Sunday, October 20, 2019

Eric Cooper Dies at 52 Following Blood Clot

Less than two weeks removed from his 2019 AL Division Series assignment, MLB umpire Eric Cooper has died after a post-surgery blood clot, six years after Wally Bell’s heart attack during the 2013 postseason. Coop, who officiated the 2019 Twins-Yankees ALDS, was 52 years old.

Born on December 18, 1966 in Des Moines, Iowa, Cooper began his journey in Minor League Baseball in 1990's Appalachian League and officiated his first major league game in 1996, becoming a member of the big league staff on the American League side in 1999.

Cooper had the plate for three no-hitters during his MLB career, and officiated three Wild Card Games (2015-17) 10 Division Series (2003, 05-06, 08-09, 11-14, 2019), three League Championship Series (2004, 15-17), and the 2014 World Series.

He had 72 career MLB ejections over nearly 2,800 career regular season games. His last MLB game was in service as the second base umpire for New York's series-clinching victory in Minnesota on October 7; his crew chief for that series, Gary Cederstrom, will also chief the 2019 World Series.

Cooper often served his community through UMPS CARE Charities; here's Cooper speaking about his experience visiting a St. Louis-area hospital as part of UmpsCare in 2012.

For many, this will bring back memories of umpire Wally Bell's death during the 2013 postseason. Like Cooper, Bell had just officiated a Division Series nary two weeks prior to his own fatal heart attack.
Related PostMLB Umpire Wally Bell Dead at 48 (10/14/13).

The UEFL Appeals Board has awarded Cooper a posthumous 2019 World Series assignment.

John Bacon Ejects Derek Hill Over AFL Auto-Strike

Another week produced another ejection in the Arizona Fall League, as HP Umpire John Bacon ejected Tigers prospect Derek Hill for arguing an automatic strike during Saturday, October 19's Javelinas vs. Solar Sox game in Mesa.

Hill fell victim to the auto-K to lead off his at-bat in the bottom of the 8th inning of the contest, as Bacon enforced the AFL's pitch clock rule that has been in place since the 2014 AFL season, and, in its current form, specifies that the penalty for a batter who fails to be in the batter's box and alert to the pitcher with seven seconds (or less) remaining on the timer shall be penalized with an automatic strike.

Bacon ejected Hill following a post-at-bat argument, which had ended in a swinging strikeout. The crew assigned to Peoria-Mesa on Saturday was quite the experienced group of AFL umpires: HP Umpire Bacon (MLB fill-in #70), 1B Umpire Jose Navas (ejected Jacon Heyward for arguing a computer strike call last Wednesday), 2B Umpire Jansen Visconti (MLB fill-in #52), and 3B Umpire Brennan Miller (MLB fill-in #55).
Related PostComputer Strike Call Prompts Navas' AFL Ejection (10/16/19).

Summary of Penalties for Pitch Clock Violations:
Batter not in box & ready at 7-seconds: Auto-Strike.
Pitcher not in motion at 0-seconds: Auto-Ball.

We previously analyzed baseball's Pace-of-Play automatic strike in 2018. See the following article for a video example of an umpire enforcing the pitch clock rule with an automatic strike in Minor League Baseball during the 2018 season.
Related PostPitch Clock? Anatomy of a Pace-of-Play Auto-Strike (8/27/18).

The AFL's present pitch clock rule most nearly resembles MiLB's pace of play initiatives as introduced prior to the 2018 season. Pitch clocks debuted for the first time at the MLB level during 2019's Spring Training.
Related PostMinor League Baseball Issues 2018 Pace of Play Rules (3/14/18).
Related PostManfred: Pitch Clock WILL Debut at Spring Training (2/18/19).

Clock-averse Official Baseball Rule 5.04(b)(1) states, "The batter shall take his position in the batter’s box promptly when it is his time at bat," while Rule 5.04(b)(4)(A)'s penalty states, "In National Association [e.g., Minor League Baseball] play, for a batter’s second or subsequent violations of this Rule in a game, the umpire shall award a strike without the pitcher having to deliver the pitch. The ball is dead, and no runners may advance."

