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UEFL Appeals Board Decisions: E-103 AFFIRM-BALLS/STRIKES | E-106 ADJ-QOCN


Friday, July 29, 2016

Humility - Hirschbeck Admits Overturning Balk in Error

After chief John Hirschbeck's crew reversed umpire DJ Reyburn's balk call in Miami on Thursday night, the veteran crew chief himself purportedly admitted to a pool reporter that the reversed call was incorrect, according to MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch.

Fernandez starts, then stops, his motion.
With two outs and runners at second and third in the top of the 2nd inning of a scoreless Cardinals-Marlins game, Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez prepared to dish out an intentional walk before stepping off the rubber in an illegal fashion, according to 3B Umpire Reyburn, who called the balk, which was mirrored by HP Umpire Vic Carapazza and 2B Umpire Bill Welke.

Reyburn ruled Fernandez had violated Rule 6.02(a)(1), which states it is a balk when, "The pitcher, while touching his plate, makes any motion naturally associated with his pitch and fails to make such delivery."

Upon consultation amongst the crew, the balk call was incorrectly reversed and crew chief Hirschbeck walked to the visiting dugout to explain the crew's no-balk ruling to Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny.

Mattingly waits in the distance for a decision.
According to Matheny, two umpires on the crew saw Fernandez move his front/left/free foot prior to disengaging the rubber with his back/right/pivot foot, which would signify a balk for having started his natural pitching motion and failed to complete such delivery. Matheny, in postgame comments, said a third umpire saw Fernandez properly disengage the pitcher's plate with his back foot first, which, had this occurred, would have made the play legal. When pressed on the matter, Matheny declined to further implicate Hirschbeck as the overturning umpire.

Red Herring: Marlins 2B Dee Gordon attempting to call "Time" in the background is irrelevant as replays indicate none of the four umpires on the field acknowledged nor granted Gordon's request.

Hirscheck, according to Langosch, took responsibility for the error after the game and stated the balk should have stood, and St. Louis should have scored as a result. No matter, the Redbirds won the contest, 5-4.

Video available via "Read more"

Featured MiLB Ejection - Brawl in Corpus Christi

A first-pitch hit batsman incited a bench-clearing brawl in Texas during the final game of Frisco's visit to Corpus Christi in the Double-A Texas League on Sunday.

Unusual Sight: Police enter the field.
In the bottom of the second inning of the RoughRiders-Hooks game, Hooks leadoff batter Danry Vasquez was hit by the first pitch thrown by RoughRiders starter Yohander Mendez, immediately charging the mound to confront his fellow Venezuelan-born player and inciting a bench-clearing incident that ultimately resulted in the ejection of Vasquez, Mendez, and Hooks right fielder Ramon Laureano after discussion amongst the umpiring crew of HP Umpire Clayton Hamm, 1B Umpire Jon Felczak, and 3B Umpire Reid Gibbs.

While Hooks skipper Rodney Linares condemned the fight ("I don't condone it"), RoughRiders Manager Joe Mikulik simply said, "It was what you saw. It's baseball...That's just the way it is sometimes." In an unusual step for professional baseball, police officers stepped onto the infield during the bench-clearing incident. Police and security, even those units assigned to the field of play, are generally instructed not to become involved in an on-field incident between the teams unless requested by the umpires, or unless a non-affiliated person (e.g., a fan) is involved.

Frisco and Corpus Christi are the Double-A affiliates of the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros.

Wrap: Frisco Rough Riders vs. Corpus Christi Hooks (TL), 7/24/16 | Video available via "Read more"

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Angels Protest Cuzzi RLI No-Call in Kansas City [Denied]

Angels Manager Mike Scioscia filed a protest over a runner's lane interference no-call in Kansas City Wednesday night en route to an Angels loss, meaning the protest will now move on and be considered by Major League Baseball and Joe Torre's office. UPDATE: *MLB subsequently denied the protest*

Phil Cuzzi explains his ruling to Scioscia.
With two out and none on in the bottom of the 7th inning, Royals batter Raul Mondesi bunted the first pitch from Angels starter Matt Shoemaker, who fielded the fair ball and threw to second baseman Johnny Giavotella, covering at first base as Mondesi arrived at the base. Replays indicate that as Mondesi reached out to touch first base with his right leg, Giavotella was unable to field the ball, which Shoemaker had thrown on the other side of Mondesi, resulting in a two-run error.

