Saturday, April 8, 2017

Much About Second Base & Stolen Pickoff Positioning

An umpire's positioning on the bases—especially taking a runner into second for the out/safe swipe tag call on a stolen base attempt—often times helps dictate success in this realm of play calling. In the past, we've spoken extensively about the "keyhole angle" and its importance to play calling success in swipe tag and steal play situations.

"You can't fault the umpire...positioning"
In this analysis, we highlight such positioning by 2B Umpire Mike Muchlinski, who has thus far experienced two replayed stolen base (or pickoff) attempts at second base over the season's opening week, both of which have been overturned via Replay Review.

The fact that both calls were overturned isn't necessarily significant nor startling: calls were affirmed (confirmed and "stands") 48.3% of the time in 2016 (that's 709 upheld of 1468 reviews, for a .483 Review Affirmation Percentage [RAP], the first season with a majority of reviews resulting in an overturned call). As is said in the world of statistics, everything averages out eventually: 0/2 hardly is bad news and more likely than not means that the next few calls will go the umpire's way.

That said, there is more to Muchlinski's two overturned SB calls than simply stats, and it relates, at least in part, to a deviation-from-the-norm Muchlinski has incorporated into his second base umpiring positioning.

Circling back to the keyhole angle, recall the concept of "action area" as discussed on the "Steal Plays at 3rd Base" Tmac's Teachable Moment. Essentially, an umpire reading the play before it happens will project where the imminent action will occur—what side of the base it will occur on—and position adjust accordingly.

Diagram of (simple) runners-on positioning.
For most steals of second base, that action area corresponds to where the throw and runner come from: the inner infield, or the baseline between first and second. Rarely, on stolen base and pickoff plays, will the action area be outside of the infield (e.g., as if being thrown from the outfield).

Umpires may be familiar with "B" and "C" positioning—essentially describing how an umpire lines up on the right field/first base side of second base (Position B) or the left field/third base side of second base (Position C), and what is known as "Deep B" and "Deep C," which are generally the preferred spots from which to take a runner sliding into second base and the swipe tag attempt on a stolen base, so as to maximize exposure to the projected action area.

Without getting too bogged down with positioning minutiae as relates to different runner(s)-on-base scenarios (e.g., with the bases loaded, the second base umpire generally sets up inside the middle infield, but will be outside if the infielders are playing in, etc.), standard positioning for a runner-on-first-only situation holds that the second base umpire is inside at one of the B or C iterations, whichever is most comfortable (again, comfort and repetition are key to getting the play right).

Umpire MM's positioning with one on, R1.
From this position, the second base umpire will have all stolen base attempts into second—from inside—and will not go out on any fly balls (as opposed to, say, no runners on base and the second base umpire starting outside the infield in shallow left or right-center field, when this umpire will go out on any fly balls to center field). The rationale is that inside B or C will place the second umpire in optimal position for seeing swipe tags on stolen base attempts.

As the corresponding photograph indicates, however, 2B Umpire Muchlinski is positioned outside of the middle infield even though both situations were: infield back, runner on first only.

This is not a question, per se, of "is the position right or wrong?" Even though Muchlinski took two stolen base plays from this position, resulting in two overturned calls, it is not necessarily the fact of outside vs. inside that contributed to the resulting .000 RAP.

Where is the keyhole angle on this SB play?
By illustration, let's assume you were right handed your entire life, and only recently discovered some benefit to be derived from writing with your left hand. It would probably take some time getting used to the new technique.

That's likely what we have here: an adjustment period. Anyone—and that includes umpires—will get better with greater comfort and repetition.

After all, as this photograph from Cleveland-Texas indicates, Muchlinski's instinct is still to find the keyhole angle, albeit from the obverse position.

Although the MLB Umpire Manual doesn't advocate the runner-on-first-only, outside-umpire position (hint: inside is king), trying out a new approach—especially early in the season—isn't the end-all-be-all. April is still early enough to adjust to whatever works best.

Video via "Read More":

Friday, April 7, 2017

Force Play Slide Rule Makes First Appearance of 2017

Runner intent is a key component of MLB's bona fide slide interference rule, which made its first appearance of the 2017 season by way of Replay Review during Friday's Dodgers-Rockies game.

The Play: With none out and two on (R1, R2) in the bottom of the 5th inning, Rockies batter DJ LeMahieu hit a 1-0 changeup from Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu on the ground to third baseman Justin Turner, who threw to second baseman Logan Forsythe as Rockies baserunner R1 Charlie Blackmon slid into second base.

