Saturday, March 17, 2018

Ask the UEFL - Testing for Fog and Other Perils of Play

At nearly all levels of baseball, the sport's rules state that play shall be halted when lack of visibility poses a safety or playability risk to players or other persons. Last week, college umpire-in-chief William Van Raaphorst turned to a unique experiment to test for fog density during a USC-LMU game. The real-world science lab worked, as visibility was deemed too poor to allow play to continue.

The Rule: For reference, NCAA Rule 4-2-b states that "the umpire-in-chief may consult with the game administrator to determine suspension, resumption or termination of play" in the event of "bad weather or unfit conditions [that] prevail during a game." 5-8-c requires the umpire to wait a "reasonable amount of time (not less than 30 minutes)" before calling the game, and uses the delightfully devilish phrase, "any cause that puts patrons or players in peril."

In professional baseball, the citation is OBR 5.12(b)(1) for a game in progress ("The umpire-in-chief shall call 'Time' when in his judgment weather, darkness or similar conditions make immediate further play impossible"). Rule 4.03(e) requires the UIC to wait at least 30 minutes after suspending play before calling the game, and allows UIC to "continue the suspension so long as he believes there is any chance to resume play" (in a few years, perhaps the Rule Committee will change it to "so long as the umpire believes...").

NFHS (high school) rules are similar: "'Time shall be called by the umpire and play is suspended when...the umpire considers the weather or ground conditions unfit for play" (5-2-1.b). High school allows an umpire to call the game, rendering it final, after 30 minutes of suspension (unless the game is part of a state series, or other exceptions determined by the local governing body or state).

Summary of Jurisdiction (time when a party has authority to decide whether to play/stop a game):
1) Pre-Game: In general, the home team determines whether or not to start a game.*
2) Game Has Started: The umpire determines whether to suspend or restart a game.^
3) Between Two Games of a Double-Header: Treated like in-game; the umpire has jurisdiction.

*College uses "coach and the director of athletics (or rep) of the host institution," while high school uses "home coach," and professional ball uses "home team" (OBR 4.04[a]).
^In pro ball, the umpire-in-chief assumes jurisdiction when he receives the home team's batting order. In NCAA, the umpire is officially in charge of the game upon receipt of both teams' lineups.

Seagulls caused a suspended game in 2017.
Testing for Fog: As for determining what exactly "any cause that puts patrons or players in peril" (NCAA),  "conditions make immediate further play impossible" (OBR), or "unfit for play" means, that's left to umpire discretion. As for how to make such a judgment call, that's similarly up to the umpire.

Then again, perhaps some perilous conditions are more obvious than others. Recall the rain and circling seagulls that caused a suspended game in Japan during the 2017 NPB season when umpires deemed the birds too dangerous to allow play to continue.
Related PostNPB Game Suspended After Flock-of-Birds Delay (8/31/17).

It just so happened that UIC Van Raaphorst found that the best way to test for fog was to hit a baseball into the sky and see if tracking the ball posed an issue. It evidently did, and the game entered a fog delay, ultimately resulting in termination of play for the rest of the night. Because the game hadn't yet gone the requisite five innings (or 4 1/2 with the home team in the lead), the game was postponed and will be made up at a later date.

I just wouldn't want to be the right fielder during that test. Video as follows:

Friday, March 16, 2018

Spring Feature - Ted Barrett Interviewed During Game

In a bit of access only possible during Spring Training, MLB umpire Ted Barrett granted an interview with Angels broadcaster Jose Mota during Thursday night's game against Chicago (AL) at Tempe Diablo Stadium.

Crew Chief Ted Barrett has an in-game Q&A.
Barrett, who officiated Thursday's game alongside plate umpire Ramon De Jesus, Bruce Dreckman, and former regular season crew-mate Alfonso Marquez, told Mota of the umpires' spring routine, explaining how umpires are assigned to Arizona or Florida (A: generally, by proximity to residence), when the field umpires switch bases during the spring (A: crew chief decides, usually switch bases every two innings), and educating players and managers about rules.