Scioscia protested HP Umpire Phil Cuzzi's ruling that Mondesi did not interfere and the Angels ultimately lost the contest. Ahead of MLB BOC's decision, let us review the play.

Official Baseball Rule 5.09(a)(11) states that a batter is out for runner's lane interference when—
In running the last half of the distance from home base to first base, while the ball is being fielded to first base, he runs outside (to the right of) the three-foot line, or inside (to the left of) the foul line, and in the umpire’s judgment in so doing interferes with the fielder taking the throw at first base, in which case the ball is dead.
Mondesi beats the throw to first base.
By now, we're well aware that "the lines marking the three-foot lane are a part of that lane," and that a batter-runner may exit the lane "in the immediate vicinity of first base for the sole purpose of touching first base." We're also aware that the issue is not whether the batter-runner interfered with the thrower, but with the receiver.

Interpretations of RLI: If you've followed our extensive series on runner's lane interference (see: Officially Speaking - RLI Part One and Part Deux, as well as 2015's RLI Analysis and 2016's RLI Only Applies to Fielder at First), you'll also be familiar with Jim Evans' interpretation that, "A runner who has advanced the entire distance from home plate to first in fair territory making no effort to run within the lane is not extended the same leniency as the runner who runs in the lane as required and then cuts into fair territory near the base to touch it," and Harry & Hunter Wendelstedt's interpretation that, "The determination is not whether the throw is true, but whether it could still reasonably retire the runner."

Scioscia takes his protest to Paul Nauert.
The Protest: Phil Cuzzi ruled that Mondesi did not violate 5.09(a)(11)—replays indicate Mondesi likely beat the ball to first base to begin with—but Scioscia's protest contends that even if Mondesi would have been safe, his actions were illegal and caused Shoemaker's throw to skip wildly down the right field line and allow two Royal runs to score.

Applying the Rule: The Evans interpretation is straightforward and visual evidence proves Mondesi advanced the entire distance in fair territory and not within his lane. What you'll notice from the Wendelstedt interpretation regarding quality of throw, however, is that the determining factor on whether to call RLI is to consider, "whether [the throw] could still reasonably retire the runner."

If you believe that Mondesi would have been safe at first base in spite of that throw and that Mondesi beat the ball to the planar front edge of first base—essentially the front edge of the bag extended—then, pursuant to Wendelstedt, the throw could not have still reasonably retired the runner (since he beat the throw to begin with), and, with that criterion unsatisfied, RLI cannot apply to the play.

Under this interpretation, Cuzzi's call was correct and the Angels will lose their protest.

Scioscia pleads as Counselor Bellino observes.
On the other hand, as we always play Devil's advocate here, Evans and Wendelstedt are interpretations, but not official MLB documents: their phrases are influential dicta when compared to the authoritarian and binding case play descriptions contained within the Official Baseball Rules and MLB Umpire Manual. In other words, if Evans and Wendelstedt were wholly official documents, this case would be air-tight, but because they are not letter-of-the-law "official," there is room for an internal MLB interpretation that might differ from the Evans/Wendelstedt framework.

Put another way, OBR/MLBUM do not corroborate nor refute Evans/Wendelstedt. Therefore, MLB will have to rule on a rules-grey area over whether Scioscia's argument has merit. For that to happen, it will also rely on Cuzzi to have declared that Mondesi's actions would have constituted interference, but for the fact that he already reached first base prior to the ball. If so, MLB has room to rule either way, although Wendelstedt makes it quite clear that because the throw could not have retired the runner, no-calling RLI probably is a wise decision.

The last Angels protest occurred in 2013 when Fieldin Culbreth's crew allowed Houston to replace an incoming pitcher, who had yet to throw a pitch, while Scioscia filed a previous protest concerning RLI in 2012, claiming that the opposing batter-runner's running outside of the 45-foot lane caused the catcher to throw wildly to first base (the Angels lost that protest, as RLI only applies to the fielder taking the throw).