U2 Cederstrom observes Blackmon's slide.
After 2B Umpire Gary Cederstrom ruled Blackmon out (and nothing further) on the force play, Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts filed a Manager's Challenge alleging Blackmon's slide violated sophomore slide rule 6.01(j), which states, "If a runner does not engage in a bona fide slide, and initiates (or attempts to make) contact with the fielder for the purpose of breaking up a double play, he should be called for interference under this Rule 6.01."

After observing replays indicating contact between Blackmon's right hand and Forsythe's left foot, Dodgers color commentator Orel Hershiser opined, "That would be slightly ticky-tac."

Analysis: As a matter of bookkeeping, it is important to make the distinction between pre-2016 interference 6.01(a)(5) and aforementioned bona fide slide rule interference 6.01(j). The reason for this technical distinction is that 6.01(a)(5) is not reviewable via Replay Review, while 6.01(j) is subject to video review, though as we'll discuss in a moment, it doesn't much matter.

OBR 6.01(a)(6), by the way, states, "If, in the judgment of the umpire, a base runner willfully and deliberately interferes with a batted ball or a fielder in the act of fielding a batted ball with the obvious intent to break up a double play, the ball is dead. The umpire shall call the runner out for interference and also call out the batter-runner because of the action of his teammate. In no event may bases be run or runs scored because of such action by a runner."

Even though "willful and deliberate" interference [6.01(a)(6)] is not reviewable, that fact is rather superfluous. The standard for declaring an extra out for violation of the bona fide slide rule is less than it is for "willful and deliberate" interference.

As we detailed as part of our introduction to 2016's new bona fide slide FPSR rule, there are four criteria under 6.01(j) which the runner sliding into the base must satisfy in order to be considered legal. As relates to Blackmon's actions, they are:
1) Begins his slide and makes contact with the ground before reaching the base - YES;
2) Is able and attempts to reach the base with his hand or foot - YES;
3) Is able and attempts to remain on the base (except home) after completing the slide - YES; and
4) Slides within reach without changing his path for the purpose of initiating contact with a fielder - ?.

Upon review, this slide was deemed illegal.
And as we wrote back then, "As has been interpretation in years past, the intent of the runner may be cause alone for an interference ruling. For instance, a runner may satisfy the new bona fide slide criteria, but if the umpire rules the runner intentionally attempted to initiate contact with the fielder, then double play interference may be called."

Rule 6.01(j) continues, "A slide shall not be a 'bona fide slide' if a runner engages in a 'roll block,' or intentionally initiates (or attempts to initiate) contact with the fielder by elevating and kicking his leg above the fielder’s knee or throwing his arm or his upper body."

Crew Chief Cederstrom announces the call.
Thus, it is apparent that in electing to overturn Cederstrom's call, the Replay Official deemed that Blackmon's actions constituted "throwing his arm or his upper body" and that Blackmon intentionally initiated contact with Forsythe for the purpose of breaking up a double play, the penalty for which is interference under Rule 6.01.

In accordance with the penalty for interference, Rockies baserunner R2 Kyle Freeland was returned to second base and, with two out, did not score; Dodgers first baseman Scott Van Slyke was credited with the second put-out on batter-runner LeMahieu. In the end, it made little difference, as Colorado won the game, 2-1.

Video available via "Read more"

Thursday, April 6, 2017

MLB Ejection 002 - David Rackley (1; Joc Pederson)

HP Umpire David Rackley ejected Dodgers CF Joc Pederson (strike call/throwing equipment) in the bottom of the 7th inning of the Padres-Dodgers game. With two outs and two on, Pederson took a 1-0 and 1-1 pitches from Padres pitcher Brad Hand for called first and second strikes, before striking out swinging on the ensuing pitch. Replays indicate the called first strike was located over the heart of home plate and thigh high (px -.192, pz 1.760 [sz_bot 1.589]) whereas the penultimate pitch was located over the heart of home plate and knee high (px .728, pz 1.622 [sz_bot 1.589]), the call was correct. At the time of the ejection, the Dodgers were leading, 10-2. The Dodgers ultimately won the contest, 10-2.

This is David Rackley (86)'s first ejection of the 2017 MLB regular season.
David Rackley now has 4 points in the UEFL Standings (0 Previous + 2 MLB + 2 Correct Call = 4).
Crew Chief Larry Vanover now has 2 points in Crew Division (1 Previous + 1 Correct Call = 2).
Prop Bet 8) Second Ejection - Team: Dodgers. Winners: BkSl14812 (5 pts), jvick2017 (5 pts).