Barrett also discussed working with younger officials and complimented his game's plate umpire, De Jesus, saying, "A guy like Ramon, he's tremendously talented. The older guys bored into me some wisdom, some knowledge, so I feel like it's my responsibility to bore it back."

Ted Barrett is the UEFL's most decorated umpire, having won seven total postseason awards, including Crew Chief of the Year (2014, 16, 17), Honorable Umpire of the Year (2012, 13, 14), and Best Umpire of the Year (2014).

Video as follows:

Going Out - When a Wall is Potentially Trouble

A seemingly standard Spring Training play turned troublesome when Boston baserunner Hanley Ramirez returned to third base after appearing to score a run against Toronto on JD Martinez's double to the wall at JetBlue Park (aka Fenway South). With replays indicating the ball appeared to bounce off the base of the wall before being scooped up by Blue Jays left fielder Teoscar Hernandez, as opposed to becoming stuck in the wall, what happened to send Hanley back to third?

The Play: With none out and Hanley Ramirez at first base (R1), Martinez hit a line drive down the left-field line, bounding to and off the wall for a double, where it was fielded by Hernandez as Ramirez touched home plate. After the play, Ramirez returned to third base. According to BoSox official scorer Justin Long's report, Martinez was credited with a ground-rule double to left.

The Rule: To clarify, there are no stadium-specific ground rules that would cause a ball to become dead if it caroms off an in-play wall and bounces or rolls back onto the playing field, so the "ground rule double" label is a misnomer.

Instead, consider Official Baseball Rule 5.06(b)(4)(F): "Each runner including the batter-runner may, without liability to be put out [the ball is dead], advance—Two bases, if a fair ball bounces or is deflected into the stands outside the first or third base foul lines; or if it goes through or under a field fence, or through or under a scoreboard, or through or under shrubbery or vines on the fence; or if it sticks in such fence, scoreboard, shrubbery or vines."

For more on this rule, seeCause You're Stuck in the Wall - Batted Ball Out of Play (9/20/16).

Is this uncatchable line drive trouble or not?
Analysis: Replays indicate the ball did not fall out of play nor stick in the fence, but if any rule were to justify bringing R1 back to third base, it would be 5.06(b)(4)(F).

The bigger officiating question, naturally—and assuming that Ramirez didn't return to third base on his own volition—is why 3B Umpire Tim Timmons did not go out with the ball if it could potentially cause trouble by virtue of the stuck vs. loose debate. Does that qualify as "trouble" or is this non-catchable line drive a run-of-the-mill batted ball that merits no special attention; when should a field umpire go out?

Officiating Mechanics for the Four-Umpire System: With a runner on first base only and the second base umpire positioned inside, the first and third base umpires share responsibility for the entire outfield area. For a ball hit to left field, the third base umpire assumes primary responsibility.

When the third base umpire goes out, the home plate umpire rotates to third base and the first base umpire goes home upon observing baserunner R1 commit to third. The second base umpire then assumes responsibility for R1 back into second, and for the batter-runner into second or back into first. The idea is that just about every permutation and base is covered, even with only three umpires in the infield. See the following video for a visual depiction of this.

Diagram of umpire rotation when U3 goes out.
According to MLBUM, "one umpire will go out on ALL fly balls and line drives to the outfield, as well as on all batted balls that have potential for trouble (out-of-play areas, spectator interference, etc.). Outfield coverage is not required on line drives in the gap that are immediately read as non-catchable and are not susceptible to trouble such as spectator interference or a ground-rule double."

For this play, Martinez's batted ball to left clearly was non-catchable, but was potentially susceptible to trouble, due to stadium boundary issue caused by the gap between the dirt warning track and base of padding along the left-field wall, and possibility that the baseball could become stuck in that area.

Colloquially, however, most umpires would read this as a non-trouble ball—especially in a two-person crew—and stay in the infield so as to ensure maximum coverage on the bases (or, a higher likelihood of a play being made on a runner at a base than whether a ball is or is not stuck in the outfield fence). Unfortunately, in this situation, and barring a supposition that Hanley returned to third on his own, staying in may have made the ball more troublesome than it actually was.

