Sunday, July 17, 2016

MLB Warns Managers to Stop Using Video to Argue Pitches

MLB Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre warned managers using Replay Review to argue balls and strikes to knock it off, according to a Bulletin distributed on Friday by the Commissioner's Office to teams, Field & General Managers, and Assistant GMs.

Torre is ejected arguing balls/strikes in 2011.
Specifically, Torre is concerned that managers are abusing Replay Review technology—the team's video replay room and its replay consultant or coordinator—for ammunition in ball/strike arguments with umpires and is calling out his former coaching colleagues and adversaries; Torre himself was ejected 66 times as a big league manager, including 16 heave-hos for arguing balls and strikes.

At the heart of the matter, however, Torre is concerned about an overall increase in the number of managerial ball/strike ejections, which has indeed risen relative to the past few years, and is on pace to return to 20-aught levels. On a related note, the number of overall ejections in baseball has already returned to pre-expanded replay 'lull' levels, having increased annually since a post-2010 low of 178 in 2012 (2015's 212 regular season ejections topped 2014's 199 ejections, which in turn marked an increase over 2013's 180 heave-hos, etc.); 2016 is presently on pace for 201 regular season ejections.

2016 is on pace for another ejection increase.
In 2015, 39 managers (including repeat ejectees) were ejected for arguing balls and strikes, compared to 34 managerial ball/strike ejections in 2014, 31 in 2013, 31 in 2012, 44 in 2011, and 45 in 2010. With 25 ejections through 1,344 games of the 2,430-game MLB season as of Saturday, 2016 stands, at its present rate, to experience 45 managerial ball/strike ejections, or the most of its kind since 2010. What one will notice about the decreasing trend of managerial ball/strike ejections since 2010 is that, after dropping to a low of 31 ejections in each of 2012 and 2013, the amount of this specific brand of ejections increased in both 2014 and 2015, when, not so coincidentally, expanded replay was introduced.

As previously posited, the proportion of ball/strike ejections relative to overall ejection numbers has increased in baseball ever since expanded replay's 2014 debut. We've known this for some time now.

Still, there is, in baseball, a right way and a wrong way to argue calls—even ball and strike calls.

As the UEFL Video Rulebook entry on Ejections tells us, and as the MLB Umpire Manual instructs its umpires,  "if a manager, coach, or player makes reference to having observed a video replay that purportedly contradicts the call under dispute, such person is subject to immediate ejection from the game" (highlighted, as this phrase appears both in MLBUM's Standards for Removal from the Game and as part of MLB Replay Review Regulation II.K.5).

The Mets abused video replay during ejection.
For instance, the New York Mets were caught red handed in May when Adrian Johnson ejected Mets Hitting Coach Kevin Long for arguing a strike three call to David Wright. Replays of the ejection sequence clearly show Mets Bench Coach Dick Scott utilizing the dugout phone designated for video replay immediately following Wright's return to the dugout. By design, that specific telephone only connects with the video room and Mets replay coordinator Jim Kelly.

Citing an alarming trend of managers and coaches relying on video material as evidence during ball/strike arguments during games, Torre stated, "This highly inappropriate conduct is detrimental to the game and must stop immediately." Similarly, we know that any manager—or player for that matter—will be ejected for arguing balls and strikes if he "leaves his position" (e.g., the dugout) to do so. Vin Scully told us that the last time Dave Roberts was ejected over a strike call.

Brad Ausmus displays inappropriate conduct.
Torre's reference to "inappropriate conduct" may be in response to stunts like that of Brad Ausmus. Ejected on May 16 by Doug Eddings over a called third strike, the booted Tigers skipper partially disrobed and covered home plate with his discarded sweatshirt. Torii Hunter pulled a similar stunt last season in response to a Mark Ripperger strikeout call while David Ortiz once broke a Baltimore dugout phone several pitches after a called first strike by Tim Timmons, but players—and the MLB Players Association—were not a target of Torre's most recent bulletin. Managers and coaches do not have their own union.

Of the 47 managerial ejections thus far in 2016, 25—or 53%—have concerned ball and strike arguments. Of those 25 ball/strike ejections, umpires have been correct 68% of the time (17/25), which is on par with, if not slightly higher than, the historical accuracy of 65-67% for all ejections. John Gibbons presently leads all Managers with three balls/strikes ejections (2 QOCN & 1 QOCY).

Mgr Leaders, Ejection Type: Balls/Strikes.
Torre accused several unnamed teams and coaching personnel, Metropolitans notwithstanding, of misusing the video Replay Review system in order to bolster arguments against umpires' purportedly missed pitch calls, citing the managers' misconduct as "an express violation of the Replay Regulations, which state that 'on-field personnel in the dugout may not discuss any issue with individuals in their video review room using the dugout phone other than whether to challenge a play subject to video replay review'" (Regulation VI.C.2.c).

Thus, a bench coach who utilizes the dugout's Replay phone after a strike three call or similar 'ordinary' called pitch not subject to Replay Review is himself in violation of MLB rules, as is his manager in using information gleamed from the video replay coordinator during the course of a balls/strikes argument. It is this abuse of Replay which baseball is most concerned with.

Melvin likely didn't allude to replay on Friday.
By contrast, when Mark Wegner ejected Athletics player Yonder Alonso and Manager Bob Melvin on Friday, Melvin likely did not refer to video replay during his argument, as he had vacated the dugout in order to back up his player (Alonso) without bothering to have bench coach Mark Kotsay place a phone call to replay coordinator Adam Rhoden in order to misuse the replay system by rewinding the pitch.

On the other hand, Diamondbacks Manager Chip Hale has, on multiple occasions this season, found himself ejected between innings and during pitching changes for arguing balls/strikes, with some time between the pitch call in question and Hale's exit from the dugout which could have conceivably allowed Bench Coach Glenn Sherlock and video coordinator Allen Campbell to relay information to their skipper.

Torre acknowledged that, "Although disagreements over ball and strike calls are natural, the prevalence of manager ejections simply cannot continue. This conduct not only delays the game, but it also has the propensity to undermine the integrity of the umpires on the field."

In a final admonishment, Torre warned managers and coaches that any further ejections for arguing balls and strikes "hereafter will be disciplined, including at least a fine," which might carry the startling and hopefully incorrect implication that such ejections were not previously subject to discipline.


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