This is the second ejection report of 2017.
This is the 1st player ejection of 2017. Prior to ejection, Pederson was 0-3 (2 SO) in the contest.
This is LA's 1st ejection of 2017, 1st in the NL West (LAD 1; ARI, COL, SF, SD 0).
This is Joc Pederson's first ejection since September 18, 2016 (Ryan Blakney; QOC = Y [Balls/Strikes]).
This is David Rackley's first ejection since August 25, 2015 (Pat Murphy; QOC = U [DiMuro]).

Wrap: San Diego Padres vs. Los Angeles Dodgers, 4/6/17 | Video via "Read More"

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

MLB Ejection 001 - Ron Kulpa (1; Don Mattingly)

HP Umpire Ron Kulpa ejected Marlins Manager Don Mattingly (Unsportsmanlike-NEC: arguing ejection non-call) in the top of the 7th inning of the Marlins-Nationals game. With none out and none on, Marlins batter Derek Dietrich took a 0-0 fastball from incoming Nationals pitcher Enny Romero for a hit-by-pitch. Replays indicate the pitch was located 11 inches off the inner edge of home plate and hit Dietrich on the back of the right forearm (px 1.683, pz 3.877 [sz_top 3.371]), the call was irrecusable. At the time of the ejection, the Nationals were leading, 6-2. The Nationals ultimately won the contest, 6-4.

This is Ron Kulpa (46)'s first ejection of the 2017 MLB regular season.
Ron Kulpa now has 2 points in the UEFL Standings (0 Previous + 2 MLB + 0 Irrecusable Call = 2).
Crew Chief Jerry Meals now has 1 point in Crew Division (0 Previous + 1 Irrecusable Call = 1).
Prop Bet 1) First Regular Season Ejection - Umpire: Ron Kulpa. Winner: None.
Prop Bet 2) First Managerial Ejection - Manager: Don Mattingly. Winner: None.
Prop Bet 3) First Regular Season Ejection - Date: April 5, 2017. Winners: BkSl14812, fvb6, Mortonkc, timjdow, Umppat, UmpsRule, wwjd220.

This is the first ejection report of 2017.
This is the 1st Manager ejection of 2017.
This is Miami's 1st ejection of 2017, 1st in the NL East (MIA 1; ATL, NYM, PHI, WAS 0).
This is Don Mattingly's first ejection since August 15, 2016 (Bill Welke; QOC = U-C [Check Swing]).
This is Ron Kulpa's first ejection since May 6, 2016 (David Ortiz; QOC = N [Balls/Strikes]).

Wrap: Miami Marlins vs. Washington Nationals, 4/5/17 | Videos (2x) via "Read More"

UEFL Profile of MLB Umpire Pat Hoberg

Umpire Pat Hoberg
Presenting the UEFL Profile of MLB Umpire Pat Hoberg.
Name: Patrick Hoberg
Date of Birth: September 11, 1986
Place of Birth: Des Moines, Iowa

MiLB Leagues Worked: Arizona, Appalachian, Florida State, Texas, Pacific Coast.
MLB Debut: March 31, 2014 (MLB)
Level: MLB
Umpire Uniform Number: 31
Crew Chief: No

2016 Ejections: 7.
Ejection 173 (LAA M Mike Scioscia; QOC = U).
Ejection 172 (LAA P Brett Oberholtzer; QOC = U).
Ejection 157 (PIT LF Gregory Polanco; QOC = Y).
Ejection 150 (TOR M John Gibbons; QOC = Y).
Ejection 130 (CWS PC Don Cooper; QOC = Y).
Ejection 117 (PHI BC Larry Bowa; QOC = N).
Ejection 102 (LAD M Dave Roberts; QOC = Y).

2015 Ejections: 3.
Ejection 120 (STL M Mike Matheny; QOC = Y).
Ejection 119 (STL C Yadier Molina; QOC = Y).
Ejection 118 (STL P Seth Maness; QOC = Y).

2014 Ejections: 1.
Ejection 063 (TEX SS Elvis Andrus; QOC = N). *First Career MLB Ejection*

Ejection History: 1 (2014), 3 (2015), 7 (2016).

