Saturday, June 4, 2016

Rules Review - Reversed Balk in Boston

After umpires reversed a balk call in Boston, questions and analysis requests found their way into the UEFL mailroom, giving us today's Rules Review.

With two out and one on (R1) in the bottom of the 9th inning of the Blue Jays-Red Sox game (Toronto leading 5-2), Blue Jays pitcher Roberto Osuna moved as if to attempt to pick off Red Sox baserunner R1 Blake Swihart at first base, but upon realizing that no fielder was at the base to take the throw, Osuna stopped his throw, resulting in a balk call from 2B Umpire Sean Barber. Upon consultation with HP Umpire Chris Conroy, 3B Umpire Ron Kulpa, and 1B Umpire/Crew Chief Jerry Meals, the call was reversed and Swihart returned to first base, leading to an argument from Red Sox Manager John Farrell.

So, was this a balk or not? (Click for full post & video of play)

Official Baseball Rule 6.02(a)(2) states that it is a balk when "The pitcher, while touching his plate, feints a throw to first or third base and fails to complete the throw." The MLB Umpire Manual, in regard to balks, states that, "it is legal for a right-handed pitcher to begin a pickoff move to first base by first moving his pivot foot in the direction of third base provided that he makes a legal step toward first base with the non-pivot foot before throwing there and provided that the move is continuous and without interruption. A pitcher who makes such a pick-off move is considered to be in contact with the rubber when he makes his throw to first base."

Using this information, we can review Saturday's play in Boston. F1 Osuna, who is a right-handed pitcher, began his pickoff move to first base by first moving his pivot foot (right foot) in the direction of third base and made a legal step toward first base with the free foot (left foot). Though the video suggests Osuna's right foot maintained contact with the pitcher's plate/rubber even after the initial movement, the MLBUM interpretation states that his foot nonetheless is to be considered to be in contact with the rubber when he makes his throw.

Accordingly, because Osuna failed to complete his throw while touching his plate, he was correctly called for a balk by U2 Barber. The balk rule, however, is designed to prevent a pitcher's deception of the runner, and does state in its comment, that, "If there is doubt in the umpire’s mind [that the pitcher deliberately deceived or attempted to deceive the base runner], the 'intent' of the pitcher should govern." Though it would appear that Osuna did not necessarily intend to deceive Swihart, his actions nonetheless were illegal, which make the initial balk call a correct ruling.

Interestingly enough, since fakes toward second base are permissible, the MLBUM states that, "There is no violation if a pitcher attempts a pick-off at second base and seeing no fielder covering the bag, throws to the shortstop or second baseman, neither of whom is in the vicinity of the bag nor is making an actual attempt to retire the runner." This, of course, does not apply to pickoff situations at first or third base due to no-feint Rule 6.02(a)(2); accordingly, such throw deviations are balks (mainly because, again, Rex Hudler thinks balks are hilarious).

Friday, June 3, 2016

Officially Speaking - Runner's Lane Interference

Official Business presents Runner’s Lane Interference: baseball’s most efficient way to shoot yourself in the foot. This is a look back and analysis of Monday's RLI call in Cleveland.

Official Business CEO Brian Hertzog
The following is commentary from Official Business CEO and former MiLB Umpire Brian Hertzog, who ejected Eric Hosmer in 2014, and presided over a few bench clearing brawls in Triple-A (6/23/13: Isotopes-Redbirds; 7/27/14: Isotopes-Aces). His full resume may be found at the bottom of this article.

It didn’t take too long to start receiving calls and texts about Monday's play [MLB Ejection 065 - Manny Gonzalez (1; Terry Francona)], and rightfully so, it was quite interesting. In the days that followed I read comments ranging from “Manny got this right!” to “This is a bad miss by Manny on a relatively ‘easy’ call.” Most seemed to be leaning toward that later thought process though. While there are plenty of RLI calls that I would consider “easy,” this is hardly one of them.

RLI only can exist when B1 is not in his lane.
One key point of emphasis I’d like to throw out there before we get too deep in the rule… you can’t have Runner’s Lane Interference until you actually have the potential for Runner’s Lane Interference. While this seems like an obvious statement, most arguments I’ve seen for Home Plate Umpire Manny Gonzalez missing this play are referencing Moreland leaving the three-foot running lane before he reaches first base. While we can all agree that Moreland does exit the running lane before he needed to “for the sole purpose of touching first base,” this alone isn’t enough information to make an RLI call.