The pitch clock rule prescribes a strict interpretation as to OBR 5.04(b) violations.

Wrap: Peoria Javelinas vs. Mesa Solar Sox, 10/19/19 | Video unavailable.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Discussion of 2019 League Championship Series

Join Close Call Sports for a live blog and discussion of the 2019 American and National League Championship Series.

Bill Miller (NLCS) and Jeff Nelson (ALCS) are the crew chiefs and lead seven-person umpire crews—one of the umpires serves as Replay Official for Games 1-2 and then swaps with another umpire on the crew, who works at Replay HQ for the remainder of the respective series.

Home plate umpire performance is listed following the completion of each contest according to UEFL f/x (Statcast pitch data and application of UEFL Rules 6-2-b-a [horizontal bound, "Kulpa Rule"] and 6-2-b-b [vertical strike zone, "Miller Rule"]). Fouls, swinging strikes, balls batted into play, and hit-by-pitches are excluded from the analysis.

See the entire crew via the following link.
Related2019 Wild Card & Division Series Umpires (10/11/19).

- 10/11 WAS@STL 1: Mike Muchlinski: 95/96 Balls + 45/50 Strikes = 140/146 = 95.9%. +0 Nu.
- 10/12 WAS@STL 2: Chris Conroy: 75/77 Balls + 52/55 Strikes = 127/132 = 96.2%. +1 STL.
- 10/12 NYY@HOU 1: Bill Welke: 92/95 Balls + 45/46 Strikes = 137/141 = 97.2%. +2 NYY.
- 10/13 NYY@HOU 2: Cory Blaser: 120/120 Balls + 58/60 Strikes = 178/180 = 98.9%. +0 Nu.
- 10/14 STL@WAS 3: Bill Miller: 103/105 Balls + 68/73 Strikes = 171/178 = 96.1%. +3 STL.
- 10/15 HOU@NYY 3: Jeff Nelson: 59/61 Balls + 28/28 Strikes = 87/89 = 97.8%. +0 Nu.
- 10/15 HOU@NYY 3: Kerwin Danley: 54/54 Balls + 16/20 Strikes = 70/74 = 94.6%. +2 HOU.
- 10/15 HOU@NYY 3: Combined: 113/115 Balls + 44/48 Strikes = 157/163 = 96.3%. +2 HOU.
- 10/15 STL@WAS 4: Phil Cuzzi: 87/87 Balls + 38/41 Strikes = 125/128 = 97.7%. +1 STL.
Series Complete (WAS Def STL 4-0): 563/584 = 96.4%. +5 STL.
- 10/16 HOU@NYY 4: Dan Bellino: 127/132 Balls + 57/63 Strikes = 184/195 = 94.4%. +5 NYY.
- 10/18 HOU@NYY 5: Mark Carlson: 77/81 Balls + 39/41 Strikes = 116/122 = 95.1%. +2 NYY.
- 10/19 NYY@HOU 6: Marvin Hudson: 121/123 Balls + 44/51 Strikes = 165/174 = 94.8%. +3 HOU.
Series Complete (HOU Def NYY 4-2): 937/975 = 96.1%. +4 NYY.

Note: The highest plate score during the 2018 LCS was Joe West's 99.4% (ALCS Gm 3).
The highest overall plate score during the 2018 Postseason was Joe West's 99.4% (ALCS Gm 3).

Live Blog: Join the CCS Crew LIVE for postseason discussion and analysis (requires Java):

Friday, October 18, 2019

FoxTrax (PitchCast) Strike Zone Box Fails in ALCS

FoxTrax, the graphic strike zone overlay fed by MLB's PitchCast application, failed in Game 3 of the ALCS, with the infamous box disappearing from atop home plate in the bottom of the 1st inning, and remaining down for nearly six innings—an umpire injury and substitution delay and lengthy second inning all transpired during the period in which Fox Trax went missing.

This isn't the first time FoxTrax or one of its electronic strike zone overlay counterparts (e.g., ESPN K-Zone, etc.) has failed during gameplay, but the downtime hasn't usually constituted a majority of the ballgame.

