Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Real Time Call - Quick Thinking in the KBO

Most umpires across the globe officiate in leagues without instant replay, and even for an umpire backed by video review, the original on-field ruling is of tantamount importance. In this Real Time Call, we look at a bang-bang play at first base involving two runners.

In a world where so much of officiating education is spent on You Make The Call type scenarios, complete with multiple replays from multiple angles and at multiple speeds, we've decided to place added emphasis on real-time gameplay: this is a play any umpire should be able to quickly decipher on slow-motion replay...but can you figure out what happened in game-speed, on the first viewing? This is a real time play.

To set the scene, this play occurs in the top of the 6th inning of a Korea Baseball Organization game between the SK Wyverns and Doosan Bears. There is one out and the bases are loaded. For the purposes of this play, there are two shoes we'd like you to wear. Keep in mind, runner R3 Choi Jeong is attempting to score from third base and batter-runner Choi Joon-woo is attempting to beat out a ground ball, with R1 Jeong Eui-yoon and R2 Jamie Romak filling in the gaps.

First, rule on this play as 1B Umpire Lee Min-ho. Who's out, when, why, and how?
Then, rule on this play as HP Umpire Lee Yong-hyuk. What's your call, if any?

Video as follows:

Sunday, May 24, 2020

CPBL Ejection, Bench-Clear - Deciphering HBP Intent

Chinese Professional Baseball League HP Umpire Ji Huawen ejected Brothers pitcher Ariel Miranda for throwing at Guardians batter Lin Yiquan in retaliation for a prior HBP, resulting in a benches-clearing incident and learning opportunity for umpires on how to read body language as clues toward deciphering pitcher intent during throwing-at events.

Taiwan's CPBL beanball war cleared benches.
The story began in the bottom of the 3rd inning, when, with two outs Brothers batter Zhang Zhihao took a first-pitch fastball from Fubon Guardians pitcher Henry Sosa for a hit-by-pitch, resulting in a game-ending leg injury and immediate substitution of pinch-runner Chen Zihao.

In the top of the 6th, Guardians leadoff batter Lin Yiquan took a first-pitch fastball from Miranda for a hit-by-pitch, resulting in a game-ending leg injury and Miranda's immediate ejection for intentionally throwing at a batter, care of HP Umpire Ji Huawen; warnings had not been previously issued. At the time of the ejection, Fubon was leading, 4-1. Fubon ultimately won the contest, 7-3.

Reactions sometime confirm an ump's call.
Gil's Call: Watch both pitchers—Sosa in the 3rd and Miranda in the 6th—and note their body language and facial expressions. In the 3rd, Sosa clearly looks distraught and upset about his having injured an opponent with a mistake pitch. In the 6th, Miranda has a blank expression and shows no contrition or other emotion to indicate the expected empathetic response. This should communicate to an umpire or referee that the player either intended to harm the opposition or intended to cause a disruption to the game via HBP or other similar pitch. Player response or micro-expression should not be the only factor in an umpire's decision-making, but can help guide the process.

In April 2020, Sosa threw at Rakuten Monkeys batter Guo Yanwen in retaliation for an illegal bat appeal, resulting in warnings from HP Umpire Lin Jinda.
Related PostCPBL Fight - Illegal Bat, Bean Ball Prompt Bench Clearing (4/19/20).

On May 14, Wu Jiawei ejected Brothers Manager Chiu Chang-Jung and pitcher Esmil Rogers over a runner's lane interference dispute.
Related PostCPBL Ejection - Wu Jiawei (CTBC Brothers) (5/14/20).

Wrap: Fubon Guardians vs CTBC Brothers (CPBL), 5/24/20 | Video as follows:

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Rich Garcia 'Fed Up' Following Marsh Testimony

Does MLB have a culture problem? Longtime AL crew chief and former umpire supervisor Richie Garcia is "fed up" with Baseball after Randy Marsh's testimony during an Angel Hernandez v Commissioner lawsuit deposition in which Marsh commented on Garcia's 2010 termination from the league office.

