Thursday, October 26, 2017

MLB Admits Mistake on NLDS 'Backswing INT' No-Call

MLB Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre said NLDS Umpire Jerry Layne mistakenly no-called a backswing contact/follow-through "interference" play in Washington earlier this month, concluding that the rule should have superseded umpire Layne's on-field judgment.

You can read our full recap and analysis of this play here, along with two arguments to be made for two different calls (one which Layne made during the game and one which demonstrates why Layne's call of omission was well as the difference between "backswing" and "follow-through"):
Related PostFollow-Through (Backswing) Contact or Batter Interference? (10/13/17).

The ball was dead on follow-through contact.
Summary: In Game 5 of the Cubs-Nationals NLDS, Cubs batter Javier Baez swung and missed at a 0-2 slider from Nats pitcher Max Scherzer, inadvertently striking catcher Matt Wieters' mask during his backswing. Replays indicate that prior to Baez's bat making contact with the catcher's mask, the pitched ball snuck underneath Wieters' mitt and rolled to the backstop for a passed ball. The sequence was kept alive, and the passed ball allowed runners to advance and Chicago to score a crucial run when Wieters subsequently threw the ball away during his ill-fated attempt to throw out Baez.

After the game, HP Umpire Jerry Layne found consistent use for the phrase, "in my judgment," explaining that since the passed ball had already occurred prior to the backswing contact, he felt that Baez's actions did not play a role on the uncaught third strike nor subsequent overthrow at first base.

Layne's justification for no-calling the play was one of two prevailing arguments that could be made concerning the play. This "no call is the correct call" line of thought makes for a tidy little package, but is, nonetheless, incorrect.

Wieters and Layne discuss the play.
Instead, "no call is the incorrect call" rules the day because, as Rule 6.03(a)(3) & (4) Comment ("If a batter strikes at a ball and misses and swings so hard he carries the bat all the way around and, in the umpire’s judgment, unintentionally hits the catcher or the ball in back of him on the backswing, it shall be called a strike only (not interference). The ball will be dead, however, and no runner shall advance on the play") makes no exception nor allowance for any issue of timing.

As Torre explained on Thursday to Chris Russo on the Mad Dog Sports Radio program, "The rule states...when the bat came around and hit the catcher's mask, it's a dead ball. And that's the one thing that should have taken precedence."

Essentially, the rule precludes the use of judgment other than to determine whether or not the batter's bat unintentionally hit the catcher (or ball) on the follow-through. If it did, then the play must be ruled follow-through contact and a dead ball. The only exception for this is found in the MLB Umpire Manual, and states that if the catcher's initial throw directly retires the runner despite the infraction, the unintentional follow-through contact is ignored and the result of the play (an out) stands.

That wasn't the situation during NLDS Game 5 (there was no "initial throw" and no outs were recorded), and Torre stated that Nats Manager Dusty Baker could have asked for a rules check if he felt Layne's call was wrong: "If you don't like what the umpire's telling you, ask him for a rules check. And they can do that. They can go to the replay center on the headset and check a rule."

Torre demurred, however, on whether he felt Baker's omission—combined with Layne's—helped contribute to Baker's new title of former Nationals Manager Dusty Baker.

Video as follows:

Leaping Laz - Pickoff Throw at Second Base Hits Umpire

After Astros pitcher Chris Devenski's errant pickoff throw struck 2B Umpire Laz Diaz, Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts fielded a reporter's question concerning the incident during his postgame press conference, conceding that, "Laz was in the right position," before graciously concluding with a smile, "that's baseball, things like that happen."

Houston skipper AJ Hinch quipped, "Laz was perfectly positioned, right where we wanted him."

Was Diaz properly positioned for the pickoff play at second? Let's review the sequence.

2B Umpire Laz Diaz jumps as a ball hits him.
The Play: With two out and the Dodgers having freshly tied the ballgame in the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 2 of the 2017 World Series, Astros pitcher Devenski attempted to pickoff baserunner R2 and potential winning run Kiké Hernández at second base. Devenski's throw to second baseman Jose Altuve was off the mark and to the left side of second base, where it hit 2B Umpire Diaz, who was moving into position to rule on the potential tag play at second base. After hitting Diaz, the ball bounced on the infield dirt, where it was retrieved by Altuve before any advancement by the runner. The Dodgers failed to score and the Astros ultimately won the contest, 7-5, in 11 innings.

Ruling Out Interference: Perhaps at this point it is just a formality, but we nonetheless should quickly address the issue of umpire interference, so as to rule it out. Official Baseball Rule 6.01(f) discusses two, and only two, scenarios when umpire interference may occur:
(1) when a plate umpire hinders, impedes or prevents a catcher’s throw attempting to prevent a stolen base or retire a runner on a pick-off play, or 
(2) when a fair ball touches an umpire on fair territory before passing a fielder. Umpire interference may also occur when an umpire interferes with a catcher returning the ball to the pitcher.
OBR also further discusses the first case in 5.06(c)(2): "The plate umpire interferes with the catcher’s throw attempting to prevent a stolen base or retire a runner on a pick-off play; runners may not advance. NOTE: The interference shall be disregarded if the catcher’s throw retires the runner."
Related PostRules 2.00 & 6.01(f): Umpire Interference (7/5/12).

