Monday, July 31, 2017

Tmac - Situation Handling and Pitcher Disagreement

Plate umpires Angel Hernandez and Bill Welke took their masks off to address pitcher strike zone complaints Friday night, spurring the latest in a long line of grievances from players and fans toward umpire conduct. After their games, both Hernandez and Welke drew widespread criticism at their methods for addressing pitcher disagreement with White Sox pitcher Derek Holland referring to Bill Welke's actions as "unprofessional" and "disrespectful."

Angel Hernandez addresses JA Happ.
With about 300 callable pitches per game, where should a plate umpire draw the line at strike zone criticism from a pitcher who, unlike the batter, remains on the field at-bat after at-bat? What is acceptable and what crosses the line? Today's edition of Tmac's Teachable Moments discusses the less commonly publicized strike zone complaints that emanate from the pitcher's mound.

Nobody wants to work with the guy who closes his ears and pretends players or coaches or managers aren't burning the dugouts down. On the other hand nobody wants to work with a guy a is looking to make notches on his belt. Handling situations is some of the trickiest umpiring, but it can also be some of the most rewarding. Gaining respect from people takes time. Understanding people takes time and it shouldn't be expected that you will nail situations right from the bat. Lately we've seen some situations with pitchers barking at umpires and umpires responding. So what do you do when a pitcher comes off the mound and starts arguing or showing you up?

Bill Welke speaks with Derek Holland.
Opinions may vary. Truth be told, every situation is unique and one size does NOT fit all. Here are a few very basic questions to ask yourself: Is the person a chronic complainer? Did I get a good look at the pitch in question? Is this a person trying to be ejected or just someone who's trying to gain an advantage? There can be other questions that cross your mind, but then your next instinctual response can either MAKE YOU OR BREAK YOU.

I prefer to allow a little venting and play a long game, but if that can't be done and you need to handle things, then handle them. If it's a pitcher who is the problem, communicate with the catcher. If it's a catcher, try this question, especially if you KNOW the pitch was a ball: "______ (Insert name), did you think that was a strike?" If he says anything besides yes, then you don't need to get the last word.  Customarily they will say, "I had it off but it's close." or some variant.  If they say yes, and you're not sure you're correct, say something like, "ok, I had it down but I'll stay with it a little longer." Saying something like this can really calm a guy down as you've engaged him in a discussion.

Many catchers are easy to work with.
If you're sure you're right—let's say the pitch was inside the batters box line and your catcher is auditioning for the sticking junk pitches award—then you may need to be a little more crafty. There should always be someone to communicate to. Let's hope that even if the pitcher and catcher are problematic, you can talk to the head coach or manager. When you tell them, "Hey Billy's sticking pitches that are 8 inches off the plate and I'd be yelling at me too if i were you, but I just wanted to give you a heads up that they're not close," you're doing two things.

First, you're communicating with the man in charge and 95% of the time he will handle his player.  There are so many intricacies to this it can get a bit wonky. How do you get to the HC/or manager?  Well if he's coaching third it shouldn't be that hard. Don't make a special trip just to cross paths. If he's in the dugout and he's reasonable, TALK to him. He does not want his starting catcher or pitcher ejected.

Speaking indirectly helps get across the point.
Second, you're letting the problem player(s) know what the issue is, what you're seeing behind the plate, and, without directly addressing them or harming their egos, you're tacitly telling them what they must do differently in order to earn a desired call. Things can go south once a plate umpire goes overboard and meets an emotional 10 with a full-tilt response.

The following paragraph refers to videos found at the end of the article:

Andy Fletcher addresses a pitcher in Chicago.
Let's take the Andy Fletcher play: When you lose control even after the pitcher has shown you up, you're going to struggle to gain respect from anyone on the field. On this play, if you have a good relationship with the catcher communicate with him to get his pitcher calm. Most catchers are really easy to deal with, but what happens when you have the situation Eric Cooper did in Pittsburgh (much less Angel Hernandez in Toronto)? The common factor for both Coop and Angel is catcher Russell Martin, who is notorious for being hard to work with...but bum rushing a pitcher just doesn't look good. When we have to  be held back, it's frankly embarrassing. There is emotion and intensity in the game and you have to be willing to take a little. Directly after the previous pitch may not be the best time to confront a person depending on the degree of misconduct, but if the pitcher gets out of the inning use words calmly to talk to him if he asks where a pitch during the inning was.
Related PostReview of Bullet Down the Line, Fletcher Gets Upset (6/29/15).
Related PostFleeing the Coop: When an Umpire is Burned by AJ Pitcher (8/1/13).

This doesn't mean if somebody says something automatic don't do anything. Remember, you're always operating within baseball's Standards for Removal from the Game, or similar guidelines for your level of play. When a pitcher (or catcher) disagrees with pitch calling, the most likely non-verbal violations to watch for are 1) leaving one's position to argue balls and strikes, 2) use of histrionic gestures during an argument, 3) actions specifically intended to ridicule [e.g., drawing a line in the dirt].

Phil Cuzzi effects an automatic ejection in DC.
Phil Cuzzi ejected Ryan Vogelson after a pretty obvious violation in the pitcher's leaving his position to argue balls and strikes.

So what happens after you run someone in an awkward spot, but you were calm and handled it well? Invariably, the manager will come out and ask what he said or did.

When you say, "He said, 'you're blind, buy some glasses,'" the manager will do one of three things. A) he'll give you a sub; B) he'll say, "Oh come on, that was a quick hook, he was walking away," or C) he'll pick up the ejected player's argument.

If we're only dealing with A), there is nothing further left to discuss. If it's B), there can be several responses, but my favorite is, "You know he can't say that and stay in the game." That will almost every time leave the manager with no place to go (although, I did have one professional manager give a great response, "I know, but why?") After a good chuckle he gave his new player.

Finally, if the skipper C) picks up the ball/strike argument, he can be ejected for leaving his position to argue balls and strikes. At that point, it hardly matters what the actual call was. | Videos (x4) as follows:

Alternate Link: Hernandez interacts with Happ following called fourth ball to Trout (MLBN)
Second Video:Andy Fletcher confronts Jonathan Lester on the Wrigley Field mound (CHC)

Third Video: Coop confronts pitcher after disagreement with Burnett's pitch call gesture (PIT)
Fourth Video: Cuzzi ejects Vogelsong and Bochy after both leave positions to argue pitches (SF)


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