UEFL History: Pat Hoberg

Postseason and Special Events History
World Baseball Classic: -
All-Star Game: -
Wild Card Game: -
Division Series: -
Championship Series: -
World Series: -

UEFL Fill-In Umpire of the Year Award: 2016

Notes: Called Jake Arrieta's August 30, 2015 no-hitter, as a Minor League call-up umpire.
» Graduated from the Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring (JEAPU) in 2009.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Not So Fast - Unique Time Play Plates Indians a Run

Cleveland scored a tying run against Texas on a unique sacrifice fly time play—a double play—in a key Opening Day situation that drew several questions from the Rangers as to its legality.

Short Version: With one out and two on, batter flies out to left field, runner on third legally tags up and scores, after which the runner on second, running on contact, is left in no-man's land and is easily retired at second base for failing to retouch/tag up after the caught fly. Plate umpire scores the run.

This is the correct call because the runner from third base touched home plate before the third out was recorded at second base. Somewhere along the way, folks began perpetuating the myth that tag-up (base retouch) outs were force outs. It is true that no run may be scored on a play during which the third out is a force out, but it is a baseball fallacy to associate tagging up with "force out."

Long Version: To begin, refer to OBR 5.08(a) EXCEPTION, which states, "A run is not scored if the runner advances to home base during a play in which the third out is made (1) by the batter-runner before he touches first base; (2) by any runner being forced out; or (3) by a preceding runner who is declared out because he failed to touch one of the bases."

Diagram of the Time Play. Run has scored.
Easy enough, right? Well, not so fast. With one out and runners at second and third base in the top of the 3rd inning of Monday's Indians-Rangers game, Indians batter Francisco Lindor hit a 0-1 cutter from Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish on a fly ball to left fielder Jurickson Profar, who caught the airborne ball for the inning's second out. While Indians baserunner R3 Abraham Almonte properly tagged up to try and score on the sacrifice fly, baserunner R2 Carlos Santana ran on contact, and was nearly at third base by the time Profar caught the ball. Profar's throw to the infield was cut off by third baseman Joey Gallo, who threw to second baseman Rougned Odor to easily double off Santana as Almonte crossed home plate. As HP Umpire Mike Winters emphatically signaled to the press box to "score the run," Rangers catcher Jonathan Lucroy turned to argue.

It's a time play! In other words, refer to Rule 5.08(a): "One run shall be scored each time a runner legally advances to and touches first, second, third and home base before three men are put out to end the inning." The question is whether R3 Almonte touched home plate before the third out was recorded, did he beat the out? Replays conclusively indicate he did; the timing was right.

HP Umpire Winters: Score The Run!
That's where the exception to the rule, referenced above, comes into play. Was Santana's out a "runner being forced out" or not? The answer to this question—and the language that proves the myth false—lies in the Definition of Terms: "A FORCE PLAY is a play in which a runner legally loses his right to occupy a base by reason of the batter becoming a runner."

Well, with first base unoccupied, the batter becoming a runner would not legally force either Santana nor Almonte to lose their right to occupy their respective bases.

Had first base been occupied, however, refer to (Force Play) Comment: "Confusion regarding this play is removed by remembering that frequently the 'force' situation is removed during the play." Profar's catch of the fly ball—which retired batter Lindor—would mean the definition's "batter becoming a runner" criterion would not apply, and, thus, no runner would be "forced" to run (the force would be removed and no runner would lose the right to occupy a base).

Therefore, with no force play involving Santana, Rule 5.08(a) EXCEPTION did not apply and Almonte, by virtue of touching home plate before the third out was recorded, legally scored Cleveland's first run of the game. Video via "Read More"

Monday, April 3, 2017

In Memorium - Remembering AL Ump Russell Goetz

A black "RG" patch adorned umpire sleeves in memory of former AL Umpire Russell Goetz, who passed away in his hometown of McKeesport, Pennsylvania on March 15, 2017, at the age of 86.

Former AL Umpire Russ Goetz has died. He was 86.
Russell "Russ" Louis Goetz broke into the American League in 1968 after a lengthy minor league career that took the 6'2" US Navy veteran from the Georgia State League, to the Carolina and South Atlanta Leagues before his final stop in the Pacific Coast League, where he officiated from 1962 until his promotion to the American League in 1968.

He officiated 2,384 regular season games at the Major League level, featuring two All-Star Game appearances (1970 & '75), four AL Championship Series (1970, 74, 77, 81), and two World Series (1973, 79).