First, we can establish that any part of Moreland’s foot that’s in contact with the line means that the stride he has taken is legal:
Rule 5.09(a)(11) Comment: 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.
Terry Francona did not like Manny's ruling.
This is very similar to a batter being in a legal position when he makes contact with a pitched ball, with his foot partially on the line that makes up the batter’s box. Even though only part of his foot is on the line, this is a legal position. Since the lines that make up the three-foot running lane are part of that lane and he is permitted to have his feet “within… OR on the lines,” this means that Moreland’s foot being in contact with any part of the line means that he is in compliance with OBR.

The next part of the rule that I’ve seen being contested is based on OBR’s interpretation of RLI that stipulates that it’s the fielder’s attempt to field the throw that’s protected by the rule rather than the actual throw from the pitcher. It seems that the misinterpretation here derives from the thought process that you need to protect F3 (Napoli) in this situation up until the time he would have been fielding the ball. This thought process isn’t necessarily invalid, as I’m sure the part of the rule being referenced here is as follows:
OBR 5.09(a)(11): 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 judgement in doing so interferes with the fielder taking the throw at first base.
The pesky part about that last sentence though… the word “AND.” For this play to be called RLI, Moreland needs to be running inside the foul line (and we established that he’s not) AND interfere with the fielder taking the throw at first base. If you don’t have Moreland running inside the foul line, then he isn’t in any illegal position where he could be interfering with the fielder taking the throw at first base. The throw hitting Moreland simply becomes… baseball. You need to satisfy the first part of the rule for the second part to be relevant to the play at hand.

The reason Napoli was unable to field the throw in this situation was not because Moreland prevented him from doing so with any type of illegal action. The reason was because the throw hit Moreland, but it was very much while he was in a legal position. Everything after the throw hits Moreland while he’s in a legal position is irrelevant.

Yogi-ism: B1 is in the lane until he is out of it.
A batter-runner in Moreland’s position within the running lane should be considered “in the running lane” until he’s no longer in that lane. As we view the batter-runner as the plate umpire, we can equate each step Moreland takes as either legal or illegal. Take a look at some stills from Moreland’s steps between the 45 ft. line and him touching first base. Instead of concentrating on the last couple steps after the thrown ball hits him, look at Moreland’s steps as he hits the ground in this fashion… “legal, legal (hit by throw), inside running lane, inside running lane, touches first base.”

You can’t penalize Moreland in this situation for something he hasn’t done yet… and you can’t protect Napoli in fielding a throw at first base if there’s no longer any throw to field. One more step by Moreland though, and this call takes on a whole new life. I guess it’s not as “easy” as it looks.

Brian Hertzog is the CEO of Official Business, dedicated to bridging the gap between Umpires and Coaching Staffs/Players by bringing an Umpire's unique knowledge of the game over to Player Development. Official-Business' goal is to bring an unparalleled level of respect into baseball by creating professional relationships between Coaching Staffs/Players and Umpires.

Hertzog is a 2006 graduate of the Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring (JEAPU) and spent the 2006-14 seasons in Minor League Baseball's Pioneer, Arizona Extended, South Atlantic, California, Arizona Instructional, Texas and Pacific Coast Leagues, serving as Texas Lg Crew Chief in 2011, PCL Crew Chief in 2014, 2014 PCL Championship Series Crew Chief, and the plate umpire for the 2014 Triple-A National Championship.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

MLB Ejection & Replay Sabermetrics - May 2016

Baseball is officially back on track: 65 ejections through May sets the pace for 203 ejections by regular season's end, or four more than 2014's 199-ejection season, which itself marked an increase of 11% over 2013's 180 ejections. In all, MLB experienced less than 203 regular season ejections from 2009 through 2014, with a high of 201 in 2010 and low of 165 in 2009, before 2015 brought with it 212 ejections.

Regarding replay, 498 Replay Reviews averages out to roughly one review for every 1.6 games played. Arguing Replay Review decisions continued to be a non-factor, cementing the finality of Replay Review in baseball. Further supporting this theory, the one Replay Review ejection in 2016 concerned potential bona fide slide interference—a new rule for this season.

As I wrote in last month's Ejections & Replay Sabermetrics analysis, ejections were largely down in April due to a distinct lack of Throwing At and Fighting activity (there were zero fights and one throwing-at ejection in April 2016). Baseball has rectified the issue in May, thanks in large part to this Texas brawl, and Throwing At, Fighting and overall ejections are now back to about-average levels. We are again on pace for a 200+ ejections season.

