t a swing, and it’s up to the umpire to determine whether or not the hitter did in fact make an “attempt at a pitch.”

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But then wouldn’t every checked swing technically be the hitter signaling to the umpire that he is not making an attempt at the ball?

“But wait, conversely: Wouldn’t every checked swing technically be the hitter signalling to the umpire that he was making an attempt at the ball, even if he then pulled it back?”

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Great questions. I have no idea. I don’t. If there is no clear definition of what a swing is, then checked swings may as well be Bigfoot. Nobody should have any idea whether one is or isn’t a checked swing, and that’s ridiculous.

Baseball has made a valiant effort in recent years to limit the human error of the game by introducing manager challenges and umpire reviews to help make sure the game is called as it should be. The Major League umpire may even become obsolete in just a few short years as robot umpires have already made their way into the Minor League system, and despite a few rough calls, they’ve done fairly well and will most likely continue to improve as the robo-ump engineers continue to work on the machines. That being said, checked swings continue to be one of the non-reviewable aspects of the game. I guess that makes sense. Since a checked swing call is officially an opinion-based decision by the umpire, video evidence would have no effect.

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My insightful retort: That’s just really dumb.

I’m not trying to say every checked swing should be a strike, but there should absolutely be a defining characteristic of what determines a swing rather than “Hey blue, whaddya think?” I’m not sure whether or not it should be based on where the hitter’s hands are or where the face of the bat ends up, but there needs to be a definition. Ruf had every intention of swinging at that 3-2 pitch from Jansen until he realized that he wasn’t going to be able to catch up to the high heat and decided to hold back.

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The Dodgers have now dropped three straight games where they were leading heading into the ninth inning. This is the first time this has happened in Dodgers’ franchise history, but it shouldn’t have happened. I’m a Giants fan, but the Dodgers deserved to win that game. They should be one game back of the Giants right now. Instead, they’re three games back, and that could have major repercussions as we approach the final stretch of the regular season.

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