Diagram of middle infield positions, B & C.
Positioning Analysis: With umpire interference ruled out, it follows that an umpire hit by a thrown ball is part of the playing field—the ball is live ("A pitched or thrown ball touches an umpire...the ball is alive and in play")—but this doesn't necessarily indicate Wednesday night's contact was unavoidable.

For plays with a runner on second base only, the MLB Umpire Manual recommends the second base umpire position himself inside the fielders, though umpires are not necessarily restricted to inside positioning if they are more comfortable outside.

This isn't the first deviation from MLBUM...
This is consistent with MLBUM's general principle that second base umpires are always in with runners on base (except a runner on third only OR an infield-in situation). Is there a two-out exemption? Not for a runner on second, though if the fielders aren't all that deep, that will dictate how deep a second base umpire will be, as an umpire should be out with a drawn-in infield.

Still, the issue isn't so much whether Diaz is in or out here, since, presumably, a drawn-in Diaz on the shortstop side would have simply had even less time to react to the wayward pickoff attempt. Again, it's probably more comfortable to be outside for this play (assuming a left side lock)—it might even help one stay away from a potential umpire interference situation on a batted ball up the middle—and that's quite alright.
Related Post: Much About Second Base & Stolen Pickoff Positioning (4/8/17).

Pick a Side: The question has to do with that great alphabetical divide, to B or not to B (to C)?

Which angle would be more helpful here?
Diaz takes this play positioned on the shortstop side of second base and outside, which gives him the advantage of not having to contend with second baseman Altuve running in toward the pickoff throw. We'll call this position "C-out."

However, taking the play from the left side also opens Diaz up to exactly what happened here—getting nailed by a poor pickoff throw. Taking the play from the right side, on the other hand, greatly weakens this possibility and can be beneficial toward getting an angle on the tag vs runner back into the bag.

Diagram of ordinary umpire positioning.
Refer to the "C Left / B Right" diagram, and imagine, if you will, the various angles that a second base umpire may have for a potential pickoff throw with the second baseman covering. The best angle is probably coming from deep B, inside of second base ("B-in"), while the worst may very well be a similarly right-side position, but well outside of second base.

The key is getting into position to see the leading, third-base-facing edge of second base—where percentages dictate the tag attempt most likely will occur. Recall from 2016 our discussion of the keyhole angle and our projected action area wherein an umpire reads the play and predicts where the imminent tag will occur before it actually happens.
Related Post: Tmac's Teachable Moments - Steal Plays at 3rd Base (7/21/16).

Find the keyhole to increase call accuracy.
The reverse angle of B-in is C-out (which is where Diaz approximately was), which should logically mean that C-out is second-best to B-in, right? If B is about halfway between first and second base, and deep B is further up the baseline/closer to second, then isn't C-out just a logical extension of the B-line akin to the first- or third-baseline extended position for a plate umpire (e.g., "really really deep B")?

Again, the issue isn't solely about positioning, it's about positioning in context of a projected play: If the throw is proper, does Diaz's position afford him the best opportunity to observe the keyhole angle?
Related Post: Tmac's Teachable Moments - Pickoff Tag at First Base (5/15/16).

Tie Breaker: With a tag attempt likely going toward B-in and away from C-out (swipe directionally will go from left-center to the right foul line), B-in is the better position: in general, a tag coming toward an umpire's vision makes the play easier to call and a tag going away is harmful (though a tag running perpendicular to the umpire's stance is ideal, as long as one can count on clearing the fielder or runner so as to actually see the play). Because the tag in this situation likely will be on the left side of the runner's body (the outfield side), viewing from the second base side is beneficial. However, if the throw and tag were to go right-left, C-side would likely fare better than B-side.

In Short: It's about umpire comfort and playing the percentages. Predicting a left-to-right swipe would be an argument in favor of B-in, while a right-to-left could swing things C-ward. For this particular play, assuming a proper throw, we have a pitcher who in all likelihood is throwing to the left/C-side of second base, a tag being made to the C-left side, and a left-to-right attempt (again, to clarify, left-to-right refers to the field... because Altuve is facing the reverse direction, the tag will run from the right side of his body to the left side of his body, or, conversely, left-to-right on Hernandez's body). Removing this assumption of accuracy from our arsenal, we're left with a poor throw to deep C, which means one thing: advantage B.

Video as follows:

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Discussion of the 2017 World Series

The UEFL's 2017 World Series discussion is now open.

Home plate umpire performance is listed following the completion of each contest according to pitch f/x and UEFL Rules 6-2-b-a (horizontal bound, "Kulpa Rule") and 6-2-b-b (vertical strike zone, "Miller Rule"). New: 2017 Review Affirmation Percentage (RAP) rank is listed in parentheses next to each plate umpire's name (RAP). For instance, "Umpire A (3)" would signify that Umpire A had the third-highest RAP score in 2017. For more about RAP, see Instant Replay Review Statistics 101: Week 1 Sabermetrics.

