The question of the checked swing became particularly relevant right around Philip Humber’s perfect game. If you watch the 27th out (around 6:05 in the video), you’ll see Brendan Ryan hold up on a 3-2 pitch that was far enough outside to actually get past catcher A.J. Pierzynski.
Home plate umpire Brian Runge signaled that Ryan had swung, and Pierzynski threw the ball to Paul Konerko to wrap up the perfecto. Of course, the call was not without controversy. Had Ryan really offered at the pitch? Was anyone in that scenario really objective enough to make an impartial decision?
Exacerbating the problem is the fact that MLB on FOX never (to my knowledge) aired a side-view replay of Ryan’s swing, making it hard to tell for sure.
So, what does the rulebook say about a checked swing? As it turns out… nothing. In a recent article for Baseball Prospectus, MLB umpire supervisor Charlie Reliford explains:
We often hear phrases such as, “the batter broke his wrist,” “the bat crossed the plate,” “the bat crossed the foul line,” “the bat crossed the batter’s front leg,” and many others. None of these are definitions or phrases from the rulebook. While any of these acts may constitute a swing on one occasion, it is possible to demonstrate any of these acts in a fashion that would not be ruled a swing.
So all those criteria that broadcasters tend to look for in replays of check-swing situations? None of them are officially-codified rules. A check-swing call ultimately rests entirely on the umpire’s subjective judgment of whether the batter offered at the pitch.
Of course, as we often see on such calls, the catcher (or the manager) can ask the home plate umpire to get help on a check-swing call from the first or third base umpire (Rule 9.02(c) Comment). Such an “appeal” can only come on a called ball – if the pitch is called a strike, the point is moot, and players and managers aren’t allowed to argue ball/strike calls anyway.
So, did Brendan Ryan swing?
Brian Runge said he did. Therefore: yes.
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