As we wrote in 2016, regarding the issue of stuck balls (Cause You're Stuck in the Wall):
To stick is "to remain persistently or permanently," or "to become fastened, hindered, checked, or stationary by some obstruction."
The only question to answer here, then, is whether the ball's motion or position completely stopped upon bouncing or rolling into the wall. Because it appears the ball bounced back onto the warning track after touching the wall, I would surmise the ball did not get stuck and play should be kept alive.

Video as follows:

Thursday, March 15, 2018

2018 UEFL Draft Prospectus - Stats and Summary

To assist your selection of umpires, the Umpire Ejection Fantasy League presents its UEFL Draft Prospectus for 2018, a statistical review of MLB and minor league call-up officials eligible for draft.

Remember, the final day to register for the 2018 UEFL season and draft is Friday, March 23. If you have previously drafted your umpires and wish to modify your selections at any time until that date, you may submit a new draft form using the following link. You will need to use your same username and e-mail address to ensure the updated picks are accurately recorded.
RelatedClick here to draft your umpires for the 2018 UEFL season.
Link: UEFL's Replay Review Statistics & Sabermetrics.

The 2018 UEFL Draft Prospectus includes information collected from the UEFL Portal's Historical Data page and dataset. Additional information concerning each umpire on the roster, and the season's crews may be found on the UEFL Umpire Roster and Profiles page.
Related PostUEFL Year in Review - Tmac's 2017 Replay Recap (10/2/17).

Historical Information and Draft Prospectus - 2018 UEFL Season

Most Ejections Since 2005: 69 (Joe West), 63 (Marty Foster), 58 (Sam Holbrook).
A crossed-out name indicates that specific umpire has retired or is otherwise not eligible for selection.

2017 Umpire Leaderboard
"Perfect Crew" (Most Points): -cc Joe West (23 pts), P1/2 Will Little (26 pts) & Vic Carapazza (22 pts), S1/2 Mark Wegner (23 pts) & Chad Fairchild (18 pts).
Ejections: 10 (Carlos Torres), 7 (Holbrook & Bill Welke).
Replay Points: 9 (Fairchild, Wegner, West), 8 (Carapazza).
[Most replays Experienced]: 29 (Greg Gibson), 26 (Larry Vanover), 25 (Jim Reynolds).
Review Accuracy-RAP: 100.0% (Dale Scott), 87.5% (Pat Hoberg & Ryan Blakney), 81.8% (Fairchild).
Total Pts: 26 (Little), 24 (Wegner), 22 (Carapazza), 21 (Fairchild), 20 (Chris Segal), 18 (John Tumpane).
Crew Chief Pts: 23 (West), 18 (Ted Barrett & Tom Hallion), 16 (Reynolds), 13 (Paul Emmel).
UEFL Awards: Best-Wegner, Promising-Blaser/Fairchild, Honorable-Tumpane.

2016 Umpire Leaderboard
"Perfect Crew": -cc Mike Everitt (15), P1/2 Hoberg (29) & Little (24), S 1/2 Alan Porter (19) & Holbrook (19).
Ejections: 8 (Scott & Todd Tichenor), 7 (Hoberg), 6 (Everitt & West).
Replay Points: 9 (T Barrett & Quinn Wolcott), 8 (Hallion & Porter), 7 (DJ Reyburn).
[Most Replays Experienced]: 31 (Dan Iassogna), 30 (Tim Timmons), 27 (Mark Carlson).
Review Accuracy-RAP: 80.0% (Wolcott), 75.0% (David Rackley), 72.2% (Hallion), 71.4% (T Barrett).
Total Pts: 29 (Hoberg), 24 (Little), 23 (Porter & West), 21 (Holbrook & Adam Hamari).
Crew Chief Pts: 15 (Everitt), 14 (Kellogg & Winters), 13 (Gorman, Vanover & West).
UEFL Awards: Best-Chris Guccione, Promising-Holbrook/Porter, Honorable-Rob Drake/John Hirschbeck.