The most recent graphics malfunction occurred during Game 4 of this postseason's ALDS in Tampa Bay, in which James Hoye scored a 99.3% plate performance. In this case, the box that went down in the second inning of Astros-Rays was restored less than an inning later.
Related PostJames Hoye Calls Within a Pitch of Perfection in ALDS (10/9/19).

We've also documented the history of PitchCast's tendency to display inaccurate vertical strike zone graphics, especially in real-time and a complete history of our coverage on the electronic balls/strikes concept (including the Automated Ball/Strike System tests in the Atlantic and Arizona Fall Leagues which spurred several 'robot umpire' ejections) may be found under our "Computer Strike Zone" label.
Related PostPostgame Processing Changes Gibson's Strike EJ QOC (9/21/19).

Video as follows:

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Mike Everitt Replaces Jeff Nelson as ALCS Crew Chief

Mike Everitt will replace Jeff Nelson as Crew Chief of the 2019 American League Championship Series. MLB announced that Everitt, who served as HP Umpire during the NL Wild Card Game, will join the Yankees-Astros ALCS crew in New York, which keeps alive Baseball's postseason goal of having a different umpire officiate the plate for each game of the best-of-seven League Championship Series.

Everitt is a regular season crew chief who may well have been on track to work the ALCS this postseason, if not for a possible injury sustained during the NL Wild Card Game in Washington when he was hit in the head by a ball. We previously discussed the possibility that Everitt was originally slated to be on this ALCS crew, but removed as a result of the head hit in the NLWC, which left the crew without a second crew chief, as is customary during the League Championship and World Series.
Related PostPostseason Injury - Jeff Nelson and the 5-Umpire Crew (10/16/19).

Kerwin Danley had a plate after Nelson's exit.
Everitt has a history of head injuries as the result of foul and pitched balls, and there's a chance he was left off the ALCS roster as a precaution. If Everitt entered the injured list as a result of this game, he would have been ineligible to work for a minimum of seven days after the Wild Card Game on October 1.

The ALCS began October 12, but crews were informed of their selection to the LCS round of the postseason following the Wild Card stage, which is when the terms of the injured list would have applied.

With Nelson injured, this signifies two things. First, Everitt is healthy enough to work, which alone is a good sign, and second, Everitt now will receive credit in the UEFL Standings and records as having officiated the 2019 ALCS (add four points to Everitt's ledger, as he was named to the ALCS [+3], as a postseason crew chief [+1]). Specific ALCS crew assignments for Games 4-7 will be announced when available.

Video of Nelson's injury as follows:

Computer Strike Call Prompts Navas' AFL Ejection

A strike three call by the Automated Ball/Strike System produced an Arizona Fall League ejection as HP Umpire Jose Navas ejected Giants prospect Jacob Heyward after a computer-generated strikeout at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick and subsequent protest from the struck-out batter.

With one out and one on (R2) for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the top of the 4th inning of the Scorpions-River Rafters game, Scorpions batter Heyward took a 1-2 curveball from River Rafters pitcher Dakota Chalmers for a called third strike care of the AFL's electronic ABS system.

In September, River Rafters batsman Geraldo Perdomo argued a strike three call by ABS as conveyed by HP Umpire Eric Bacchus, though that did not result in an ejection. The Atlantic League's TrackMan ABS experiment, on the other hand, did produce a few ejections.
Related PostArizona Fall Testing Automated Ball/Strike System (9/27/19).

Replays indicate the 1-2 pitch to Heyward was located around the outer edge of home plate and around the batter's hollow-beneath-the-kneecap (data not provided) before quickly dropping into the catcher's mitt atop the dirt, the call was irrecusable (though certainly unexpected, as indicated by the catcher who double-clutched his throw back to the mound upon Navas' delayed strike three mechanic). At the time of the ejection, the Scorpions were leading, 2-0. The Scorpions ultimately won the contest, 2-1.