Replay History - Overturned Calls Outnumber Upheld

For the first time in Replay Review history, overturned calls outnumber upheld decisions, marking the first time in expanded instant replay's MLB history that over 50% of all Replay Review decisions have resulted in a call's reversal.*

For the first time in MLB history, RAP is below 50%.
Why is this? Time for a sabermetric analysis.

When baseball first introduced expanded replay prior to the 2014 season, the MLB Rules Committee noted that the new Replay Review system's purpose was to adjudicate the game-changing play and to correct the "obvious miss," noting that Replay Review was never designed to be used for the "bang-bang play." From the very beginning, Replay Affirmation Percentage (RAP) was designed to be a low number.

Ahead of the 2015 season, I wrote, "The sure thing of overturning an 'obvious miss' turned into somewhat of a coin flip because teams simply didn’t use the new technology correctly, perhaps because video coordinators, bench coaches and/or managers—notably those in Toronto, Tampa Bay, and the other 'lower half' teams [TOR & TB had low rates of success in challenging calls]—didn’t know what to look for, didn’t know the rules, or simply were unable to think like an umpire."

Upon further consideration, I will add another confounding variable: the "greed" factor, or desire to overturn a 50-50 call in order to secure an advantageous outcome. We've seen that a lot over the past few years, as evidenced by the 27.9% of calls in 2014 that resulted in "stands" outcomes, which is the literal definition and manifestation of the 50-50 play.

Are John Gibbons' Jays being 'greedy'?
On a more overtly "greedy" note, nearly one-fourth of all calls under Replay Review were confirmed in 2014 and, putting everything together, that is the biggest reason why we never before have been in the situation of having over 50% of reviewed calls be reversed: because teams knew not what to look for, lack of rules knowledge, incapability of umpire empathy, and/or the "greed" factor and "what if"-itis in which teams play faulty logic roulette in catastrophizing, "what if this ends up being a game-changing play?"

2014 ended with 47% of all Replay Reviews resulting in an overturned call, while approximately 49% of Replay Reviews resulted in a reversal in 2015. The 2016 figure presently is just north of 50%.

So when tmac sent me an e-mail regarding this RAP revelation and 50%+ overturn mark, I went to work and dove into Replay Review history. It is a short history, but its lessons are nonetheless notable.

Teams and umpires are getting better in replay.
As teams and umpires better learn how to use the system as intended, cumulative RAP is on its way down—slowly and tentatively, but nonetheless statistically significant. We're on pace for approximately 1,500 replays by the end of the 2016 regular season. Given that we had only 1,335 Replay Reviews in 2015 and 1,274 replays in 2014, it is apparent that the trend of subjecting more and more calls to video scrutiny is continuing, and teams are becoming better at choosing the right calls to review while forgoing a challenge of something I'll call "the obvious get," which as you might have surmised is the exact opposite of what MLB calls "the obvious miss."

Umpires are discussing calls more often.
Umpires, too, have become slightly more selective about reviewing calls and aren't sending "the obvious get" to New York as often as they had in 2014 and 2015 (statistics show that Crew Chief reviews, as a proportion of overall reviews, are slightly down in 2016). Similarly, a greater percentage of calls the umpires themselves initiate reviews for are being overturned, compared to the past two seasons. Note that this data has been normalized to account for the old Rule 7.13 HP collision replay procedure—initiated by the Crew Chief in 2014, but switched to a Manager's Challenge in 2015.

On a similar note, we also saw Replay Review overturn bona fide slide calls with more gusto at the start of 2016 than it had with home plate collision calls in 2014 and 2015.

Some calls, like this passing play, are missed.
So, the question on everyone's mind must be, "are umpires missing more calls these days?" And the answer is, as the aforementioned analysis indicates, more complicated than a simple "yes" or "no." By the strict definition of the word "more," an appropriate response would point out that while more calls are being overturned by replay this season, there will, all else equal, be more than 150 reviews by season's end than in 2015, and 275 more reviews than in 2014. In conclusion, the big takeaway is not so much that umpires are getting or missing more calls (though we have seen umpires derelict in their duties and replay used to correct these errors, but this isn't to imply a causal relationship), but that both teams and umpires are becoming more adept at the intended purpose of the Replay Review system.