2015 Umpire Leaders
"Perfect Crew": -cc Hirschbeck (19), P1/2 Holbrook (21) & Tumpane (21), S1/2 Carlson (20) & Gary Cederstrom (15).
Ejections: 8 (West & Holbrook), 7 (Hirschbeck), 6 (G Gibson & Dan Bellino).
Replay Points: 24 (Tumpane & Brian O'Nora), 23 (Hirschbeck, Ron Kulpa, Manny Gonzalez, Jordan Baker).
Total Pts: 23 (Carlson), 22 (Holbrook), 21 (Tumpane), 20 (G Gibson, Tripp Gibson & Bellino).
Crew Chief Pts: 19 (Hirschbeck), 17 (T Welke), 16 (Brian Gorman), 14 (Cederstrom & Hallion).
UEFL Awards: Best-Alfonso Marquez, Promising-Carlson/Porter, Honorable-Hirschbeck/Scott.

2014 Umpire Leaders
"Perfect Crew": -cc Bill Miller (32), P1/2 Carapazza (36) & Bellino (30), S1/2 Guccione (25) & T Barrett (25).
Ejections: 7 (Bellino, Carapazza, Jeff Nelson), 6 (Miller, Mark Ripperger, Timmons, Toby Basner).
Replay Points: 24 (Reyburn), 23 (Doug Eddings), 22 (T Barrett, Adrian Johnson).
Total Pts: 36 (Carapazza), 30 (Bellino), 26 (T Barrett, Nelson), 25 (Little, Guccione).
Crew Chief Pts: 32 (Miller), 23 (West), 20 (Fieldin Culbreth), 18 (Hallion), 16 (Kellogg).
UEFL Awards: Best-T Barrett, Promising-Carapazza/Angel Hernandez, Honorable-T Barrett/Hirschbeck.

The prospectus continues after the page break.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Minor League Baseball Issues 2018 Pace of Play Rules

Minor League Baseball released its pace-of-play rules and regulations for 2018, adopting level-specific mound visit limits and a tie breaker procedure for extra innings. Unlike MLB, MiLB will continue its pitch clock usage throughout the upcoming season, with modifications to timing and situational procedures.

The minors have introduced new timing rules.
MiLB also announced that players will have 15 days to adjust to the new pitch timer rules, instructing umpires to issue warnings in lieu of automatic balls and strikes through April 19. Starting April 20, the 16th day of the minor league season, umpires will enforce the rules as written and call automatic balls or strikes as specified.

Extra Inning Tie-Breaker: A rule already in existence at the lowest levels of professional baseball in the Arizona and Gulf Coast Leagues, all classifications across MiLB will now begin every extra inning with a runner at second base. This means  that the top of the 10th inning of a tied ballgame will begin with the player in the lineup preceding the leadoff batter at second base (e.g., if lineup position A7 leads off the 10th, then A6 will begin the inning on second base). As it relates to scoring (e.g., for calculating earned runs), this pre-placed runner will be considered to have reached base due to a fielding error, which is not charged to the defensive team nor any fielder.
Related PostMiLB to Test Extra-Inning Run Scoring Procedure (2/9/17).

This rule is a modification of what existed during the 2017 World Baseball Classic, which placed runners at both first and second base to begin extra innings 11 and beyond.
Related Post2017 World Baseball Classic Rules Mods Released (2/9/17).

Mound visits are limited by level of play.
Mound Visit Limit: Similar to its MLB counterparts, Triple-A clubs will encounter a six-visit limit. In Double-A, the limit is eight visits per team, while in Single-A, the limit grows to ten. There shall be no limit to mound visits in Short-Season and Rookie leagues. For more about what constitutes, and what isn't, a mound visit, refer to the following link.
Related Post2018 Pace of Play Changes Limit Mound Visits, No Clock (2/19/18).

15-Second Pitch Timer: Following a successful 2016 Arizona Fall League experiment, MiLB's existing 20-second pitch clock shall be reduced to 15 seconds with no runners on base. With runners, the clock shall remain at 20 seconds. The Minor League Baseball pitch clock was first adopted in 2015, and set to 20 seconds for all game situations, following a 2014 AFL initiative that first introduced the 20-second timer.
Related PostMLB to Test Pace of Game Proposals at Arizona Fall League (10/1/14).
Related PostMiLB Double-A, Triple-A to Adopt 20-Second Pitch Clock (1/15/15).