Callable pitches (which excludes all swinging strikes, fair and foul balls, HBPs, and pitchouts) are organized by type: "ball" or "called strike."

For instance, if a line score reads "34/36 Strikes," that signifies that of 36 total pitches ruled "strike" 34 were officiated correctly, while two pitches called "strike" were located outside of the strike zone.

- 10/24 HOU@LAD Gm 1: Phil Cuzzi (11): pfx. 72/75 Balls + 44/47 Strikes = 116/122 = 95.1%. +0.
- 10/25 HOU@LAD Gm 2: Paul Nauert (34): pfx. 111/115 Balls + 42/51 Strikes = 153/166 = 92.2%. +3 HOU.

- 10/27 LAD@HOU Gm 3: Gerry Davis (56): pfx. 102/105 Balls + 44/49 Strikes = 146/154 = 94.8%. +0.
- 10/28 LAD@HOU Gm 4: Laz Diaz (23): pfx. 87/92 Balls + 37/40 Strikes = 124/132 = 93.9%. +2 LA.
- 10/29 LAD@HOU Gm 5: Bill Miller (16): pfx. 156/159 Balls + 67/79 Strikes = 223/238 = 93.7%. +1 LA.

- 10/31 HOU@LAD Gm 6: Dan Iassogna (85): pfx. 69/71 Balls + 37/40 Strikes = 106/111 = 95.5%. +3 LA.
- 11/1 HOU@LAD Gm 7: Mark Wegner (12): pfx. 86/91 Balls + 48/52 Strikes = 134/143 = 93.7%. +5 LA.
Series Complete: WS HOU Over LAD 4-3, 94.0%, 1002/1066, Net Skew: +8 LA Dodgers.

NOTE: The highest plate score during the 2016 World Series was Larry Vanover's 97.2% (WS Game 1).
The highest plate score overall during the 2016 Postseason was Jim Wolf's 98.6% (ALCS Game 2).

Live Blog: Join the CCS Crew LIVE for the World Series (requires Java):

Instant Replay Reviews (R-QOC Colors: Green [Confirmed], Yellow [Stands], Red [Overturned]):
- WS-4: HP Umpire Laz Diaz's HBP no-call stands upon review in the 1st inning.
- WS-5: 2B Umpire Mark Wegner's safe call on wild pickoff stands after Astros' 1st inning challenge.
- WS-5: 2B Umpire Mark Wegner rules Correa safe at second, confirmed following Dodgers' review.
- WS-6: 2B Umpire Paul Nauert's slide interference no-call is confirmed as Cuzzi rules no violation.
NOTE: There were 8 Replay Reviews during the 2016 World Series (4/8 Affirmed = .500 RAP).

Monday, October 23, 2017

2017 World Series Umpire Crew and Roster

The 2017 World Series umpire roster is now available, listed by crew assignment. The Replay Official for the LCS and World Series serves in MLBAM's New York-based Replay Operations Center for Games One and Two of the series, before joining the on-field crew for Games Three through Seven. The home plate umpire for Game One of the series correspondingly serves as the Replay Official for Games Three through Seven.

The 2017 Fall Classic umpiring crew is comprised of umpires from the 2017 Division Series. The following configuration refers to positions as assigned for Game 1 of the World Series and indicates prior assignments for the 2017 Division Series. Four of the seven World Series umpires came from NLDS-A (ARI@LAD), while one umpire came from each of the remaining three Division Series.

World Series (Houston Astros @ Los Angeles Dodgers)
HP: Phil Cuzzi '1st WS' [Game 1 Plate] [Replay Review Games 3-7] (from NLDS-A [ARI@LAD])
1B: Paul Nauert '1st WS' [Game 2 Plate] (from NLDS-A [ARI@LAD])
2B: Gerry Davis* [Game 3 Plate] (from NLDS-A [ARI@LAD])
3B: Laz Diaz [Game 4 Plate] (from NLDS-B [CHC@WAS])
LF: Bill Miller* [Game 5 Plate] (from NLDS-A [ARI@LAD])
RF: Dan Iassogna [Game 6 Plate] (from ALDS-A [NYY@CLE])
Replay: Mark Wegner [Game 7 Plate] [On-Field Games 3-7] (from ALDS-B [BOS@HOU])

Replay Assistant, World Series: Tripp Gibson (from AL Wild Card [MIN@NYY])

Bold text denotes World Series Crew Chief, * denotes regular season Crew Chief, ^1st^ denotes first postseason assignment; `1st WS` denotes first World Series assignment. Per UEFL Rule 4-3-c, all umpires selected to appear in the World Series shall receive four bonus points for this appearance; crew chiefs shall receive one additional bonus point for this role (five points total). Officials assigned to replay review (without an on-field role) only do not receive points for this role.