Remember, RAP is designed to be a low number and its objective is to correct "the obvious miss" and to review the "game-changing play."

We break the story here because I predict that if this news item is reported in the traditional media, the lede will suggest something to the effect, "Replay shows umpires are the worst they've ever been." It is an irresponsible headline with no objective analysis just as "Umpires are better than ever" is an irresponsible conclusion. Without analysis, both are meaningless.

That is, unless you are able to reach in and pull out your QuesTec, Pitch f/x, and Zone Evaluation data that shows the average umpire's strike zone has steadily improved ever since the mid-2000s.

*Note regarding methodology: Through games played on 7/26/16, there were 926 total Replay Review decisions, with 462 upheld (Confirmed or Stands) and 464 reversed (Overturned) calls, meaning that the percentage of overall calls upheld by Replay Review dropped below 50% for the first time in MLB history. However, the minimum sample size for total Replay Review decisions used to compute this figure was 10 (e.g., this does not include the first few days of a young season in which, say, three calls were overturned and only two were upheld on Opening Day).

MLB Ejection 117 - Pat Hoberg (2; Larry Bowa)

HP Umpire Pat Hoberg ejected Phillies Bench Coach Larry Bowa for arguing a strike three call in the top of the 4th inning of the Phillies-Marlins game. With none out and none on, Phillies batter Cameron Rupp took a 2-2 fastball from Marlins pitcher Adam Conley for a called third strike. Replays indicate the pitch was located over the outer half of home plate and above the midpoint (px -.646, pz 3.526 [sz_top 3.390 / MOE 3.473]), the call was incorrect. At the time of the ejection, the Marlins were leading, 3-0. The Marlins ultimately won the contest, 11-1.

This is Pat Hoberg (31)'s second ejection of the 2016 MLB regular season.
Pat Hoberg now has 6 points in the UEFL Standings (8 Prev + 3 AAA - 1 Penalty - 4 Incorrect = 6).
Crew Chief Jerry Meals now has -8 points in Crew Division (-8 Previous + 0 Incorrect Call = -8).

This is the 117th ejection report of the 2016 regular season.
This is Philadelphia's 1st ejection of 2016, 5th in the NL East (ATL 7; NYM 4; MIA, WAS 3; PHI 1).
This is Larry Bowa's first ejection since August 25, 2015 (Dan Bellino; QOC = U [USC-NEC]).
This is Pat Hoberg's first ejection since July 6, 2016 (Dave Roberts; QOC = Y [Balls/Strikes]).

Wrap: Philadelphia Phillies vs. Miami Marlins, 7/27/16 | Video available via "Read more"

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

MLB Ejection 116 - Joe West (3; Angel Pagan)

HP Umpire Joe West ejected Giants LF Angel Pagan for arguing a strike three call in the bottom of the 8th inning of the Reds-Giants game. With none out and none on, Pagan took a 2-2 fastball from Reds pitcher Ross Ohlendorf for a called third strike. Replays indicate the pitch was located off the outer edge of home plate and belt high (px -1.111, pz 2.007), the call was incorrect. At the time of the ejection, the Giants were leading, 9-6. The Giants ultimately won the contest, 9-7.

This is Joe West (22)'s third ejection of the 2016 MLB regular season.
Joe West now has 6 points in the UEFL Standings (8 Prev + 2 MLB - 4 Incorrect Call = 6).
Crew Chief Joe West now has 15 points in Crew Division (15 Previous + 0 Incorrect Call = 15).

This is the 116th ejection report of the 2016 regular season.
This is the 55th player ejection of 2016. Prior to ejection, Pagan was 0-4 (2 SO) in the contest.
This is San Francisco's 4th ejection of 2016, T-1st in the NL West (ARI, LAD, SF 4; COL, SD 3).
This is Angel Pagan's first ejection since June 16, 2015 (John Hirschbeck; QOC = N [Balls/Strikes]).
This is Joe West's first ejection since May 22, 2016 (John Gibbons; QOC = U-C [Warnings]).