Wrap: Scottsdale Scorpions vs Salt River Rafters (AFL), 10/15/19 | Video as follows:

Postseason Injury - Jeff Nelson and the 5-Umpire Crew

When crew chief Jeff Nelson left Game 3 of the 2019 Astros-Yankees American League Championship Series, 2B Umpire Kerwin Danley took over at home plate with other umpires sliding over, leaving left field vacant. In 2008, a foul ball injury forced Derryl Cousins out of the ALCS in Tampa Bay, similarly leaving a five-person crew.

Injury Scout: With two out and none on in the top of the 4th inning of ALCS Game 3, Astros batter Martin Maldonado fouled a 97.5-mph 3-2 fastball from Yankees pitcher Luis Severino directly off the facemask. Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez gave Nelson time by going to the mound as the training staff attended to him and 2B Umpire Danley came down the line to check on his crewmate.

After the 4th inning, Nelson exited the game due to the head injury and potential concussion and Danley moved from second to behind the plate with other umpires sliding over to fill in the infield gap—leaving a hole in left field—and 1B Dan Bellino remaining at first, Mark Carlson moving from third to 2B, Marvin Hudson moving from left field to 3B, and Cory Blaser remaining in right field, thus leaving left field uncovered.

Umpire movement after Nelly's departure.
Precedent: This isn't the first time an umpire has had to depart a postseason game, leaving his crew shorthanded.* in 2008, Derryl Cousins left Game 6 of the ALCS in Tampa Bay due to injury. 1B Umpire Tim McClelland (set to work Game 7) took over behind the plate, with Sam Holbrook moving from second base to 1B, Brian O'Nora moving from third to 2B, Brian Gorman moving from left field to 3B, and Alfonso Marquez remaining in right field.

Accordingly, leaving left field vacant and sliding each umpire up a slot (other than RF) keeps with precedent, except that MLB in Game 6 of the 2008 ALCS preferred regular season crew chief McClelland behind the plate to then-non-cc Holbrook.

It's not unusual to vacate the left field line.
*Or Not. Perhaps instead of considering a five-umpire crew to be shorthanded, it may be better to view it from the perspective of what other sports do in the postseason: MLB puts its umpires on a constant power play throughout the playoffs while the other sports keep their officials behind the scenes.

In NBA, NFL, and NHL postseasons, the league assigns what is known as a standby official or officials. For instance, hockey assigns both a standby referee and a standby linesman to its Stanley Cup crew of four on-ice officials.

Wes left the Western Conference Finals' Gm 6.
Accordingly, if either of the two referees becomes injured—as occurred with referee Wes McCauley during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs—the standby referee takes his place on the ice, and a similar procedure occurs for a hurt linesman.

The reason not all six officials are on the ice at the same time is rather simple...where would hockey reasonably put a fifth and sixth official where they wouldn't be in the way or otherwise complicate matters?

MLB's LF and RF Umpires are Quasi-Standby Officials: In baseball—barring an infield fly rule situation in left field—adding standby officials as line umpires with play calling responsibilities doesn't complicate logistics as it would in other sports, and allows the league the opportunity to add two additional plate umpires to the series (whereas the other sports substitute entire crews between playoff games). Combined with a Replay Official who rotates onto the field, this means that a seven-game MLB championship series with no injuries will never have an umpire work the plate twice.

McClelland and Cousins in Game 6 of '08.
Game 7's alignment in 2008 was as follows: HP Umpire Gorman, 1B Holbrook, 2B O'Nora, 3B McClelland, LF Marquez, and RF Umpire Angel Hernandez, who was brought in just for Game 7 to work in place of injured regular season crew chief Cousins, thus affording MLB the opportunity to hand-pick a Game 7 plate umpire (other than McClelland). McClelland was the 2018 ALCS crew chief, and served as such for Game 7 from his position at third base, which is a standard day-after-plate rotation during the regular season.

MLB Unprepared? Major League Baseball has a long history of assigning two regular season crew chiefs to the League Championship Series and World Series rounds of the postseason—the idea is that if the umpire designated as postseason crew chief exits the game due to injury, the second regular season on the crew simply takes over as acting postseason crew chief for the remainder of the game or series.

Although it initially appeared 1B Bellino ran off the field to change into plate gear as FS1 went to commercial break, it was actually 2B Umpire Danley who later emerged in full plate uniform under the watchful eye of an MLB official who appeared to be Peter Woodfork, the league's Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations.