Goetz's 54 career ejections from Eddie Stanky on April 28, 1968 through Ron Hassey on July 15, 1983, placed him in the "not too often" range amongst umpires with one ejection per 44 games officiated. For comparison's sake, Hall of Fame Cal Hubbard also ejected once per 44 games worked, with Tom Connolly (1 per 38) and Jocko Conlan (1 per 32) close behind. Comparable modern umpires include Ted Barrett (1 per 47) and Mark Carlson (1 per 41).

Goetz, a staunch supporter and user of the outside chest protector, wore AL sleeve number 5, which eventually fell into the care of Dale Scott.

Goetz is a member of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame.
Obituary: Russell L Goetz (May 31, 1930 - March 15, 2017)

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Opening Day 2017 Discussion

We already have a controversial Replay Review decision in the top of the 1st inning of the Yankees-Rays game, so there's plenty to talk about—and we're less than an hour into the 2017 season.

We will have replays and analysis of this and any other close plays that might occur during this first day of the regular season, as well as plate umpire performance, including ball-and-strike accuracy figures.

Discuss these & other Opening Day (Sunday & Monday) topics of interest in this Opening Day Discussion!

- 4/2, NYY@TB: Jerry Layne: pfx (38/45 Called Strikes + 97/100 Balls = 135/145 = 93.1%).
- 4/2, SF@ARI: Greg Gibson: pfx (44/48 Called Strikes + 101/104 Balls = 145/152 = 95.4%).
- 4/2, CHC@STL: TBD: Paul Emmel: pfx (43/50 Strikes + 136/139 Balls = 179/189 = 94.7%).

- 4/3, MIA@WAS: Jerry Meals: pfx (45/48 Strikes + 80/89 Balls = 125/137 = 91.2%).
- 4/3, ATL@NYM: Jeff Kellogg: pfx (43/48 Strikes + 108/115 Balls = 151/163 = 92.6%).
- 4/3, PIT@BOS: Dana DeMuth: pfx (40/42 Strikes + 94/100 Strikes = 134/142 = 94.4%).
- 4/3, COL@MIL: Joe West: pfx (44/48 Strikes + 106/116 Balls = 150/164 = 91.7%).
- 4/3, TOR@BAL: Gary Cederstrom: pfx (56/61 Strikes + 125/132 Balls = 181/193 = 93.8%).
- 4/3, SD@LAD: Larry Vanover: pfx (46/50 Strikes + 89/91 Balls = 135/141 = 95.7%).
- 4/3, PHI@CIN: Tom Hallion: pfx (35/45 Strikes + 109/115 Balls = 144/160 = 90.0%).
- 4/3, DET@CWS: Brian Gorman: POSTPONED.
- 4/3, KC@MIN: Gerry Davis: pfx (40/42 Strikes + 109/114 Balls = 149/156 = 95.5%).
- 4/3, CLE@TEX: Mike Winters: pfx (54/59 Strikes + 113/120 Balls = 167/179 = 93.3%).
- 4/3, SEA@HOU: Jeff Nelson: pfx (40/42 Strikes + 90/92 Balls = 130/134 = 97.0%).
- 4/3, LAA@OAK: Ted Barrett: pfx (46/55 Strikes + 109/111 Balls = 155/166 = 93.4%).

Replay Reviews & Notable Plays (Green = Confirm Y / Yellow = Stands U / Red = Overturn N)
- 4/2, NYY@TB: 1B Umpire Marvin Hudson's out call stands in the top of the 1st inning.
- 4/2, NYY@TB: 1B Umpire Marvin Hudson's safe call stands in the top of the 2nd inning.
- 4/2, SF@ARI: 3B Umpire DJ Reyburn's safe call is overturned and the runner is out in the 6th.
- 4/2, SF@ARI: 1B Umpire Tim Timmons' out call stands on pickoff play in the 7th inning.
- 4/2, CHC@STL: 2B Umpire Quinn Wolcott's out call (non-pulled foot) stands in the 7th.
- 4/3, ATL@NYM: HP Umpire Jeff Kellogg's out call is overturned to allow game's first run in 7th.
- 4/3, COL@MIL: 1B Umpire Hunter Wendelstedt's out call is confirmed for a game-ending double play.
- 4/3, KC@MIN: 1B Umpire Tony Randazzo's out call is overturned for a bunt single in the 7th.
- 4/3, SD@LAD: 3B Umpire David Rackley's fair ball call stands after borderline-legal review.
- 4/3, CLE@TEX: 2B Umpire Marty Foster's out call on SB attempt stands in the 1st inning.
IR Totals: 3 Overturned, 1 Confirmed, 6 Stands = 70.0% Replay Affirmation Percentage (RAP).