Wrap: Cincinnati Reds vs. San Francisco Giants, 7/26/16 | Video available via "Read more"

Injuries and Rehab Roundup - MLB Umps in the Minors

Extended injuries to MLB umpires and similarly significant periods of absence also necessitate a gradual return to baseball's highest level. In other words, umpires returning from significant time off don't simply jump onto the big league stage whereas umpires who are out for a shorter amount of time are generally able to return directly to MLB, depending on the nature of their absence (e.g., muscle tear vs. foul ball injury, etc.).

We're down on the farm, scouting the Triple-A box scores and scanning for those familiar MLB names, featuring umpires who haven't worked The Show for some amount of time.
After his AAA rehab, Hoye returned to MLB.

Active Injury: Dale Scott (MLB #5)
Last MLB Game: July 16, 2016 (Arizona [Phoenix]) — 9 days.
Last Seen: [July 16] - Concussion.

Active Injury: Bruce Dreckman (MLB #1)
Last MLB Game: October 4, 2015 (Tampa Bay) — 296 days.
Last Seen: Unknown.


Previous Injuries (Umpires Already Back to MLB Service)
James Hoye officiated a weekend series in Triple-A Sacramento July 22-24 and returned to MLB in Los Angeles on July 26. Hoye's last big league game had been June 7, also in LA (49 day absence).

Brian O'Nora called a rehab assignment in Triple-A Charlotte (July 6 & 10 plates) before surfacing in Seattle shortly thereafter. O'Nora's last game in the bigs had been April 16, Minnesota (4/16 to 7/15 = 90 days).

Jerry Layne sat out the June 28-July 14 period (16 days) following a foul ball injury. No AAA.

Paul Emmel was sidelined June 24-July 7 (12 days) after being hit on the head by a flying bat. No AAA.

Edited to reflect Hoye's return to Jim Joyce's crew for Rays-Dodgers, 7/26/16.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Case Play 2016-7 - When a Ball hits a Broken Bat [Solved]

A batted ball hit a broken bat in fair territory at Yankee Stadium during New York's game-winning play Monday night, resulting in Baltimore's final out and a 2-1 victory for the Bronx Bombers.

A batted ball hits a broken bat in fair territory.
Play: With two out and a runner on first, Orioles batter Ryan Flaherty hit a 105 mph fastball from Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman with such force that Flaherty's bat broke and launched, alongside the baseball, onto the infield. Replays indicate the batted ball actually ended up hitting the detached barrel of the broken bat as Orioles baserunner R1 Noland Reimold avoided the pair of projectiles, 2B Umpire Brian Knight confirming the legality of Reimold's successful evasion. Yankees second baseman Starlin Castro ultimately scooped up the deflected grounder and threw to first baseman Rob Refsnyder ahead of B1 Flaherty's arrival.

Case Play Question: Is this the proper result (B1 out on the 4-3 putout) or is there an alternative ruling? If this is not interference or some similar infraction, under what circumstances—regarding the bat and/or regarding the baserunner—would this be subject to interference? Had there been only one out, under what circumstances could this play have ended the game (e.g., a double play)?

Case Play Solution: This is the proper result, as a ball hitting a broken bat in fair territory is live and in play. By contrast, a broken bat contacting a batted ball in foul territory results in a foul ball. The relevant rule is OBR 5.09(a)(8) Comment:
Rule 5.09(a)(8) Comment (Rule 6.05(h) Comment): If a bat breaks and part of it is in fair territory and is hit by a batted ball or part of it hits a runner or fielder, play shall continue and no interference called. If a batted ball hits part of a broken bat in foul territory, it is a foul ball.
This would be interference if Flaherty had thrown his whole (e.g., not broken) bat into fair territory and interfered with a defensive player attempting to make a play, and similarly interference if the runner touched the batted ball or hindered the fielder's play on the batted ball—either before or after the ball deflected off the broken bat. The runner's interference would have ended the game via a double play if the interference was willful and intentional.

Video: Odd sequence in New York closes out the Orioles-Yankees game ("Read more")

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Hit in Elbow Fri, Jordan Baker Denies Lean-In HBP Sat

Umpire Jordan Baker called Josh Donaldson back to bat on a HBP-that-wasn't when Donaldson appeared to place his left ("front") elbow into the path of a pitched baseball during the Mariners-Blue Jays game.

Baker calls Donaldson back to the plate.
On the very first pitch to lead off the bottom of the third inning, Mariners pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma threw inside to Blue Jays batter Josh Donaldson, who appeared to place his left arm in the path of the pitched ball, resulting in the ball hitting Donaldson's elbow. For Donaldson, it was a convenient pitch—a benign 70 mph curveball that strayed from its intended spot—and replays indicate he made little attempt to avoid the ball and a similarly negligible attempt to actually hit the pitch.

Although a non-swinging batter is usually awarded first base when he is hit by a pitched ball, this was not the case Saturday as HP Umpire Baker invoked Official Baseball Rule 5.05(b)(2)(B), which is a subsection of the rule awarding the batter first base in the event of a hit-by-pitch:
The batter becomes a runner and is entitled to first base without liability to be put out (provided he advances to and touches first base) when: (2) He is touched by a pitched ball which he is not attempting to hit unless (A) The ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, or (B) The batter makes no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball.
With Donaldson clearly making no attempt to avoid the ball, Baker properly enforced OBR 5.05(b)(2)(B) and ordered Donaldson back to the plate to continue his at bat with the count 1-0 ("If the ball is outside the strike zone when it touches the batter, it shall be called a ball if he makes no attempt to avoid being touched"). Replays indicate the pitch had a horizontal px value of -1.179, meaning it was clearly off the plate and out of the zone, but had it been in the zone, Donaldson would have been charged a strike. To be clear, Donaldson's infraction was not that he leaned into the pitch, but that he made no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball.

Baker perhaps was unamused by Donaldson's act after Baker himself was drilled in the left arm by a foul ball during Friday night's contest. That line drive off the bat of Nelson Cruz left an imprint of the baseball's stitch marks on Baker's arm, which was wrapped prior to Saturday's game. It was Baker's second time being struck by a foul ball this season, as he was hit in the hip at third base by another line drive in April.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

MLB Ejection 115 - Mike Winters (2; AJ Pierzynski)

HP Umpire Mike Winters ejected Braves C AJ Pierzynski for arguing an obstruction call by 2B Umpire Mark Wegner & 3B Umpire Mike Muchlinski in the bottom of the 8th inning of the Braves-Rockies game. With one out and two on (R2, R3), Rockies batter Nick Hundley hit a 1-1 slider from Braves pitcher Mauricio Cabrera on the ground to left fielder Jace Peterson, who threw to catcher Pierzynski as Rockies baserunner R2 Daniel Descalso attempted to score. Replays indicate Pierzynski tagged Descalso prior to Descalso's touch of home plate, but also indicate that Braves shortstop Erick Aybar obstructed Descalso's progress in running the bases between second and third base and that, if not for the obstruction, Descalso would have scored, the call was correct.* At the time of the ejection, the Rockies were leading, 6-1. The Rockies ultimately won the contest, 7-3.

This is Mike Winters (33)'s second ejection of the 2016 MLB regular season.
Mike Winters now has 10 points in the UEFL Standings (7 Prev + 2 MLB + 1 Correct-Crewmate = 10).
Crew Chief Mike Winters now has 6 points in Crew Division (5 Previous + 1 Correct Call = 6).
*The Definition of Terms states, "OBSTRUCTION is the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner."
*OBR Rule 6.01(h)(2) states, "If no play is being made on the obstructed runner, the play shall proceed until no further action is possible. The umpire shall then call “Time” and impose such penalties, if any, as in his judgment will nullify the act of obstruction."

This is the 115th ejection report of the 2016 regular season.
This is the 54th player ejection of 2016. Prior to ejection, Pierzynski was 1-3 in the contest.
This is Atlanta's 7th ejection of 2016, 1st in the NL East (ATL 7; NYM 4; MIA, WAS 3; PHI 0).
This is AJ Pierzynski's 2nd ejection of 2016, 1st since May 6 (Cory Blaser; QOC = N [Balls/Strikes]).
This is Mike Winters' 1st ejection since May 16, 2016 (John Gibbons; QOC = Y [Balls/Strikes]).

Wrap: Atlanta Braves vs. Colorado Rockies, 7/21/16 | Video available via "Read more"