Diagram of when the MiLB timer shall start.
The 15 second clock will begin when all three of the following criteria are met: (1) the pitcher has possession of the ball and is standing on the dirt circle or pitcher's mound, (2) the catcher is in the catcher's box, and (3) the batter is in the dirt circle around home plate, whether or not the batter is actually in the batter's box. The clock will stop when the pitcher begins his windup or begins his motion to come set, and shall reset if the pitcher fakes a pick off or steps off the rubber with runners on base (in which case, the timer will restart immediately).

Pitch Clock Penalties: If the batter is not in the batter's box and alert to the pitcher with seven seconds or less remaining on the timer, then an automatic strike will be awarded. Only if the batter is in the box and ready to hit, an automatic ball shall be called if the pitcher fails to begin his windup or motion to come set within the 15- or 20-second limit.

Carter Capps - Back to Old Tricks or Just a Spring Thing?

Carter Capps pitched only 12 innings for the Padres in 2017, months after Major League Baseball added a rule barring his unorthodox pitching style in which Capps "crow hopped" or reset his pivot foot during delivery.

Umpires ruled no violation on Capps' delivery.
With San Diego opting to bring Capps in for relief during a Spring Training game, the Carter Capps crow hop is seemingly back, yet 1B Umpire Gerry Davis' crew didn't call any violation when Capps hop-stepped his way through a scoreless ninth on Tuesday against Chicago.

Replays indicate Capps' pivot foot, initially in contact with the pitcher's plate, appeared to step a second time toward home plate prior to Capps releasing the ball.

To review Capps' crow-hop history, MLB officially outlawed the pivot foot reset ahead of the 2017 season, adding the following language to Official Baseball Rule 5.07(a) Comment:
Related Post2017 Rules Mods, Including IBB Change, Announced (3/2/17).
The pitcher may not take a second step toward home plate with either foot or otherwise reset his pivot foot in his delivery of the pitch. If there is a runner, or runners, on base it is a balk under Rule 6.02(a); if the bases are unoccupied it is an illegal pitch under Rule 6.02(b).
In 2017, Pacific Coast League Umpire Brett Terry ejected El Paso Chihuahuas Manager Rod Barajas for arguing an illegal pitch call 1B Umpire Terry had made on Capps, while HP Umpire JJ January ejected Capps himself after Capps' subsequent pitch wound up hitting the plate umpire.
Related PostCarter Capps Throws Illegal Pitch, Ejected After Hitting Ump (6/26/17).

Yet, Capps was observed seemingly reseting his pivot foot during every delivery on Tuesday afternoon in Peoria. Has baseball suddenly reversed course on the so-called Carter Capps rule, are the rules more lax during Spring Training, or is Capps' move actually legal?

Video, diagramming Capps' delivery, including his second pivot step/reset, as follows:

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Manfred Pleased, Deems Pace of Play a 'Multi-Year Effort'

Discussing the two pace-of-play rule changes for 2018, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said he was pleased by the changes for the upcoming season, but confirmed his commitment to a "multi-year effort," stating, "I'm fan of the pitch clock."

Modern baseball's pitch clock, which first made its appearance alongside several other experimental time-saving initiatives during the 2014 Arizona Fall League, has lingered as part of the pace-of-play conversation ever since and gained traction since the minor leagues' adoption of the 20-second timer for seasonal play.
Related PostMLB to Test Pace of Game Proposals at Arizona Fall League (10/1/14).

Earlier in 2018, Manfred went as far as to threaten adoption of several prior-year AFL experiments—such as the pitch clock—after the Major League Baseball Players Association rejected the Commissioner's offseason pace-of-play proposal in January, having promised pace of play rules changes during an owners' meeting in November 2017.
Related PostRob Manfred Vows Pace of Play Rules Changes for 2018 (11/16/17).
Related PostPlayers Reject Pace of Play Proposal, Override Probable (1/19/18).