Garcia recently told the AP that he is "sick of it," referencing the circumstances surrounding—and following—his abrupt dismissal from the supervisory role, and Marsh's on-the-record comments might have forced Garcia to speak out.

To recap, Marsh, in response to questions surrounding umpire discipline for misconduct, mentioned that Hernandez had been disciplined for attempting to collect memorabilia from Homer Bailey following a no-hitter and on behalf of another umpire that had officiated the milestone game.

Marsh then stated, under oath, that he personally had also been previously disciplined, and that supervisor Garcia had been fired in 2010 for going to watch son-in-law Vic Carapazza work a minor league game when he was under consideration for a big league job: "His son-in-law was umpiring in the minor leagues, was in strong consideration for promotion to the major leagues, and he was told not to go watch him work, because of being related to him. He continued to do so. He had been told not to do it, and he continued to do it."
Related PostAngel's New Evidence - Supervisors Wanted Hernandez in World Series, But Woodfork Said No (4/26/20).

Marsh admits his testimony was inaccurate.
Garcia has consistently stated he didn't want anything to do with Carapazza getting a big league job, so as to avoid the appearance of nepotism, conflict-of-interest, or otherwise: "I wanted to clear his ability to be a big league umpire and not have people think he got there because of me."

Then-World Umpires Association President Joe West backed Garcia: "''I don't want to be in a situation where I have a conflict of interest because he's my son-in-law,'' West recalled Garcia explaining. 'And then he said, 'I'm just not going to write a report on him.''"

Both Garcia & Hernandez named Manfred.
Marsh replied to an AP inquiry and said that his deposition statement—testimony given under oath on penalty of perjury—was inaccurate: "I probably mis-worded it when I was deposed. It shouldn't come out like that," further explaining, "I had no idea what reasoning they gave him for being fired and had heard from working with Rich Rieker, who was a supervisor during all those times, was that at one point he was told not to go watch his son-in-law umpire."

Garcia believes he was fired due in part to then-MLB Executive VP for Labor Relations Rob Manfred, whom also has provided deposition testimony during the Hernandez lawsuit, albeit in his capacity as MLB Commissioner. Then EVP for Baseball Operations Jimmie Lee Solomon similarly disputed the content of Marsh's testimony: "There was a desire, a general desire, to upgrade our situation a little bit. The old-school ways we felt were going to end up biting us, and we needed to get some new blood in."

Video as follows:

Friday, May 15, 2020

KBO Demotes 6th Umpire After Manager Ejection

The Korea Baseball Organization reportedly demoted umpire Hoon-Kyu Oh to the minor Futures League following an incorrect foul tip or third strike call during the week. The demotion marks KBO's sixth less than two weeks into the 2020 season.

According to KBO insider Daniel Kim, the umpire—who initially ruled a batter out on a swinging third strike—affirmed his out call following a subsequent conversation with Lotte Giants catcher Bo-geun that was captured by Korean broadcast MBC's microphones and, according to Kim, "went viral. He had to go," suggesting the umpire's verbal remarks to a player may have contributed to KBO's decision as much as his on-field judgment call.

To be clear, video indicates the umpire stuck with his initial "out" call and did not change his call as a result of his conversation with the catcher. Replays indicate the baseball appeared to contact the bat prior to touching the ground and ultimately entering the catcher's mitt.

Unlike Major League Baseball's MLBUA umpires' union or Minor League's AMLU association, KBO umpires are not part of a union and do not enjoy collective bargaining power nor protection.

KBO reporter Dan Kurtz indicated, "As far as I know, the umps are considered individual contractors."

In the United States, although umpires and referees for youth, high school, and most college leagues and conferences are considered independent contractors, MLB and MiLB umpires are employees of the leagues in which they work.

Nonetheless, this might be a good time to refer to our October 2019 review of umpiring and social media: word choice applies to what an official says both off and on the field.
Related PostRob Drake's Twitter War, Umpires and Social Media (10/24/19).

Video as follows:

Thursday, May 14, 2020

CPBL Ejection - Wu Jiawei (CTBC Brothers)

HP Umpire Wu Jiawei ejected CTBC Brothers Manager Chiu Chang-Jung and pitcher Esmil Rogers (runner's lane interference no-call; QOCY) in the top of the 3rd inning of the Rakuten Monkeys-Brothers game. With two out and two on (R1, R2), Rakuten batter Liao Jianfu bunted up the first base line. Rogers fielded the ball and threw to first base, his throw striking the batter-runner in the back of the head and bouncing away, allowing baserunners R1 and R2 to advance: R1 Guo Yanwen to third base and R2 Zhu Yuxian to score.

Replays indicate batter-runner Liao Jianfu appeared to run within the runner's lane on his way to first base (important reminder: the three-foot lines are considered part of the lane for the purposes of rule 5.09(a)(11)) before being struck and knocked down by Rogers' throw, forced to leave the game due to injury as the crew affirmed the call following consultation, the no-call was correct.* Rogers was ejected during a subsequent pitching change, prompting a brief bench-clearing incident (singular) in which 3B Umpire Luo Junhong sprinted from his position to intercept Brothers players. At the time of the ejections, the Monkeys were leading, 5-1. The Monkeys ultimately won the contest, 6-3.

The BR's heel on the foul line means he's OK.
*Official Baseball Rule 5.09(a)(11) states a batter is out 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; except that he may run outside (to the right of) the three-foot line or inside (to the left of) the foul line to avoid a fielder attempting to field a batted ball."
OBR 5.09(a)(11) Comment states, "The lines marking the three-foot lane are a part of that lane and a batter-runner is required to have both feet within the three-foot lane or on the lines marking the lane. The batter-runner is permitted to exit the three-foot lane by means of a step, stride, reach or slide in the immediate vicinity of first base for the sole purpose of touching first base."

Wrap: Rakuten Monkeys vs CTBC Brothers, 5/9/20 | Video as follows:

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Tmac's Teachable - Collision Play at Home

Tmac's latest Teachable follows a tag-up turned home plate collision play as an outfielder's throw takes his catcher into the runner sliding in from third base. In this travel ball game, the HP Umpire no-calls the sequence before declaring the baserunner out on an eventual tag, much to the chagrin of the offensive team.

While the obvious matter of the runner having touched home plate prior to being tagged and declared out may appear chiefly at issue, Tmac breaks down several other aspects of this play relative to officiating technique as well as proper rules enforcement and administration.

The discussion includes references to the NFHS (high school), NCAA (college), and OBR (professional/MLB/MiLB) rulesets, with explanations as to the plays legality and different rulings at each level.

The issue of potential obstruction (NFHS 2-22, NCAA 2-55) and home plate collision rule violations vs the concept of an unavoidable collision (NCAA 8-7-c, OBR 6.01(i)) are discussed.

Video as follows:

Saturday, May 9, 2020

KBO Demotes Umpire Crew After Player's Complaint

Less than 24 hours after a player publicly complained about an umpire's plate calls, the Korea Baseball Organization demoted his entire five-person officiating crew to the minor leagues. The KBO season is less than a week old and multiple members of the crew hadn't even called balls and strikes prior to their demotion for "lack of consistency on ball-strike calls."

Hanwha Eagles outfielder Lee Yong-kyu took to the media following Thursday's action, and said, "Even though it's only been three games this season, a lot of players are really unhappy with the lack of consistency on ball-strike calls. I'd like to ask all the umpires to please be more considerate of the players. We're all very confused (with the inconsistent zone). I know the umpires are doing their best out there, but I just hope they should start seeing things from the players' perspective, too."

Following the player's comments, KBO officials quickly moved to demote the entire five-person umpiring crew of Lee Ki-joong, Jang Jun-young, Won Hyun-sik, Choi Su-won, and Kim Jun-hee to the Futures League for "retraining" while simultaneously asking players not to publicly criticize umpires and "to show more respect toward officials."

Gil's Call: Logic...Demoting five umpires for balls/strikes performance over the span of three games means that—even if we were to assume the three games were all subpar—two of the demoted umpires never actually called a game behind the plate (and thus cannot logically have turned in a suboptimal performance). That must be what the KBO means by "show more respect toward officials."

KBO umps wear masks, but players don't.
Second, depending on your affinity for science, my mask-as-hindrance-to-breathing gag at the beginning of the last video has now proven to be a legitimate concern. Less oxygen in the bloodstream has a negative effect on performance: "Different masks have varying levels of airflow restriction, depending on the thickness of the material...With less air, your body has less available oxygen to utilize during exercise to convert glucose [sugar] into energy."

Finally, it seems notable for KBO to exercise an adverse employment action against an umpire for poor performance when forcing said umpires to wear face coverings, long sleeves, and gloves (while allowing players to forgo masks) likely carries a negative correlation. Either order players to wear masks or allow umpires to remove them. In the United States, such an event could be deemed a violation of labor law, regardless of whether or not a union or collective bargaining agreement exists. Similarly, the presence of a union such as MLBUA strongly discourages such punitive actions.

I hypothesize MLB umpires will not be forced to wear similar masks, gloves, and long sleeves in the heat of Spring Training stadiums in Arizona and humidity-laden Florida. As long as such protective gear is required, I'd surmise it is likely not yet safe enough to play the game.
Related PostKorea Baseball Says Play w Umpires in Masks & Gloves (5/5/20).

During its broadcast, ESPN commentators speculated that the KBO had adopted a new policy that allows the organization to demote any umpire—to include entire crews—in the wake of a subpar game.

The KBO reportedly hired a new Director of Umpires prior to the 2020 season. MLB is considering an electronic strike zone for its 2020 campaign.

Video as follows:

Friday, May 8, 2020

Plate Meeting - COVID Mental Health Checkup

In this Plate Meeting Podcast video episode, we step away from on-field umpiring discussion and turn to the current reality for all umpires: a wholesale loss of all games at all levels (in all sports). In this COVID mental health checkup, Jack Furlong of the OSIP Foundation joins tmac & Gil for a conversation about the current sports landscape and reality for officials who continue to lose income due to a lack of games to work.

We've long discussed the subject of umpire abuse stemming from on-field and game-related incidents, but to this point haven't especially delved into off-the-field, non-game mindsets for sports officials.

This episode of The Plate Meeting is available on YouTube in video form as follows, as well as audio form on our page:

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

2020 MLB Umpire Crews (Delayed Season)

Before COVID-19 delayed Opening Day, the originally-drafted 2020 MLB umpire crew list features 76 umpires in 19 crews. Major League Baseball may reshuffle these crews due to coronavirus restrictions, however, or assign umpires or crew chiefs regionally as the season begins in modified form.

The following table is arranged by Chief seniority and may be found on the UEFL Umpire Roster, Profiles & Crews page, which features MiLB call-up information as well as the MLB staff list. UEFL Umpire Profiles are also available for full-time MLBU.

Reminder: The 2020 UEFL Draft will remain open until Opening Day.

2020 MLB Umpire Crews (by Umpiring Crew Chief Seniority)

Crew #Crew ChiefUmpire 2Umpire 3Umpire 4
Crew 112 Davis, Gerry6 Carlson, Mark92 Hoye, James31 Hoberg, Pat
Crew 222 West, Joe5 Hernandez, Angel2 Bellino, Dan78 Hamari, Adam
Crew 324 Layne, Jerry53 Gibson, Greg93 Little, Will52 Visconti, Jansen
Crew 49 Gorman, Brian3 Welke, Bill80 Johnson, Adrian36 Blakney, Ryan
Crew 520 Hallion, Tom10 Cuzzi, Phil91 Knight, Brian90 Ripperger, Mark
Crew 633 Winters, Mike21 Wendelstedt, Hunter76 Muchlinski, Mike59 Lentz, Nic
Crew 725 Culbreth, Fieldin39 Nauert, Paul54 Bucknor, CB17 Reyburn, DJ
Crew 865 Barrett, Ted60 Foster, Marty98 Conroy, Chris96 Segal, Chris
Crew 945 Nelson, Jeff63 Diaz, Laz49 Fletcher, Andy85 Scheurwater, Stu
Crew 1026 Miller, Bill88 Eddings, Doug30 Drake, Rob62 Whitson, Chad
Crew 1127 Vanover, Larry51 Hudson, Marvin19 Carapazza, Vic86 Rackley, David
Crew 1241 Meals, Jerry15 Hickox, Ed71 Baker, Jordan47 Morales, Gabe
Crew 1350 Emmel, Paul7 O'Nora, Brian1 Dreckman, Bruce89 Blaser, Cory
Crew 1434 Holbrook, Sam28 Wolf, Jim79 Gonzalez, Manny81 Wolcott, Quinn
Crew 1514 Wegner, Mark68 Guccione, Chris64 Porter, Alan83 Estabrook, Mike
Crew 16 44 Danley, Kerwin46 Kulpa, Ron4 Fairchild, Chad87 Barry, Scott
Crew 1772 Marquez, Alfonso95 Timmons, Tim16 Barrett, Lance37 Torres, Carlos
Crew 1877 Reynolds, Jim11 Randazzo, Tony13 Tichenor, Todd73 Gibson, Tripp
Crew 1958 Iassogna, Dan23 Barksdale, Lance74 Tumpane, John18 De Jesus, Ramon
DL/IR[To Be Determined]
New MLB Umpires (New Hire MLBU): Blakney, De JesusLentzSegalVisconti.
New Crew Chiefs (Promotion to -CC): Danley, Iassogna, Marquez, Reynolds.
Retirements: Cederstrom, DeMuth, Everitt, Kellogg (DiMuro retired in mid-2019).
RIP: Cooper.

Notes and Observations:
≫ Only one crew—#7 (Culbreth)—remains unchanged from 2019.
≫ As occurred in 2018 & 2019, West swapped all three crewmates. He reunites with Hernandez.
≫ ≫ Not The Onion, But Humurous Coincidence: Hernandez, while mid-suit v MLB, adds a lawyer (Bellino) to his crew.
Lance Barrett switched from sleeve #94 to #16, Mike DiMuro's old number.

Statistical Promotions or Leftward Lateral Movement:
≫ From Umpire 3 to Umpire 2: Hickox, Barksdale, Randazzo, Foster, Guccione, Wolf.
≫ From Umpire 4 to Umpire 3: Little, Baker, Muchlinski, Tumpane, Conroy, L Barrett, Gonzalez.

Statistical Rightward Lateral Movement:
≫ From Umpire 2 to Umpire 3: Dreckman.
≫ From Umpire 3 to Umpire 4: Barry.

Video as follows:

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Korea Baseball Says Play w Umpires in Masks & Gloves

The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) started its 2020 season with several COVID-19 mitigation measures in place: As with Taiwan's CPBL, the Korean league played games in empty stadiums without fans, but KBO umpires and coaches took mitigation a step further.

While KBO players participated without protective gear of any sort, umpires and base coaches wore face coverings—the coaches wore white masks and the umpires wore black—and umpires additionally wore long sleeve shirts and black gloves.

Pictured at right is KBO umpire Park Geun-young in the protective gear during Tuesday's NC Dinos - Samsung Lions game.
KBO umpires conduct a Replay Review.

For HP Umpire Kang Gwang-hwe, it meant wearing two masks—one a traditional-style facemask and the other an infectious disease-style face covering—along with long sleeves and gloves.

Are the KBO umpire masks truly effective around barefaced players and will MLB umpires follow suit when baseball continues in the Americas—rumored for a potential June Spring Training and July Opening Day?