Imagine instead of Game 5, an umpire is suddenly thrust into plate work in Game 3, after expecting that Game 4's umpire would be the backup in case of injury.

The plate scores for Nelson (innings 1-4), Danley (innings 5-9), and combined (1-9) were:
Nelson: 59/61 Balls + 28/28 Strikes = 87/89 = 97.8%. +0 Neutral.
Danley: 54/54 Balls + 16/20 Strikes = 70/74 = 94.6%. +2 Houston.
Total: 113/115 Balls + 44/48 Strikes = 157/163 = 96.3%. +2 Houston.

MLB failed to assign a 2nd ALCS crew chief.
MLB had a chance to assign a regular season crew chief, such as Joe West, to replace the previously-injured Mike Everitt (injured during the Wild Card Game) to the 2019 ALCS, but for whatever reason neglected to make the assignment. As originally configured, 2019's is the first October since the players' strike prematurely ended the 1994 baseball season that West and/or Gerry Davis will not appear in the postseason—that's a 25-year streak snapped.

Now that the chickens have come home to roost, the ALCS as configured in Games 1-3 was left without a bona fide crew chief when Nelson stepped off the field.

We'll See: If ESPN's report that Nelson is concussed is accurate, that means an automatic stint on the week-long concussion list, which would disqualify Nelson from further service in the ALCS. If he cannot continue, what transaction will occur ahead of Game 4? Will Bill Welke (not a crew chief) come out of Replay Review and go back onto the field or will another umpire get assigned to the postseason? Or will MLB bite the bullet and finally assign a second crew chief to the ALCS, seeing as this crew now needs a bona fide chief?

Video as follows:

Monday, October 14, 2019

Cory Blaser's Calls to Gary Sanchez Shadow Solid Night

HP Umpire Cory Blaser's 99.4% night during Game 2 of the Yankees-Astros ALCS fell prey to an 11th inning Gary Sanchez at-bat when Blaser made a grave error in changing a swinging, uncaught strike three call to that of foul ball, followed by a strikeout on a pitch located off the plate, lowering his plate score to 98.9% and subjecting the first-time League Championship Series umpire to a case of recency bias.

Blaser was all set to surpass Joe West for the highest plate score in UEFL f/x history—he had missed just one pitch through 10+ innings of work—and then Gary Sanchez happened.

Blaser originally called a swinging third strike.
With two outs, a runner on first, and a two-strike count, Sanchez swung at a breaking ball from Astros pitcher Josh James that hit the dirt and eluded catcher Robinson Chirinos. Blaser initially got this call correct in that he originally ruled a swinging, uncaught third strike (see accompanying image)...but then he made the rather significant mistake of second-guessing his gut and changing his call in response to Sanchez's actions in claiming a foul ball.

Blaser then said "foul" and called "Time" to kill the play. Houston Manager AJ Hinch came out of the dugout to discuss the play, yet Blaser didn't convene the crew and play continued.

AJ Hinch questions Blaser's foul ball ruling.
When Blaser called the ensuing pitch—located off the outer edge of home plate—strike three, it was New York's turn to be upset and Sanchez was seen talking to Blaser after the Yankees came out for the bottom of the 11th inning, which lasted just one pitch as leadoff Astro Carlos Correa hit a walk-off home run on JA Happ's first offering.

Gil's Call: When we wrote about fixing Replay Review in 2017, we wanted more plays to be reviewable: Sanchez's phantom foul ball should have been one of those. I fully understand how difficult it might be to equitably resolve that kind of an overturn: whether the batter would have been out or safe at first base, etc.
Related PostTmac's Teachable Moments - Let's Fix Replay (1/19/17).

Did Sanchez pull the wool over Blaser's eyes?
But in this situation, context clues sell it for me. First, Sanchez has no intention of running to first base. As Blaser calls the pitch a swinging strike, Sanchez is staying at home plate, then walks back toward Blaser to campaign for a foul ball call. He's not going anywhere. And even if he is, Second, he's slow and won't beat Chirinos's throw. Why? Because, Third, Chirinos breaks for the ball immediately.