Instead, Manfred opted to forgo the pitch clock for the upcoming season, and instead put the onus of saving time on the players, saying that pitchers' and batters' behavior in 2018 will determine whether or not a pitch clock will be instituted in 2019. Pursuant to the MLBPA-BOC collective bargaining agreement, Manfred as Commissioner possesses the ability and authority to unilaterally institute prior-year AFL experiments, such as the pitch clock.

In lieu of the pitch clock, the Commissioner's Office went forward with a six-mound visit limit and changes to the inning break and pitching change clocks.
Related Post2018 Pace of Play Changes Limit Mound Visits, No Clock (2/19/18).

Earlier this spring, in accordance with the new-for-2018 mound visit rules, HP Umpire Jeff Kellogg charged Minnesota with a mound visit after pitcher Phil Hughes left his position on the mound to check on the wellbeing of catcher Mitch Garver after Garver took a foul ball off his mask during a game in late February. No clarification or exemption for catcher injury has thus far been issued.
Related PostSo it Begins - Mound Visit Charged on Injury Timeout (2/27/18).

Video as follows:

NCAA - Pitcher Ejected After Throwing Ball Near Umpire

Saturday's West Virginia vs Middle Tennessee State University took an odd turn when a pitcher working on an early no-hitter was ejected, nearly hitting the contest's home plate umpire after time was called prior to a pitch.

In the bottom of the fourth inning, West Virginia Mountaineers starting pitcher Alec Manoah faced Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders batter Ryan Kemp. As Manoah prepared to begin his 0-2 delivery, out of Windup Position, batter Kemp requested "Time," which was granted by plate umpire Phil Cundall as Manoah continued through his delivery, ultimately releasing the ball and nearly hitting both batter and umpire with the "no pitch," resulting in his ejection from the contest in the midst of a shutout and no-hitter.

Replays indicate that while right-handed batter Kemp requested "Time" prior to Manoah beginning his windup, the umpire's "Time" call ran simultaneous with Manoah's motion; Manoah followed through with his delivery, and threw the ball through the right-handed batter's box, causing both Kemp and HP Umpire Cundall to jump in an attempt avoid the ball.

Conflict and Game Management: After the ball ran to the backstop, Kemp appeared to take several steps toward the mound before Cundall stepped in front of Kemp and ejected Manoah, who himself had taken several steps off the mound and toward Kemp and Cundall's position up the third base foul line.

Had Kemp remained in the batter's box after the "Time" call, the pitch may well have hit him.

Did UIC Cundall prevent a fight?
Coach/Player/Umpire Philosophy is an NCAA point of emphasis for the 2017 and 2018 seasons, as the NCAA committee "continues to be concerned about unsportsmanlike conduct and the number of ejections that occur during the season." Furthermore, "of particular concern are increasing reports of players making disrespectful comments to umpires."

For observers unsure if Manoah threw at Kemp or Cundall, penalties for intentionally throwing at a batter and an umpire are remarkably similar: as long as the action is deemed unsporting and not an "accident," the rule book requires repercussion.

If one subscribes to the notion that pitcher Manoah threw at the plate umpire to dispute the "Time" call, NCAA Rule 2-26-e states, "Whenever a pitcher is ejected for disputing an umpire’s decision or for unsportsmanlike conduct toward an umpire, whether while serving as the current game pitcher or after having been removed from the game that is still in progress, or in a game that has concluded and the ejection is post-participation, the suspension will be for a total of four games."

If one subscribes to the notion that Manoah instead aimed at batter Kemp, Rule 5-16-d governs: "If a pitcher is ejected for intentionally throwing at a batter, the following penalties shall be enforced...For the first offense by the individual, ejection plus suspension from the team’s next four regularly scheduled contests."

Important Note: The ejection is for "intentionally throwing at a batter," not for "pitching at a batter." In other words, it needn't be an official pitch for an ejection to be effected; just a throw.

Wrap: West Virginia vs. Middle Tennessee State University (NCAA), 3/10/18 | Video as follows: