Saturday, September 1, 2018

Carded - Why West Confiscated Pitcher's Cheat Sheet

Joe West didn't umpire the infamous Niekro emery board/sandpaper ejection game of 1987, but he enforced a subset of the same foreign substance rule Saturday in Philadelphia when he confiscated relief pitcher Austin Davis' scouting report card in the top of the 8th inning of the Cubs-Phillies game, a card Davis kept in his back left pants pocket.

West tells Kapler why the card is illegal.
Niekro's ejection as Twins pitcher vs the California Angels on August 3, 1987 at the hands of HP Umpire Tim Tschida, similarly concerned a small flat sheet kept in the pitcher's pants pocket (although emery boards and sandpaper are expressly more sinister than a simple piece of laminated paper). Could this be a "what if..." scenario?

Executive Summary: Similar to Tschida's Niekro game, West's confiscation falls under the nooks and crannies of foreign substance Rule 6.02(c)(7), although unlike Niekro's emory and sand, Davis' card itself was not a foreign substance (if it were, Davis would have been ejected).

Instead, West took the card away from the pitcher pursuant to the authority bestowed upon him under Rule 8.01 in order to prevent the pitcher from potential further violation of 6.02(c)(7) in one of the baseball rulebook's provisions and prohibitions that carries no real penalty other than a "don't do that" instruction from the umpire. It had nothing to do with the information contained on the card—the information was legal, the vehicle for it was not.

Davis hands West the contested card.
The Play: Phillies reliever Davis took a small card—a scouting report cheat sheet—out of his pocket while standing on the mound between Cubs batters. 3B Umpire West jaunted over, asked Davis to relinquish the card, and subsequently put the card into his own pants pocket.

The Rule: After the game, West explained he was enforcing the foreign substance rule and thus removed the illegal object from the pitcher's person. Rule 6.02(c)(7) (Pitching Prohibitions) states that the pitcher shall not, "Have on his person, or in his possession, any foreign substance."

Rule 6.02(d)(1) states that any pitcher guilty of violating a Pitching Prohibition "shall be ejected immediately from the game and shall be suspended automatically."

Rule 6.02(d) Comment states that a warning may be issued in lieu of an ejection if the pitcher unintentionally violates 6.02(c)(2) and (3) only, which state the pitcher shall not "expectorate on the ball, either hand or his glove" nor "rub the ball on his glove, person or clothing," respectively.

No Official Baseball Rule prohibits the pitcher from possessing mere information relative to the opposition.

Analysis: To say West's enforcement was of 6.02(c)(7) is accurate, but requires further explanation. It is accurate in the sense that the enforcement concerns 6.02(c)(7), but it is not accurate to say this is a complete violation of 6.02(c)(7) because, per 6.02(d)(1), all violations of 6.02(c)(7) result in an automatic ejection and the 6.02(d) Comment exception and warning allowance does not apply.

Thus, we dig slightly deeper in the rulebook and find Rule 6.02(c)(7) Comment, which states:
The pitcher may not attach anything to either hand, any finger or either wrist (e.g., Band-Aid, tape, Super Glue, bracelet, etc.). The umpire shall determine if such attachment is indeed a foreign substance for the purpose of Rule 6.02(c)(7), but in no case may the pitcher be allowed to pitch with such attachment to his hand, finger or wrist.
West instructs Davis, "Don't do that."
This is what we call a "don't do that" provision (all encompassed under Rule 8.01(b)'s "Each umpire has authority to order a player, coach, manager or club officer or employee to do or refrain from doing anything which affects the administering of these rules"): the umpire is to instruct the player to stop doing something that is contrary to the rules, but for which no specific penalty exists other than to tell the player, "don't do that."

When it comes to attachments and accessories that are not deemed a foreign substance (or sleeves of differing lengths, or other player uniform infractions under Rule 3.03, etc.), the "don't do that" procedure allows the player to fix the minor infraction without penalty. If the player refuses, the player is subject to ejection, not for the initial infraction, but for objecting to an umpire's decision, as in Rule 8.01(d).

Kellogg invoked 8.01(b) to cut a long sleeve.
Related: In 2017, umpires Will Little and Jeff Kellogg ordered Cubs pitcher Eddie Butler cut off a portion of his shirt sleeves during Chicago's June 16 game against Pittsburgh. Butler's under-sleeves were not the same length and the Kellogg crew used their 8.01(b) "don't do that" authority to order Butler to alter his sleeve length to achieve compliance with Rule 3.03's same length provision.
Related VideoButler has sleeves cut off (6/16/17).

We also see Rule 8.01(c) ("Each umpire has authority to rule on any point not specifically covered in these rules").