With that out of the way, here's the Ejection & Instant Replay Review Statistics and Umpire Sabermetrics for April 2016. The following presentation includes summaries and analyses for ejections and replay data gathered during the first month of the 2016 regular season.

Summary, Ejections.
>> 65 Total Regular Season Ejections through May 31, 2016 (on pace for 203 ejections this season).
>> Umpires were 63.3% accurate on calls associated with ejection.
>> The Blue Jays were ejected more often than any other team.
>> Nine teams have been each been ejected just once apiece.
>> Manager John Gibbons of the Toronto Blue Jays led all managers in ejections.
>> Players Yunel Escobar of the LA Angels and Josh Donaldson of the Jays led all players in ejections.
>> Umpire Dale Scott led all umpires in ejections.
>> Chief Dale Scott's crew led all umpire crews in ejections.
>> Most ejections occurred in the 8th inning; Ejections from 7th and on comprised 49% of all tosses.
>> Most ejections occurred on Sundays. Weekend series (Fri-Sun) featured 55% of all heave-ho's.
>> The most common reason for ejection was Balls/Strikes, followed by Throwing At and Fighting.

Summary, Replay Reviews.
>> 498 Total Replay Reviews, of which calls were affirmed 54% of the time (46% overturned).
>> The Washington Nationals used replay more than any other team, but were fairly inaccurate.
>> The A's were the League's most successful team in review, with less than half as many reviews.
>> The New York Yankees experienced fewer reviews than any other team.
>> Umpires Miller, Hudson, Davis & Carlson had 11 of their calls reviewed, more than any other umpire.
>> Jeff Nelson's crew led all of baseball in replay activity.
>> Umpire DJ Reyburn led the league in accuracy with all of his calls affirmed by replay.
>> Umpire Dan Iassogna experienced the highest rate of his calls being overturned by replay.
>> Most reviews occurred in the 8th inning. Reviews from 7th and on comprised 46% of all reviews.
>> Most reviews occurred on Sundays; Calls were most often overturned in daytime conditions.
>> The most common reason for review was Out/Safe, followed by Pulled Foot and Interference.

For detailed sabermetric analysis of MLB umpire ejections and instant replay review outcomes, follow the "read more" link below.

Monday, May 30, 2016

MLB Ejection 065 - Manny Gonzalez (1; Terry Francona)

HP Umpire Manny Gonzalez ejected Indians Manager Terry Francona for arguing a batter-runner's lane interference no-call in the top of the 3rd inning of the Rangers-Indians game. With two out and two on, Rangers batter Mitch Moreland hit a 2-2 changeup from Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin on the ground to Tomlin, who threw toward first baseman Mike Napoli as Moreland ran down the first base line and near the 45-foot long running lane. Replays indicate Tomlin's throw, which could have reasonably retired the runner, hit Moreland in the back and that Moreland's foot contacted the ground outside of the prescribed three-foot wide lane prior to the permitted opportunity for exit, Play was reviewed and affirmed by UEFL Appeals Board (Referral), the call was incorrect.* At the time of the ejection, the Rangers were leading, 4-0. The Rangers ultimately won the contest, 9-2.

This is Manny Gonzalez (79)'s first ejection of the 2016 MLB regular season.
Manny Gonzalez now has -1 points in the UEFL Standings (1 Previous + 2 MLB - 4 Incorrect = -1).
Crew Chief Hunter Wendelstedt now has 1 point in Crew Division (1 Previous + 0 Incorrect Call = 1).
*Related Analysis: Running Lane Interference (RLI) Only Applies to Fielder at First (April 6, 2016).
OBR Rule 5.09(a)(11): "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." In exiting the lane prematurely by stepping to the inside of the foul line and making contact with the throw, B1 Moreland interfered with the fielder taking the throw (F3 Napoli).

This is the 65th ejection report of the 2016 regular season.
This is the 26th Manager ejection of 2016.
This is Cleveland's 1st ejection of 2016, T-4th in the AL Central (CWS, MIN 4; DET 3; CLE, KC 1).
This is Terry Francona's first ejection since August 22, 2015 (Dan Iassogna; QOC = N [Out/Safe]).
This is Manny Gonzalez's first ejection since July 19, 2015 (Ian Kinsler; QOC = N [Balls/Strikes]).

Wrap: Texas Rangers vs. Cleveland Indians, 5/30/16 | Video available via "Read more"

Injury Study - The Slot and Mask vs Helmet Debate

Umpires, we have a dangerous injury epidemic on our hands—heads, masks and helmets. In 2012, I wrote about concussions, head injuries, and the mask vs. helmet debate: Plate umpires are in prone position to receive a thrown or fouled ball (or broken bat, for that matter), often to the upper body and head, making headgear of utmost importance in safety behind home plate.

Plate Umpire Safety Zones and the Slot (Click to Enlarge).
We know from years of experience and training that the slot position—that imaginary box between the batter and catcher, or inner edge of home plate if the catcher has moved outside—is the safest position from which to receive a pitch, or the so-called "Green Zone" of home plate umpiring.

A number of the 2016 injures occurred when umpires vacated the safe (green) zone and entered caution (yellow) or danger (red) zones. For instance, yawetag diagrammed Chris Guccione's May 26 injury, noting that Guccione was positioned in the caution/yellow zone at the pivotal moment.

Positioning itself is pretty helpful in staving off many potential injuries (see the accompanying diagram for potential ball flight on deflection, and you'll notice the slot is clear from those most common trajectories), and always a great safety concept to review, but the remainder of this narrative shall be dedicated to the Mask vs Helmet debate.

Traditional masks only protect the anterior head.
To summarize, umpires by and large have two choices of protective headgear: a traditional-style facemask or a hockey-style mask and helmet (aka, "bucket"). Most umpires continue to employ the traditional mask in their day-to-day, as the mask is lightweight, compact, easily mobile, and less sensorily restrictive. Others have opted for the hockey-style mask (HSM), which has been called a safer choice by several safety experts, including the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE).

Here's a selective reblog from an article I wrote in 2012 about the mask vs. helmet debate:
The traditional umpires' mask is a lightweight piece of equipment that fits over the top of a shortened bill of the cap and may be tightened so as to snugly fit around the umpire's face. The traditional mask came into use in the early 1900s and the general design has remained fairly constant ever since—the mask still encloses the umpire's face, but not the sides of the head.
The hockey-style helmet or mask (HSM) is a more recent technological advancement, umpire wearing an HSM stands out on a ballfield and not necessarily in a positive way.
There is a certain stigma attached to defying tradition for new-age technology—look no further than the instant replay debate—and there are arguments to be made for both keeping and ditching the traditional face mask for the HSM.
The most famous example of an umpire switching from the traditional mask to the HSM is Kerwin Danley, who was knocked out by a 96-mph pitch at Dodger Stadium in 2008, while wearing a traditional mask. When he returned to the game, he adopted the bulkier bucket.

For many, the science is still out, USA Today finding that, "Not enough data is available to show if the hockey-style masks some umps wear are better than traditional masks."

Ergo, the one distinct advantage of the HSM is its 360-degree enclosure around the head, and, thus, full-skull protection. An traditional mask-wearing umpire hit in the back, top, or side of the head by a deflected ball (off a fence or netting, for instance) may be significantly harmed due to the mask's exposure, whereas the HSM-wearing umpire hit by this same ball may escape uninjured. Similarly,  umpires such as Jerry Layne and Brian O'Nora have been hit by bat barrels in the side of the head while wearing traditional masks, and exited games because of it.

A bat is taken to the side of the head in Australia.
Ump-Attire's Jim Kirk has even concluded that some of the newer HSMs offer a lower profile than ever before and, thus, "offers even better vision than most traditional style masks."

Thus with the technological advances, the principal consideration for mask vs helmet appears to be style and comfort: There remains a noticeable weight difference in carrying a traditional mask in the left hand as opposed to carrying a bucket, yet the issue of vision appears to have been engineered moot. The question, thus, becomes whether the risk of a hit to anything but the front of the head is worth keeping tradition around.

I personally became bucket-bound after one too many concussions, including an errant throw to the side of the head (the whiz of the ball as it's about to hit is such an ominous sound...), and have gotten so used to the full-head cocoon that the front-facing traditional mask feels deficient and exposed. Especially with smaller ballfields and closer backstops—not to mention those with fence cages so close to the plate area—it just made sense to protect the entirety of the head from the oft-freak deflection, turning a potentially catastrophic injury into a humorous baseball oddity.