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Explaining the rules behind the Giancarlo Stanton hit-by-pitch strikeout

The Miami Marlins were furious after a series of strikes were called against them on consecutive hit-by-pitches at the hands of Brewers pitcher Mike Fiers. Here are the rules behind Giancarlo Stanton's and Reed Johnson's strikeout.

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Emotions were running high last night in the game between the Miami Marlins and Milwaukee Brewers. When Giancarlo Stanton was hit in the face by a Mike Fiers pitch, there was bound to be some concern and some caution with regards to any further close pitches. When Reed Johnson, who replaced Stanton, was also hit in the same area, there was bound to be a little bit of anger. Both Fiers and the Marlins' dugout got into it, and the benches quickly cleared, leading to some ejections on the side of the Fish.

Through it all, Marlins TV commentators Rich Waltz and Tommy Hutton had a hard time hiding their emotions as well. Hutton, in particular, was adamant that neither situation was a swing and that, even if it was, the result should not have led to a strikeout, but rather should have been treated as a foul ball.

Unfortunately, the letter of the law, according to MLB's official rules, does not agree.

The Swing

The first part of this was hard to argue against. Rule 2.00 suggests that, even if a hitter is hit by a pitch, if he offers at it, it is still considered a strike.

A STRIKE is a legal pitch when so called by the umpire, which—

(a) Is struck at by the batter and is missed;

(b) Is not struck at, if any part of the ball passes through any part of the strike


(c) Is fouled by the batter when he has less than two strikes;

(d) Is bunted foul;

(e) Touches the batter as he strikes at it;

(f) Touches the batter in flight in the strike zone; or

(g) Becomes a foul tip.

The question is whether either play led to a "strike at" the pitch. In both situations, there is definitely an argument that the batter offers at the pitch. In Stanton's case, he appears to begin a swinging motion as the pitch is delivered.

(I promise that's the only time I'll ever show that video again)

You can see that Stanton picks up his right leg and starts a motion. His left arm, the lead arm, begins moving forward. Very early on, however, he attempts to bail on the motion with a checked swing and an attempt to avoid the pitch, but the pitch catches him and he turns and goes down.

Imagine now that the pitch does not hit Stanton, but he does the same thing. You can see at the end of the play that the bat flies out and into the strike zone. While it may not be in the spirit of the rule that that pitch is called a strike, it is certainly within the letter of the rule. Stanton's bat goes right through the plane of the strike zone and is rightfully considered a strike, no matter how inhumane that call is to an injured player.

Stanton is carted off to be evaluated, and Johnson steps in at the plate. On the very next pitch, Fiers throws another one off the handle that flies towards Johnson's head. In his case, the checked swing appears even more clear.

If you take a look at that video, you can see that Johnson's bat is well through the plane of the strike zone once again. Had that pitch flown past him and to the backstop, it would have been hard to argue against it being called a swinging strike. But instead, it hit his hand. But because it would have been a swing by any definition, it still counts as a swing even if it hits the batter, as per Rule 2.00.

Hutton questioned whether or not such a swing could result in a strikeout. He figured that that kind of swing would be considered more like a foul ball rather than a pure out. But according to Rule 6.05, an out occurs if the ball touches a player on a swing attempt with two strikes.

A batter is out when --
(a) His fair or foul fly ball (other than a foul tip) is legally caught by a fielder;
(b) A third strike is legally caught by the catcher;
(c) A third strike is not caught by the catcher when first base is occupied before two are out;
(d) He bunts foul on third strike;
(e) An Infield Fly is declared;
(f) He attempts to hit a third strike and the ball touches him;
(g) His fair ball touches him before touching a fielder;

The attempt to hit a third strike is considered in the swing. The fact that he began holding up has never stopped checked swings from being considered strikes, and it likewise would not affect this rule. Intent is not judged in these cases, as it is clearly a subjective thing. As per the umpire, Johnson tried to check his swing and failed to do so, moving the bat through the strike zone plane and causing a swing.

The letter of the rule was upheld. Unfortunately, it could be argued that for Miami, the spirit of the rule was missed. After all, a player was seriously injured with a facial trauma from a fastball. While Stanton may have begun swinging at the pitch, much of the rest of the motion was involuntary, the result of a natural inability to control his follow-through after being hit in the face. One of these two pitches could have easily been called a hit-by-pitch, and no one would have questioned it much on either side. The umpires held steadfast to the letter of the rule, which is totally within their discretion. It was just disappointing that this happened twice and that the umpires never gave the Marlins something of a break for the trouble they went through.

It is asking for a lot for umpires to empathize and bend rules, but this situation perhaps warranted more empathy. With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps the benches-clearing situation could have been avoided if one of these two pitches were given a hit-by-pitch rather than called (correctly) a strike,