In my mind, Sanchez's foul ball defense is tantamount to a defendant falsely claiming, "I never saw that person before in my life," only for the prosecution to offer video evidence of the two people shaking hands. Still, I'd like to see the crew get together here. We've already played a five-hour game, what's a two-minute crew consultation?

Blaser's gut was right. Sanchez was wrong.
Lessons Learned: In the end, two wrongs don't make a right, although in this situation, they did end up balancing the books. One of my favorite pieces of logic (or lack thereof) is New York's general reaction to the called third strike, which I explain in the following video and refute with just one statement: You do realize that had Blaser officiated the prior dropped third strike correctly, the inning would have been over and the strike three call never would have happened, right?

And here's video of 'good-guy' Derek Jeter faking a hit-by-pitch on a foul ball in Tampa Bay. Even the most honest or trustworthy players have a motive to win (or lie) whereas unbiased umpires have no such undue influence. Trust your gut, umps.

As for Blaser, listening to Sanchez cost him a UEFL f/x record...though 98.9% is still a top tier plate score...it's just no Joe West or James Hoye. | Video as follows:

Saturday, October 12, 2019

UMPS CARE Charities Golf Drive - CCS Donation on FB

It's donation drive time. Close Call Sports will once again donate a dollar to UMPS CARE Charities in support of the 100 hole golf marathon for every new like on the CCS/UEFL Facebook page for the rest of the postseason.

We spoke to UmpsCare Board Member and Ump-Attire Business Development Specialist Scott Kennedy about the charity's mission, the November golf fundraiser, and umpires' involvement in the community.

Like us at https://www.facebook.com/UmpireEjections to kick-start the donations and watch part one of our three-part interview with Scott in the following video minisode of The Plate Meeting podcast:

Friday, October 11, 2019

2019 League Championship Series Umpires Roster

MLB assigned the following umpires to the 2019 American and National League Championship Series. The ALCS and NLCS crew roster is listed in Game 1 alignment with umpire plate assignments in parentheses. The postseason's third round (LCS) features crews of seven umpires, one of which serves as a Replay Official for Games 1 and 2 and another who serves as Replay Official for Games 3-7.

UEFL Replay Review Ranking (Review Affirmation Percentage [RAP]) is listed alongside the plate assignments, which additional flags exist for postseason crew chiefs (-cc), regular season crew chiefs (*), and first League Championship Series assignments ({1st LCS}). Umpires who officiated a 2019 Wild Card Game are indicated by -wc.

NL Championship Series (Washington Nationals @ St Louis Cardinals) Umpires:
HP: Mike Muchlinski (4) {1st LCS} [Replay Games 3-7]
1B: Chris Conroy (90) {1st LCS} [Game 2 Plate]
2B: Bill Miller* -cc (4) -wc [Game 3 Plate]
3B: Phil Cuzzi (64) [Game 4 Plate]
LF: Chad Fairchild (19) -wc [Game 5 Plate]
RF: Fieldin Culbreth* (28) -wc [Game 6 Plate]
Replay: Chris Guccione (82) -wc [On-Field Games 3-7] [Game 7 Plate]

AL Championship Series (New York Yankees @ Houston Astros) Umpires:
HP: Bill Welke (86) [Replay Games 3-7]
1B: Cory Blaser (41) {1st LCS} -wc [Game 2 Plate]
2B: Jeff Nelson* -cc (12) -wc [Game 3 Plate]
3B: Dan Bellino (42) {1st LCS} [Game 4 Plate]
LF: Kerwin Danley (7) -wc [Game 5 Plate]
RF: Mark Carlson (75) [Game 6 Plate]
Replay: Marvin Hudson (17) [On-Field Games 3-7] [Game 7 Plate]

Replay Assistant, American and National League Championship Series: David Rackley.

Pursuant to UEFL Rule 4-3-c, umpire selected to appear in the National or American League Championship Series, including the Replay Officials who rotate into an on-field role for Games 3-7 or 1-2, receive three bonus points for this appearance. The ALCS and NLCS crew chiefs receive an additional point for serving in this role.