Accordingly, West ruled the scouting card fell under the same spirit of the rules as a uniform infraction, bracelet, or other "attachment": the card itself was not a foreign substance, but instead merely a potential vehicle upon which a foreign substance could travel (ask Niekro or another sly pitcher how to rub and transfer a foreign substance from a flat sheet to a pitching hand). West said that Davis didn't intend to break any rules, but the card was not legal and had to go.

Joe Maddon joked, "the scouting report was written on the back of an emory board," while West pawned it off on the Commissioner's Office, "In the long run, maybe [the Commissioner's Office] will let him (have the card). Right now, my hands are tied until they say yes or no. Right now, until the office says it's OK to carry this, he can't do it."

Gil's CallAs the use of pitching analytics and scouting stats spreads across baseball, West is right: the Commissioner's Office will have to decide whether to allow or prohibit these cards—not for the data they contain, but for the foreign substance concern they present. However the league office addresses the issue, it will have to clearly specify what teams' and umpires' responsibilities are relative to these cards, for the sake of consistency and fairness.

Sidebar: I wonder if MLB will consider how pace of play is affected by a pitcher checking the card...

Conclusion: West's confiscation occurred pursuant to the spirit of 6.02(c)(7) concerning attachments not deemed a foreign substance, under the authority bestowed upon umpires by elastic clause 8.01(c), and the "don't do that" authority of 8.01(b).

Video as follows:

Pot & Kettle - Baez Criticizes West for Confrontation

After Chicago's walk-off loss in Philadelphia Friday night, Cubs infielder Javier Baez took umbrage with HP Umpire Joe West over an earlier confrontation, telling reporters, "if anybody doesn’t talk to me with respect, I won’t talk to them with respect, either." Baez and West exchanged words after a strike three call in the top of the first inning.

Baez talked respect after a run-in with West.
Following the conclusion of the contest, Baez stated that, "There’s nothing wrong with asking or talking to umpires."

Baez expressed disproval of West's attitude and said, "I'm not afraid to [tell] anybody that they're doing something wrong," while also saying of West, "When somebody does that, I can’t control my attitude."

Baez also faulted West for the verbal spat: "I didn’t say anything to him, and he came to me like I said something wrong," and added that he and West didn't say a word to each other for the rest of the night ("Good, because I don’t want to talk to him").

Baez later stated, "They need to start talking to us like humans, because they’re not."

Pitch QOC: The first-inning 3-2 pitch to Baez ruled strike three was located off the inner edge of home plate. With a px value of -1.001, the pitch was located 1.044 horizontal inches from being deemed a correct call.

Baez turns to West during the K3 call.
Postgame QOC: Is Baez's claim ("I didn't say anything to him") accurate? The video indicates that Baez turned to West and appeared to state his dissent in short order after the strike three call; due to West's protracted strike three mechanic, it appears that Baez's disagreement began even before West was done calling the out.

Gil's Call: Perhaps it falls to the category of the philosophical whether a person who says, "I can't control my attitude" should criticize another person's conduct; the issue of "when somebody does that" in this context has some mitigating value, but ultimately little bearing because the larger concept is the individual's lack of self-control. A bit of pot-calling-kettle-black mixed together with treat-others-the-way-you-wanted-to-be-treated, perhaps.

As I wrote in my umpire/referee abuse and mental health in officiating column last season, "Personal insults of an official generally have nothing to do with the official personally...The act often concerns some underlying issue within the person committing the abuse and may represent a personal struggle that person has with authority, lack of control, or accepting a result in conflict with one's own desires."
Related PostLet's Talk - Mental Health in an Abusive Environment (10/10/17).

In this case, it appears Baez's struggle concerns, per his own admission, a lack of control, that in this precise situation relates to attitude and respect ("When somebody does that, I can't control my attitude").

The underlying strike three call, combined with Baez's comments concerning attitude and respect, represents an external locus-of-control issue that sports psychologists who work with athletes are likely frothing at the mouth to get at, but in the end, the constant in Baez's comment isn't West personally. In this situation, West merely appears to be the target of Baez's projection that has a bit more of a complex history to it. For instance...

History: This isn't Baez's first run-in with the issue of respect this season. In April, Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle openly questioned Baez's "respect for the game" after a bat flip during a home run Baez hit against Pittsburgh.

Clint Hurdle called out Baez's attitude in April.
Cubs Manager Joe Maddon later praised his players for talking to Baez after the incident about the very issue of respect and attitude.

In comments at the time, Baez pointed out that another player had called him out on the purported respect or attitude issue in 2017, saying, "If anybody has any negative stuff to me, they can save it, to be honest. That's all I have to say."

Whether Freudian denial is involved at all is another issue for another time and not especially our purview or purpose. The takeaway is that whether West is involved or not—heck, whether any umpire is involved or not—the history lives up to the October 2017 article's summation that the player's own issue has spilled over into a classic blame-the-umpire narrative.
Related PostGil's Call: The Blame Game (Umpire Scapegoating) (8/8/14).

Videos as follows:

Friday, August 31, 2018

MLB Ejections 138-139 - Will Little (6-7; BOS x2)

HP Umpire Will Little ejected Red Sox SS Xander Bogaerts (strike one call; QOCN) in the top of the 8th and bench player Rick Porcello (ball one call; QOCY) in the bottom of the 8th inning of the Red Sox-White Sox game. In the top of the 8th, with two out and none on, Bogaerts took a 3-0 fastball from White Sox pitcher Juan Minaya for a called first strike before taking two ensuing pitches for called second and third strikes. Replays indicate the 3-0 pitch was located off the inner edge of home plate and thigh-high (px -1.013, pz 2.425) while the second and third called strikes were properly officiated, the call was incorrect.*

In the bottom of the 8th, with one out and none on, White Sox batter Ryan LaMarre took a 0-0 cutter from Red Sox pitcher Brandon Workman for a called first ball. Replays indicate the pitch was located over the inner half of home plate and knee-high (px -.541, pz 1.742 [sz_bot 1.560 / RAD 1.683 / MOE 1.766]), the call was correct.^ At the time of both ejections, the White Sox were leading, 6-1. The White Sox ultimately won the contest, 6-1.

These are Will Little (93)'s sixth and seventh ejections of 2018.
Will Little now has 7 points in the UEFL Standings (5 Prev + 2*[2 MLB] - 4 QOCN + 2 QOCY = 7).
Crew Chief Ted Barrett now has 6 points in Crew Division (5 Previous + 0 QOCN + 1 QOCY = 6).
*UEFL Rule 6-2-b-1 (Kulpa Rule): |0| < STRIKE < |.748| < BORDERLINE < |.914| < BALL.
The 3-0 pitch to Bogaerts was located 1.188 horizontal inches from being deemed a correct call.
The 0-0 pitch to LaMarre was located .288 vertical inches from being deemed an incorrect call.

This is the 138th, 139th ejection report of the 2018 MLB regular season.
This is the 66th player ejection of 2018. Prior to ejection, Bogaerts was 1-4 (SO) in the contest.
This is the 67th player ejection of 2018. Prior to ejection, Porcello did not appear in the game.
This is Boston's 4/5th ejection of 2018, 3rd in the AL East (NYY, TOR 8; BOS 5; BAL 3; TB 1).
This is Xander Bogaerts' first career MLB ejection.
This is Rick Porcello's first ejection since August 11, 2009 (Brian O'Nora; QOC = U [Fighting]).
This is Will Little's 6/7th ejection of 2018, 1st since July 21 (Joe Maddon; QOC = Y [Check Swing]).

Wrap: Boston Red Sox vs. Chicago White Sox, 8/31/18 | Video as follows:

MLB Ejection 137 - Eric Cooper (5; AJ Hinch)

HP Umpire Eric Cooper ejected Astros Manager AJ Hinch (strike one call; QOCN) in the bottom of the 3rd inning of the Angels-Astros game. With two out and two on (R1, R3), Astros batter Jose Altuve took a 0-0 slider from Angels pitcher Jaime Barria for a called first strike. Replays indicate the pitch was located over the outer edge of home plate and below the hollow of the knee (px .807, pz 1.161 [sz_bot 1.450 / RAD 1.327 / MOE 1.244]), the call was incorrect.* At the time of the ejection, the game was tied, 0-0. The Angels ultimately won the contest, 3-0.

This is Eric Cooper (56)'s fifth ejection of 2018.
Eric Cooper now has 4 points in the UEFL Standings (6 Prev + 2 MLB - 4 Incorrect Call = 4).
Crew Chief Gary Cederstrom now has 11 points in Crew Division (11 Previous + 0 QOCN = 11).

This is the 137th ejection report of the 2018 MLB regular season.
This is the 57th Manager ejection of 2018.
This is Houston's 5th ejection of 2018, T-1st in the AL West (LAA, HOU, TEX 5; SEA 4; OAK 1).
This is AJ Hinch's 2nd ejection of 2018, 1st since May 27 (Tony Randazzo; QOC = N [Balls/Strikes]).
This is Eric Cooper's 5th ejection of 2018, 1st since August 14 (Yasiel Puig; QOC = U [Fighting]).

Wrap: Anaheim Angels of Los Angeles vs. Houston Astros, 8/31/18 | Video as follows:

MLB Ejections 135-136 - Lentz, Nauert (3, 3; DET-NYY)

HP Umpire Nic Lentz ejected Yankees Manager Aaron Boone (strike two call; QOCY) in the bottom of the 5th and 1B Umpire Paul Nauert ejected Tigers Manager Ron Gardenhire (check swing ball four) in the bottom of the 8th inning of the Tigers-Yankees game. In the 5th, with one out and none on, Yankees batter Gleyber Torres took a 0-0 curveball and 1-1 fastball from Tigers pitcher Jordan Zimmerman for called first and second strikes. Replays indicate the 0-0 pitch was located over the outer half of home plate and at the hollow of the knee (px .327, pz 1.412 [sz_bot 1.560 / RAD 1.437 / MOE 1.354]) and the 1-1 pitch was located over the inner edge of home plate and thigh-high (px -.810, pz 1.877), the call was correct.* At the time of Boone's ejection, the Tigers were leading, 3-0.

In the 8th, with two out and two on (R1, R2), Yankees batter Luke Voit attempted to check his swing on a 3-2 slider from Tigers pitcher Joe Jimenez, ruled a ball and no swing on appeal by 1B Umpire Nauert. Play was reviewed and adjudicated by the UEFL Appeals Board (1-6-2), the call was incorrect. At the time of Gardenhire's ejection, the Tigers were leading, 5-4. The Yankees ultimately won the contest, 7-5.

This is Nic Lentz (59)'s third ejection of 2018.
This is Paul Nauert (39)'s third ejection of 2018.
Nic Lentz now has 15 points in the UEFL Standings (11 Previous + 2 AAA + 2 Correct Call = 15).
Paul Nauert now has -1 points in the UEFL Standings (1 Prev + 2 MLB - 4 Incorrect Call = -1).
Crew Chief Paul Nauert now has 3 points in Crew Division (2 Prev + 1 Correct + 0 Incorrect Call = 3).
*UEFL Rule 6-2-b-1 (Kulpa Rule): |0| < STRIKE < |.748| < BORDERLINE < |.914| < BALL.
The 0-0 pitch was located .696 vertical inches from being deemed an incorrect call.

This is the 135th, 136th ejection report of the 2018 MLB regular season.
This is the 55th, 56th Manager ejection of 2018.
This is New York-AL's 8th ejection of 2018, T-1st in the AL East (NYY, TOR 8; BAL, BOS 3; TB 1).
This is Detroit's 4th ejection of 2018, T-3rd in the AL Central (CWS 7; KC 6; DET, MIN 4; CLE 1).
This is Aaron Boone's 3rd ejection of 2018, 1st since July 14 (Jerry Meals; QOC = Y-C [Foul/K]).
This is Ron Gardenhire's 4th ejection of 2018, 1st since June 27 (Lance Barksdale; QOC = Y [Balls/Strikes]).
This is Nic Lentz's 3rd ejection of 2018, 1st since August 9 (Justin Verlander; QOC = Y [Balk]).
This is Paul Nauert's 3rd ejection of 2018, 1st since August 15 (Brian Snitker; QOC = U [Fighting]).

Wrap: Detroit Tigers vs. New York Yankees, 8/31/18 | Video as follows:

MLB Ejection 134 - Chad Whitson (1; Matt Wieters)

HP Umpire Chad Whitson ejected Nationals catcher Matt Wieters (balls/strikes; QOCY) in the bottom of the 6th inning of the Brewers-Nationals game. With one out and one on (R1), Wieters took a 1-1 fastball from Brewers pitcher Jhoulys Chacin for a called second strike before striking out swinging on the ensuing pitch; Wieters was ejected after a called strike during ensuing batter Wilmer Difo's plate appearance. Replays indicate of the 16 callable pitches during the bottom of the 6th inning, including the called second strike to Wieters that was located over the outer edge of home plate and thigh-high (px .855, pz 2.114), Whitson officiated all 16 properly (100% accuracy, 16/16), the call was correct. At the time of the ejection, the Brewers were leading, 4-1. The Brewers ultimately won the contest, 4-1.

This is Chad Whitson (62)'s first ejection of 2018.
Chad Whitson now has 2 points in the UEFL Standings (-2 Prev + 2 AAA + 2 Correct Call = 2).
Crew Chief Mark Carlson now has 2 points in Crew Division (1 Previous + 1 Correct Call = 2).
*UEFL Rule 6-2-b-1 (Kulpa Rule): |0| < STRIKE < |.748| < BORDERLINE < |.914| < BALL.

This is the 134th ejection report of the 2018 MLB regular season.
This is the 65th player ejection of 2018. Prior to ejection, Wieters was 1-3 (SO) in the contest.
This is Washington's 8th ejection of 2018, 1st in the NL East (WAS 8; MIA, NYM 5; ATL 3; PHI 0).
This is Matt Wieters' first ejection since August 5, 2017 (Chad Whitson; QOC = Y [Balls/Strikes]).
This is Chad Whitson's first ejection since August 5, 2017 (Matt Wieters; QOC = Y [Balls/Strikes]).

Wrap: Milwaukee Brewers vs. Washington Nationals, 8/31/18 | Video as follows:

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Balk Sensitivity in Atlanta - Thin Line of a Start-Stop

2B Umpire Chad Fairchild's balk call on Braves pitcher Mike Foltynewicz in Atlanta on Thursday to advance two Chicago runners, mirrored by plate ump Bruce Dreckman, brings to mind the question of start-stop sensitivity: what level of flinch is sufficient for such a balk call and how lenient should an umpire be with, as the Cubs broadcast posited, pitcher's movements related to "breathing"?

Umpires called Folty for flinching at SunTrust.
The Play: With two on (R1, R2) and none out in the top of the 2nd inning, pitcher Foltynewicz took to the mound hunched over on the pitcher's plate, receiving his signs from the preliminary stance known as stretch position. While in the stretch, Foltynewicz was called for a balk after appearing to start his movement toward Set Position, only to immediately stop and return into the stretch.

The Rule: This version of the start-stop balk is found in Official Baseball Rule 5.07(a)(2), which describes Set Position: "Preparatory to coming to a set position, the pitcher shall have one hand on his side; from this position he shall go to his set position as defined in Rule 5.07(a)(2) without interruption and in one continuous motion."

By now, we're familiar with 6.02(a)(1)'s "The pitcher, while touching his plate, makes any motion naturally associated with his pitch and fails to make such delivery," yet this isn't precisely what seems to have occurred here.

Sidebar & Splitting Hairs: Foltynewicz didn't actually start-stop after having come Set—he never achieved Set Position in the first place!

Thus, we rely on an interpretation of the balk rule that holds a pitcher to compliance with 5.07(a)(2) all the way through his various movements while on the rubber, and this includes the stretch. This is stricter than the "don't do this" type of instruction that can be found elsewhere in 5.07—a flinch out of stretch but before coming set is a bona fide balk just as a flinch out of Set Position is a balk if the pitcher fails to complete the pitch, as long as it's a flubbed attempt at going from stretch-to-set (e.g., a pitcher can still breathe or motion for new signs and stay in set position, after all).

So in other words, this is a 'makes any motion naturally associated with his motion to come Set and fails to enter Set Position' type of a balk.

Precedent: Baseball Prospectus in 2013 called the start-stop balk "pebble hunting" and the "black sheep of the baseball rulebook." Click through to the BP article to see five animated GIFs that illustrate such a flinch from stretch and before coming set.

Foltynewicz questions Fairchild's balk call.
Philosophy and Rationale: Having established the validity of this brand of balk, we settle onto a new question relative to the Foltynewicz balk at hand: how sensitive must the umpire be to pitcher movement in order to rule a balk?

If, for instance, as the Chicago broadcast speculated, the pitcher was called for an illegal movement simply related to taking a deep breath, then the umpire's flinch radar is likely too sensitive (or, perhaps more accurately, "improperly calibrated").

If, on the other hand, the umpire deemed the pitcher made a false move—that is to say the pitcher willfully began motion consistent with usual movement from stretch to Set and then failed to complete the transition into Set Position "without interruption and in one continuous motion," then the motion detector has done its job properly for the pitcher has committed a balk.

Key Distinction: It's not the level of flinch at question, it's the type of flinch: if the movement is an involuntary and routine part of the stretch, it's not a balk. If, however, the move is a voluntary act indicative of an attempt to exit stretch position, it is a balk if the pitcher doesn't immediately and naturally transition into Set Position. In start-stop terms, the "start" corresponds to the exit from stretch and the "stop" refers to the failure to enter Set Position.

Legal pitching requires careful choreography.
Alternate Angle: Imagine a baserunner has been instructed to run on first movement. Ordinarily, this refers to the first movement a pitcher makes out of Set Position when actually delivering the pitch to the batter, but for a particularly daring runner looking to catch the defense off-guard, this could mean the pitcher's first move from stretch to Set. If the pitcher flinches here without penalty, the breaking runner is hung out to dry.

Conclusion: In order to preserve enforcement consistency, a balk must be called on each voluntary and detectable flinch from the rubber that could realistically deceive the runner, no matter how minor, in order to afford the runner protection as prescribed by the Set Position and balk rules. If the pitcher's subtle and deliberate start-stop motion is noticeably deceptive in such a way, it is a balk.

Gil's Call: I surmise that had Chicago seen its lead runner thrown out trying to steal third base on Foltynewicz's false stretch-to-set move, and then seen the replay with the pitcher's flinch that drew the runner into no-man's land, the broadcast would likely have criticized the umpires for failing to call a balk. So is the world of officiating.

Falling off the mound is a different balk type.
It's very easy after the fact to criticize the umpire for being too sensitive to the pitcher's movements, but the balk call is designed to protect the runner from deception or other illegal acts, one of which is the voluntary flinch or false start-stop from stretch to Set, and, in turn, from Set to delivery.

Sidebar: Though a pitcher who moves due to wind while in stretch likely has not balked, if the pitcher is blown off the mound entirely, it could very well be a balk (but, likely, for other reasons more significant than a little flinch).
Related PostBalk - Pitcher Blown Off Mound, OBR Adopts Hybrid Rule (5/7/17).

This balk features quick rise & fall motions.
Video Review: Once the pitcher makes a voluntary and deliberate movement, however subtle, to exit the stretch and come set (or exit Set Position to deliver the pitch), said pitcher must be required to complete the transition "without interruption and in one continuous motion." Anything short of that is a balk.

The attached video clip shows Foltynewicz's rhythmic and routine movements while in stretch position—he isn't entirely still and that's okay. The pitcher is legal here up until the moment at about the 21-second mark when his torso abruptly begins to rise before falling just as suddenly. That is not part of his usual routine or movements in stretch; it reads like a momentary decision to exit stretch followed immediately by a return to the stretch. That's a balk.

Video as follows:

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Ask UEFL - Foul Bunt or Ball Fouled Away?

When does a bunt attempt give way to an inadvertent foul ball off the bat? Such was a question for HP Umpire Tony Randazzo during Wednesday's Brewers-Reds game when Cincinnati batter Michael Lorenzen fouled a two-strike pitch that, moments earlier, he had shown an intent to bunt.

Randazzo explains why it wasn't a bunt.
The Play: With none out and two on (R1, R2), Reds batter Lorenzen squared to bunt at the 1-2 offering from Brewers pitcher Taylor Williams. As the pitch approached home plate, Lorenzen, sensing the pitch would be a ball, pulled his bat back and, in doing so, the pitched ball made contact with Lorenzen's bat, sending the batted ball flying behind home plate for a foul ball.

The Call and Argument: After HP Umpire Randazzo ruled the play a foul ball (affirmed as no swing by 1B Umpire Nick Mahrley on appeal), Brewers Manager Craig Counsell argued that Lorenzen had bunted the two-strike pitch foul, while Randazzo maintained his ruling of 'simple' foul ball (no bunt attempt). Who's right?

SIDEBAR: Remember, the hands are not part of the bat. "Hands are part of the bat" is one of the worst rules myths in terms of perpetuation throughout the sport. It is vital that all umpires understand the hands are never part of the bat; they are part of the player's body. When a pitched ball contacts a player's body or hands, it is a HBP and the batter is awarded first base unless the batter is deemed to have attempted to bunt the ball, in which case it is a dead ball strike (see following section).

Analysis: Umpire Randazzo is correct. Lorenzen's foul is not a bunt attempt and, thus, not a foul bunt. The proper call here is "foul ball" and the count remains 1-2. Had Lorenzen attempted to bunt the ball and bunted foul, he would have struck out.

The Rule: The three relevant rules are the definitions of Bunt, Foul, and Strike.

The Official Baseball Rules states that, "A BUNT is a batted ball not swung at, but intentionally met with the bat and tapped slowly within the infield."

The relevant portion of the rulebook's foul ball definition is, "A FOUL BALL is a batted ball that settles on foul territory between home and first base," while the two relevant provisions of the strike rule are as follows:
(c) Is fouled by the batter when he has less than two strikes;
(d) Is bunted foul.
If the batter pulls the bat back, it is not a bunt.
Conclusion: If you missed it, the answer to this play lies in the definition of BUNT: the ball must be met with the bat intentionally. Because Lorenzen was in the act of pulling the bat back when it struck the ball, the contact was not intentional, which means, by rule, it cannot be considered a bunt attempt.

Related Ejection: In 2012, 1B Umpire Jim Joyce ejected Astros Manager Brad Mills for arguing a very similar play when Pirates batter Clint Barmes fouled a 1-2 pitch while attempting to pull the bat back after initially squaring to bunt. In ruling the play a foul ball, the crew determined that Barmes did not intentionally meet the ball with his bat.
Related PostEjection 026: Jim Joyce (1) (5/11/12).
Related Video: HP Umpire James Hoye and Joyce crew rule play a foul ball; Joyce ejects Mills.

Alternate Thought: Another way to think of the issue of foul bunt vs non-bunt foul ball is to consider the play from an aspect of, "If the ball hadn't touched the bat, would this have been strike three based on the batter's attempt to strike at the ball?" If the answer is yes, you have a bunt. If the answer is no, it is not a bunt.

To recap, a foul bunt requires intent. A foul ball does not require intent.

Insult to Injury: After Counsell's unsuccessful campaign for a strikeout, Lorenzen hit a home run.

Video as follows:

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

MLB Ejection 133 - Sam Holbrook (2; Mark Reynolds)

HP Umpire Sam Holbrook ejected Nationals PH Mark Reynolds (strike three call; QOCN) in the top of the 8th inning of the Nationals-Phillies game. With none out and none on, Reynolds took three consecutive pitches from Nationals pitcher Tommy Hunter for called first, second, and third strikes. Replays indicate the first pitch was located over the outer half of home plate and thigh-high (px .458, pz 2.551), the second pitch was located over the outer edge of home plate and thigh-high (px .899, pz 2.330), and the third pitch was located off the outer edge of home plate and waist-high (px .917, pz 3.157), the call was incorrect. At the time of the ejection, the Phillies were leading, 3-2. The Nationals ultimately won the contest, 5-4.

This is Sam Holbrook (34)'s second ejection of 2018.
Sam Holbrook now has -6 points in the UEFL Standings (-4 Prev + 2 MLB - 4 Incorrect Call = -6).
Crew Chief Sam Holbrook now has -2 points in Crew Division (-2 Previous + 0 Incorrect Call = -2).
*UEFL Rule 6-2-b-1 (Kulpa Rule): |0| < STRIKE < |.748| < BORDERLINE < |.914| < BALL.
The 0-2 pitch was located 0.036 horizontal inches from being deemed a correct call.

This is the 133rd ejection report of the 2018 MLB regular season.
This is the 64th player ejection of 2018. Prior to ejection, Reynolds was 0-1 (SO) in the contest.
This is Washington's 7th ejection of 2018, 1st in the NL East (WAS 7; MIA, NYM 5; ATL 3; PHI 0).
This is Mark Reynolds' first ejection since August 17, 2012 (Vic Carapazza; QOC = N [Out/Safe]).
This is Sam Holbrook's 2nd ejection of 2018, 1st since June 10 (Jeff Banister; QOC = Y [Balk]).

Wrap: Washington Nationals vs. Philadelphia Phillies, 8/28/18 | Videos as follows:

Monday, August 27, 2018

Pitch Clock? Anatomy of a Pace-of-Play Auto-Strike

If the MLB Commissioner's allusion to a pitch clock were ever to find a home in Major League Baseball, it would likely take its cue from MiLB, which has employed such a timer for several seasons. Here's an example of an automatic strike and ejection due to precisely a pace-of-play argument that has evolved into the modern pitch clock violation and automatic strike/ball call.
Still image of the field at the 7-second mark.

The Play: With none out and none on in the top of the 4th inning of April 25, 2018's Bisons-Bulls game (Triple-A), Bisons batter Danny Espinosa stepped out of the box following a swinging strike to run the count to 1-2. Pursuant to Official Baseball Rule 5.04(b)(4), the Batter's Box Rule, a batter is permitted to exit the box after swinging and missing at a pitch, but must re-enter the box within the prescribed time limits. As the pitch clock began and expired thereafter without a pitch having been thrown, HP Umpire Richard Riley declared an automatic strike on batter Espinosa, resulting in a strikeout.

Diagram of how MiLB starts its pitch clock.
The Pitch Clock Rule: In MiLB, the 15-second pitch clock with the bases empty (20 with runners aboard; the clock was lowered to 15-seconds with no runners in 2018) begins to count down when the pitcher is on the mound, catcher in the catcher's box, and the batter is within the dirt circle, whether or not the batter is in the batter's box. The following list indicates whether an automatic strike or automatic ball is awarded, and what the fielders'/batter's obligation is to avoid such a penalty:

7-Seconds: Batter in box & alert. Penalty: Auto-Strike.
0-Seconds: Pitcher begins motion. Penalty: Auto-Ball.

As illustrated, the rule requires the batter to first become alert to the pitcher before the pitcher is required to begin his motion; if all goes according to plan, the batter would have eight seconds from the time the clock starts to fulfill his obligation, which gives the pitcher the remaining seven seconds on the clock to begin the windup or motion to come set.
Related PostMinor League Baseball Issues 2018 Pace of Play Rules (3/14/18).

Video Analysis of Espinoza K: As illustrated by the image at the beginning of this article, Espinoza was well out of the batter's box at the seven-second mark while the pitcher was ready and engaged with the pitcher's plate. By MiLB protocol, this is an automatic strike.
Related Link: This happened in Reading when Altoona's Eric Wood took too long to hit (REA).
Related Link: As did Springfield's Alex Mejia, when he failed to get ready in time (SPR)

Related LinkConversely, Harrisburg pitcher Jaron Long walked a batter on just three thrown pitches when he took too long to throw a 3-2 pitch during a Senators game (HAR).

As a result of this and other pace-of-play initiatives at the minor league level, both Triple-A (PCL and IL) leagues dropped average game time by nearly 15-minutes from 2014 to 2015, as did Double-A's Southern League, to approximately 2:45 in length. The 2017 average time-of-game was about 2:49.

Is the pitch clock still fair game for MLB?
By contrast, MLB's average times have increased to an all-time high of 3:08 in 2017 (it was 3:00 in 2014), having first broken the three-hour mark in 2012. MLB's estimated time-between-pitches for 2017 was 23.8 seconds, which one will notice is 3.8 seconds longer than the 20-second "runners on" pitch clock in the minors, and 8.8 seconds longer than MiLB's 15-second "bases empty" clock. 2017's 23.8 was the highest (or slowest) pace since at least 2007.

Gil's Call: With Commissioner Rob Manfred previously referring to a possible override if the players were unable to fix the pace-of-play issue on their own, without a clock, could we be headed to a scenario Manfred may have envisioned all along: set a pace-of-pitch goal, anticipate that the players will fail to reach that goal, and institute the desired measures, having given the players a chance...not so much a chance to succeed, but a chance to "not fail"?
Related PostManfred Pleased, Deems Pace of Play a 'Multi-Year Effort' (3/13/18).
Related PostPlayers Reject Pace of Play Proposal, Override Probable (1/19/18).

Catricala takes an automatic strike.
Related: In 2013, we visited the case of RockHounds batter Vinnie Catricala's one-pitch strikeout and ejection care of HP Umpire Ron Teague, who invoked OBR 5.04(b)(4) in declaring automatic strikes two and three when Catricala refused to timely enter the batter's box ("If the batter refuses to take his position in the batter’s box during his time at bat, the umpire shall call a strike on the batter. The ball is dead, and no runners may advance. After the penalty, the batter may take his proper position and the regular ball and strike count shall continue. If the batter does not take his proper position before three strikes have been called, the batter shall be declared out"). This was not a pitch clock violation (2013), but nonetheless an example of an automatic strike penalty as the result of a player's violation of an existing Official Baseball Rule.
Related Post: Minor Teague Ball: The One Pitch Strikeout and Ejection (8/4/13).

Video as follows:

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Sabino Scout - MLB Umpire Strike 3 Mechanics Video

Ever wonder about the variety of strike three mechanics employed by MLB umpires? How about a UEFL video analysis?

From classic bow-and-arrow to chainsaw, literal punch-out jabs, to the Tom Hallion Backbreaker™ and beyond, the following table and video is a quantitative overlook at all 91 MLB and MiLB umpire strike three call types at the major league level. Cheers to UEFL'er Andrew Sabino for creating and providing the compilation video.

The table is a feeble attempt to classify each umpire's called third strike mechanic, while the video is a quick hits-style compilation of each of the 91 2018 MLB + MiLB call-up umpire's called third strike mechanic, sorted numerically by sleeve number from #1 Bruce Dreckman (Chainsaw) and ending with #98 Chris Conroy (Bow-and-Arrow):

Strike 3 Call Type # of Umps Umpire Sleeve #s
Bow-and-Arrow (Straight-on-Chainsaw) 55 2, 4, 7, 9, 11, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 28, 29, 30, 31, 34, 35, 37, 38, 39, 40, 43, 45*, 46, 47, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 58*, 59, 60, 62, 63, 64, 67, 68, 71, 73, 75, 76, 77, 79, 80, 81, 83, 84, 86, 89, 90, 91, 93, 94, 95, 97, 98
Chainsaw (Sideways Bow & Arrow) 19.5 1, 3, 6, 12, 22, 23, 24, 26, 27, 33, 35, 41, 45*, 54, 57, 65, 87, 88, 92, 96
Punch Out or Punch Down 9.5 8, 19, 25, 48, 56, 58*, 72, 74, 78, 85
Disco (Raised or Vertical Arm) 2 5, 21
Hybrid Disco + Bow or Chain 4 10, 13, 32, 44
Backbreaker™ 1 20

* (Asterisk) Indicates that two distinct types were observed with such frequency as to render the classification a 50-50 split; distributions other than 50-50 were classified as to the mechanic type most commonly observed. Note that there is no variation indicated for batter classification (e.g., left-handed or right-handed batter), but some umpires do vary their mechanic based on the handedness of the batsman.

Video as follows: