Monday, March 18, 2019

MLB Ejection S-2 - Brennan Miller (1; Miguel Cabrera)

HP Umpire Brennan Miller ejected Tigers 1B Miguel Cabrera (strike three call; QOCU) in the bottom of the 6th inning of the Orioles-Tigers game. With two out and none on, Cabrera took a 0-2 pitch from Orioles pitcher Nate Karns for a called third strike. Replays indicate the pitch was located around the outer edge of home plate and approximately knee-high; StatCast is unavailable for this Spring Training game (there were no other callable pitches during the at-bat), the call was irrecusable. At the time of the ejection, the Orioles were leading, 6-0. The Orioles ultimately won the contest, 11-1.

This is Brennan Miller (-)'s first ejection of Spring 2019.

This is the second ejection of the 2019 preseason.
This is the 1st player ejection of 2019 Spring. Prior to ejection, Cabrera was 1-3 (2 SO) in the contest.
This is Detroit's 1st ejection of 2019 Spring, T-1st in the Grapefruit League (DET, HOU 1).
This is Brennan Miller's first career MLB ejection.
This is Miguel Cabrera's first ejection since August 24, 2017 (Carlos Torres; QOC = U [Fighting]).

Wrap: Baltimore Orioles vs. Detroit Tigers (Spring Training), 3/18/19 | Video as follows:

Podcast - Episode 11 - Angel, AJ, and Umpire Futures

After Angel Hernandez's high profile Spring Training ejection of Astros Manager AJ Hinch, we put together a Plate Meeting podcast episode to discuss yet another instance of umpire abuse and MLB's decision to suspend the offender for one Spring game. Tmac serves as Gil's featured guest as we discuss baseball's tacit Open Season on Umpires approach to discipline (or lack thereof) in recent times and a possible motivation behind the lax punishment strategy.

An audio Teachable Moment revisits the ejection sequence and considers the different approaches to post-ejection situation handling at the Major League versus NCAA or lower levels.

We also discuss the future of umpiring at professional baseball's highest level, robot umpires, pace of play, and look forward to our upcoming podcast with Jim Joyce.

Click the below play (▶) button to listen to "Episode 11 - Angel Hernandez, AJ Hinch, and Umpire Futures" or visit the show online at https://anchor.fm/the-plate-meeting. The Plate Meeting is also available on iTunes (Apple Podcasts), Google, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn, and several other podcast apps.

Alternate Link: Episode 11 - Angel Hernandez, AJ Hinch, and Umpire Futures

Additional Links, Videos, and Other Media:

The Plate Meeting is brought to you by OSIP, where Outstanding Sportsmanship IParamount.

Related Post & VideoMLB Ejection S-1 - Angel Hernandez (1; AJ Hinch) (3/15/19).
Related LabelAngel Hernandez (UEFL History).

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Friday, March 15, 2019

MLB Ejection S-1 - Angel Hernandez (1; AJ Hinch)

HP Umpire Angel Hernandez ejected Astros Manager AJ Hinch (strike one call; QOCU) in the bottom of the 1st inning of the Cardinals-Astros game. With none out and none on, Astros lead-off batter George Springer took a first-pitch fastball from Cardinals pitcher Daniel Ponce de Leon for a called first strike. Replays are unavailable for this game, the call was irrecusable. At the time of the ejection, the game was tied, 0-0. The Astros ultimately won the contest, 5-0.

This is Angel Hernandez (5)'s first ejection of Spring Training 2019.

This is the first ejection of the 2019 preseason.
This is the first Manager ejection of the 2019 preseason.
This is Houston's 1st ejection of 2019 Spring, 1st in the Grapefruit League (HOU 1; All Others 0).
This is AJ Hinch's first ejection since August 31, 2018 (Eric Cooper; QOC = N [Balls/Strikes]).
This is Angel Hernandez's first ejection since June 29, 2018 (Andy Green; QOC = Y [Balk]).

Wrap: St. Louis Cardinals vs. Houston Astros (Spring Training), 3/15/19 | Video as follows:

Stroman's Timing Experiment and the Illegal Pitch

Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman has experimented with delivery timing in an effort to keep batters and umpires on their toes, and this Spring Training proved no exception as Stroman began his delivery, broke his hands by taking his throwing hand out of his glove without the ball, only to reach back into his glove, grip the baseball, and resume his pitch to the batter.

Marcus Stroman separates his hands early.
With a runner or runners on base, this would clearly result in a balk, as Official Baseball Rule 6.02(a)(10) states that it is a balk when, "The pitcher, after coming to a legal pitching position, removes one hand from the ball other than in an actual pitch, or in throwing to a base."

But what is the call when there are no runners on base, as was the case this week when Stroman tried the wipe-throwing-hand-on-pants delivery?

And how about if I told you that Stroman has done something very similar before, during the regular season, that nearly caused Paul Nauert to eject him after Nauert pointed out the rules infraction?

The Rules Book: When the Playing Rules Committee restructured the rulebook during a recodification meeting in San Diego on December 10, 2014, the Committee's goal was to better organize the rules of baseball into a more logical or chronological format. Whereas the old system had different rules for The Batter (old Rule 6.00), The Runner (old Rule 7.00), and The Pitcher (old 8.00), the Committee felt this approach problematic because there would be plays that involved both the batter and the pitcher, or other permutation, such that the necessity of jumping around from rule to rule might prove too confusing or convoluted. The Committee wanted to make the code simpler.

2015 diagram of hybrid legality across codes.
The New Analysis: In a way, this approach works, since "standard" baseball plays—how to pitch, how to bat, making an out, scoring a run, etc.—all exist within Playing the Game (Rule 5.00), while infractions exist within Improper Play, Illegal Action, and Misconduct (Rule 6.00).

The wrinkle now is that whereas pitching deliveries in the past would exist entirely within The Pitcher (old OBR 8.00), we now have to reference both the "standard" rule on Pitching (new OBR 5.07) and the modern codification for illegal pitching (new OBR 6.02).

Rule for Pitching Deliveries: New OBR 5.07 references legal pitching deliveries—Windup and Set Positions. It doesn't particularly matter how convoluted Stroman's wacky windup is, or whether he wants to claim set position—hybrid be damned—because both rules contain the same language as to deliveries: "Any natural movement associated with his delivery of the ball to the batter commits him to the pitch without interruption or alteration."

What's the penalty for failing to complete this action? Either start over, or if it's a habitual problem, go with don't do that. (In other words, OBR does not prescribe a precise penalty.)

Sidebar: OBR's Windup vs Set "hybrid" rule, 5.07(a)(2)—wherein a pitcher with pivot foot parallel to the rubber must declare his intent to pitch from Windup lest he be presumed to be in Set Position—only applies when there are runners on base.
Related PostBalk - Pitcher Blown Off Mound, OBR Adopts Hybrid Rule (5/7/17).

Paul Nauert previously called Stroman's bluff.
That said, Rule 5.07(a)(2) Comment states: "If, however, in the umpire’s judgment, a pitcher delivers the ball in a deliberate effort to catch the batter off guard, this delivery shall be deemed a quick pitch, for which the penalty is a ball. See Rule 6.02(a)(5) Comment."

But Rule 6.02(a)(5) Comment states: "A quick pitch is an illegal pitch. Umpires will judge a quick pitch as one delivered before the batter is reasonably set in the batter’s box. With runners on base the penalty is a balk; with no runners on base, it is a ball. The quick pitch is dangerous and should not be permitted."

Analysis: So there you have it. 5.07(a)(2) wants this outlawed if the pitcher delivers the ball in a deliberate effort to catch the batter off guard, BUT 6.02(a)(5) doesn't want this called a quick pitch unless it's delivered before the batter is reasonably set in the batter's box.

U1 Nelson ejects a pitcher over "don't do that."
So...was the batter reasonably set? Let's assume that the batter sees Stroman violate the tenet of 5.07 in removing his hand without throwing a pitch, and, in turn, steps out of the batter's box.

Would the batter be deemed reasonably set in this case? Is this an illegal pitch/automatic ball, a "Time" call (similar in theory to "the batter cannot cause a balk/starting from scratch"), or otherwise? What if the batter stepped out of the box, thinking that Stroman had simply stopped his expected delivery?

As we learned from Jeff Nelson in July 2018, pitchers don't always take too kindly to a "don't do that" instruction. 1B Umpire Nelson ejected Dodgers reliever Daniel Hudson for arguing a 5.07(a) "do not do that" command. Again, the rule doesn't exactly carry a definitive one-size-fits-all penalty for violating the code, but Hudson's maneuver still violated a rule.
Related PostMLB Ejection 087 - Jeff Nelson (2; Daniel Hudson) (7/4/18).

Nauert granted McCann's request for "Time."
Precedent: In July 2017, HP Umpire Paul Nauert called "Time" at the behest of Astros batter Brian McCann when McCann, alert to the fact that Stroman had violated 5.07(a) regarding the requirement that a pitcher pitch without interruption or alteration, requested "Time" when Stroman completed a fake leg pump and paused without delivering the ball, leading to protestation from Stroman, angry that Nauert granted "Time" to a batter thrown off by Stroman's attempt to circumvent the rule.

No ejections resulted, but just like Nelson and Hudson, Nauert-Stroman goes to show that there can be game management ramifications for a rulebook that allows pitchers to routinely circumvent the delivery regulations with little-to-no penalty for deviation.
Related PostDead Ball - Stroman's Start-Stop and Contested Time Call (7/8/17).

What happens when both players break a rule?
OBR 5.04(b)(2) states that, "Umpires will not call 'Time' at the request of the batter or any member of his team once the pitcher has started his windup or has come to a set position," but Rule 5.07(a) also states that a pitcher is obligated to pitch "without interruption or alteration" once he has started his natural movement associated with delivery.

What's the penalty when both the pitcher and batter have violated?

OBR 5.04(b)(2) Comment goes on to say, "If after the pitcher starts his windup or comes to a 'set position' with a runner on, he does not go through with his pitch because the batter has inadvertently caused the pitcher to interrupt his delivery, it shall not be called a balk. Both the pitcher and batter have violated a rule and the umpire shall call time and both the batter and pitcher start over from 'scratch.'"
Related PostStarting From Scratch - Batter Disrupts Pitcher's Delivery (6/29/17).

Video as follows:

Thursday, March 14, 2019

MLB Rule Changes Announced for 2019, 2020

MLB and the Players Association announced rule changes for the 2019 and 2020 seasons, including a mound visit limit reduction, new All-Star Game and trade deadline procedures, expansion of the active roster, and a minimum number of batters for pitchers.

Commissioner Rob Manfred brought change.
The full list of changes for the 2019 season is as follows:
> Inning breaks are reduced to 2-minutes flat in length.
> Mound visits are limited to five (down from six).
> Trade waivers eliminated; only one deadline: July 31.
> All-Star Game voting changes are TBD.
> > ASG will use the runner-on-2B extra inning tiebreaker.
> Home Run Derby winner will receive $1 million.

The full list of changes for the 2020 season is as follows:
> Active rosters increased from 25 to 26 players.
> 40-man active roster limit in September is eliminated.
>> 28 players shall be carried on the Sept active roster.
> An MLB-MLBPA joint committee will determine the maximum number of pitchers that may appear on an active roster. Only these players will be eligible to pitch unless the game goes into extra innings and/or the score differential is six runs or more.
> A pitcher's minimum time on the injured list shall increase from 10 to 15 days.
> MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred's Office will change OBR 5.10(g) to require that all pitchers must pitch to a minimum of three batters or until the end of a half-inning, whichever comes first.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Vigilant Kellogg Eyes a Spring Hidden Ball Trick

Official Baseball Rule 8.00 concludes with General Instructions to Umpires, including guidelines for where an umpire should and should not go, what an umpire should and shouldn't do, and a review of the umpire's primary responsibility: to be in position to see every play.

A hidden ball trick in the Spring.
Sure, a byproduct of following umpiring's #1 golden rule is to get the call right, but even the rulebook itself acknowledges that baseball is a game officiated by humans: "Most important rule for umpires is always 'BE IN POSITION TO SEE EVERY PLAY'" - in all-caps, just like that. Again, the most important rule is not to get the call right, but to be in position to officiate.

The General Instructions also bring us to a Spring Training hidden ball trick, where 1B Umpire Jeff Kellogg teaches us that it's never too early to see something unusual. The hidden ball trick is, well, not exactly a trick, but a hope that the offensive team loses track of where the ball is, all while the ball remains alive and in play.

We've discussed restrictions about the hidden ball trick before (namely Rule 6.02(a)(9)'s prohibition that the pitcher cannot "stand on or astride the pitcher's plate" without the ball - in 2017, MiLB Umpire Ryan Wilhelms ejected Buies Creek Manager Omar Lopez over such an "on or astride" debate), but Kellogg's is rather simple, and touches on another key aspect of the General Instructions: "Keep your eye everlastingly on the ball while it is in play."
Related PostMiLB - Wilhelms Ejects Lopez on Hidden Ball Trick Play (5/4/17).

Angel Hernandez calls Juan Uribe out.
SIDEBAR: This play is similar to the August 10, 2013 play wherein Rays infielder Evan Longoria took custody of a baseball after a sacrifice fly and, while the ball remained live, walked behind third base where Dodgers runner Juan Uribe casually chatted with 3B Coach Tim Wallach. As soon as Uribe took his foot off the base, Longoria tagged him with the ball and 3B Umpire Angel Hernandez, having kept his eye everlastingly on the ball, called Uribe out. The play even fooled the FOX Sports broadcaster Eric Karros, who initially posited the crew had made a "bad call" on a leaving-early appeal, before returning from commercial break and complimenting Hernandez for his "great job" in calling Uribe out.
Related Video: Juan Uribe falls victim to trick as 3B Umpire Angel Hernandez stays alert (8/10/13).

Kellogg's Spring Play: After receiving a pickoff throw, first baseman Miguel Cabrera fakes a throw back to the pitcher while baserunner R1 Ehire Adrianza rises to dust himself off, having slid safely back into first base on the initial throw. As soon as Adrianza steps off the base, Cabrera applies the tag, Kellogg - who has been watching the entire time, as he should - calls the runner out, and the hidden ball illusion is complete.

Video as follows:

Monday, March 11, 2019

Top 15 MLB Hothead Managers by Ejection Frequency

We've published the Top 10 MLB Hothead Players by Ejection Frequency, so now it's time to list the Top 15 Hothead Managers in Major League Baseball. Once again, the umpire sabermetric value Games Per Ejection (GPE) will be used to determine the most frequently ejected skippers in the game.

As we used David Ortiz's 175 GPE for the players' benchmark, we will use all-time managerial ejections leader Bobby Cox's mark of 161 ejections over 4,501 regular season + 136 postseason games, or 29 GPE as our basis for illustration.

Perhaps, however, the more apropos comparison for Cox's notably incessant managerial GPE of 29 is Milton Bradley's GPE of one ejection for every 55 games played.
Related PostDetermining The League's Biggest Hothead (It's Big Papi) (6/11/15).

Rick Renteria is the most-frequent skip ejectee.
Here are the results for the ten most-frequently ejected active managers (minimum 300 games managed). Because managing a team is very different from playing on one, we'll only include data from a person's time as a bona fide manager of a major league ball club. You can also click each skipper's name that appears in the accompanying table for that individual's UEFL ejection report history.

Note that the language used—Hothead Manager—is meant as a consistent title in concert with our Hothead Players feature. Many times, however, a manager—such as Cox—would be ejected not because of a "hothead" reason, but in order to protect a player, who might instead be the true "hothead."

Legend and Definitions
Ejection Rate: Measured in Games-Per-Ejection (GPE).
GPE: Games played divided by their ejections.
EPS: Ejections per Season, based on 162 GP.

Active MLB Managers with Highest Ejection Frequency
#Player NameGames Per Ejection
(GPE [GP/EJ])
Ejections Per Season
(EPS [E/GP*162])
1Rick Renteria276.05
2Ron Gardenhire295.53
3Joe Maddon404.05
4Brad Ausmus404.02
5Clint Hurdle413.96
6Don Mattingly453.63
7Brian Snitker503.25
8Craig Counsell523.18
9Bruce Bochy523.10
10Andy Green543.00
11Ned Yost552.92
12Bob Melvin562.89
13AJ Hinch572.83
14Bud Black582.79
15Terry Francona692.35
15Scott Servais692.33

To summarize:
> Alex Cora (81 GPE and 1.00 EPS), Aaron Boone (54 GPE and 1.50 EPS), and Mike Shildt (35 GPE and 4.70 EPS) didn't make the table because they had too few games of managerial experience.
> Joe Torre (65 GPE and 2.49 EPS), Joe Girardi (48 GPE and 3.37 EPS), and John Gibbons (30 GPE and 5.32 EPS) didn't make the table because they are no longer active managers.

Friday, March 8, 2019

MLB Posts Atlantic League Rules, Including Robot Ump

Major League Baseball and the Atlantic League announced a finalized list of experimental rules changes MLB will test in the AL, including the computer-assisted home plate umpire strike zone feature discussed earlier. Pitcher mound visits will go to zero, bases will get wider, and infielder-based defensive shifts will be banned in some of the other rule changes.

It's official: Computers are coming to ALPB.
In February, we first learned of MLB's partnership with the independent ALPB when the pair of professional baseball leagues published a joint press release.

At the time, I wrote that the move benefits MLB because it allows the highest level of baseball to test realistic and off-the-wall rules changes alike in an environment that features professional players, but is not subject to the confines of affiliated ball or the MLB Players Association.

For the Atlantic League, the move gives the league exposure, access to MLB's computer tracking software with a direct link to MLB scouts, and could potentially attract more talent to the ALPB, as the indy league hopes to open a pipeline to the MiLB draft and then-some. In short, MLB gets its sandbox while ALPB gets to sell itself as a partner of Major League Baseball.
Related PostMLB Taps Atlantic League for Reported Robot Ump Test (2/27/19).

Say goodbye to mound visits while you're at it.
Last time out, we wrote that MLB is looking to change—expansion, electronic zones, etc.—and that this partnership is an offer that ALPB can hardly afford to pass on, especially knowing that if it doesn't partner with affiliated ball, some other indy league will.

The top billed change—the electronic strike zone—will take the form of "assistance," as in the plate umpire will be "assisted" by the radar-based TrackMan PitchCast in calling balls and strikes. Naturally, and probably intentionally, the press release remains vague about what MLB/ALPB means by "assisted." Will players still be able to blame umpires since they're still in command or is this language just meant to placate egos?

As we said before, this will probably result in a lot more strikes on edge pitches—the "funny" ones.

The full list of rules changes MLB will test in the Atlantic League include:
  1. TrackMan will assist the home plate umpire in calling balls and strikes;
  2. No mound visits will be permitted other than in an actual pitching change or medical purpose;
  3. Pitchers must face at least three batters or end an inning before being replaced;
  4. 1B, 2B, and 3B will be increased in size from 15-inches square to 18-inches square;
  5. Institutes requirement that two infielders stand on each side of second base at time-of-pitch;
  6. Reduce time between innings and pitching changes from 2:05 to 1:45, a 20-second decrease;
  7. For 2nd half of season, extend distance between home plate and pitching rubber by 24 inches.
Gil's Call, Quick Takes:
  1. How many times do we have to say that circa-2019 electronic strike zones are flawed?
  2. MLB has already limited mound visits, so this move will test game impact by their elimination.
  3. This was a 2019 MLB rule change proposal that went nowhere...so it'll be tested in the ALPB.
  4. Lessens the likelihood of collision between runner and fielder (unless Manny Machado plays).
  5. There has been talk of MLB looking to eliminate defensive shifts and this rule is a test of that.
  6. Without directly saying "what happens if we get rid of one commercial break," this is that.
  7. This will give pitchers more chance to spin the ball while giving batters a split second to react.
According to MLB Senior Vice President of League Economics and Operations, MLB hopes to see the rule changes create more balls in play, defensive action, baserunning, and improved player safety."

This is the first of a three-season MLB and ALPB partnership.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

MLB Welcomes Betting by Tweaking Ump Release Info

In the wake of legalized nation-wide sports gambling subject to state adoption, MLB will change the way umpire and team lineup information is released. Instead of allowing clubs to release starting lineups in an unregulated manner, the clubs will now submit all information to the Commissioner's Office, which will reportedly hold the "confidential information" for 15 minutes before making it public by releasing it on an official feed, which it will share with sports data partner Sportradar and betting partner MGM Resorts.

MLB also announced plans to release umpire information in a similar manner. The idea is to "reduce the risk of confidential information being 'tipped.'"

Realistically, that means the coveted "first game of the series" umpiring lineup will go through MLB's central office/system, rather than simply being released via the stats stringer's MLBAM publishing to Gameday (website) or At Bat (app) for those outside the stadium, or via the team's press box lineup monitor for those inside the venue.

Major League Baseball wrote that the changes are meant to reduce "integrity risks" related to sports betting in the wake of a 2018 Supreme Court decision that led Joe West to conclude, "It scares me to death."
Related PostGambling Ban Reversal Has Joe West Scared "to Death" (5/17/18).

A 2018 lawsuit accuses LA owners of fraud.
Don't think sports and money is a big deal? Consider a 2018 class action lawsuit filed against Dodgers ownership group Guggenheim Partners alleging that it defrauded annuity investors by, amongst other things, "siphoning cash for purposes including [Mark] Walter's purchase of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team."

Albert Ogles and a group of investors sued the Dodgers ownership group for breach of contract, federal RICO violations, and unjust enrichment.

The suit, named Ogles v. Security Benefit Life Insurance Company et al (Guggenheim owns Security Benefit), charges that Guggenheim, Walter, then-Guggenheim president Todd Boehly, and Robert Patton Jr—all of whom appear on the Dodgers website as executives—used their insurers and customers as a "cash machine" to fund their record-setting $2.15 billion purchase of the Dodgers in 2012.

No wonder they could afford to buy out Frank McCourt! Allegedly.

Reuters noted, "the complaint...has drawn little media attention."

In November 2018, Walter, Magic Johnson, and several other associates pledged $20 billion of their personal wealth to prop up insurers associated with Guggenheim's purchase of the Dodgers. A CNBC report omitted to mention the 2018 lawsuit, but did mention that two annuity holders sued Guggenheim in 2014 over the Dodgers purchase, and similarly mentioned a regulatory investigation into Guggenheim's conduct.

Joe West expressed his disproval at the law.
Gil's Call: Sports betting's expansion in the United States has prompted states and federal entities alike to write and rewrite policies, procedures, and regulations akin to another event in US history—the expansion of the stock market.

In February 2019, The Daily Dose ran the headline, "Insider Trading Laws Are Coming ... To Sports Betting," in which several states with legalized sports gambling, as well as pending US Senate legislation, set to criminalize the use of "material nonpublic information" in sports betting, similar to the way the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 established the Securities & Exchange Commission, instructing the SEC to crack down on insider trading.

Yet at a time when sports betting is set to turn into a financial powerhouse like the stock exchange, independent bettors—including those who aren't partners with MLB like MGM and Sportradar—are crying foul, claiming MLB's new process ensures that only those entities handpicked by the league, such as MGM, will get lineup information before everyone else, which would lead to an unfair betting advantage.

Will MLB and related entities find themselves having to go through the government, similar to how the NYSE is overseen by the SEC?

In April 2018, Sportradar Head of Esports James Watson separated from the company after an internal investigation into Watson breaking company policy by placing bets on esports contests. While the company claimed there was no evidence of privileged information misuse or manipulation, several outsiders charged Watson with doing just that.

Baseball is becoming bigger business.
On February 24, 2019, Forbes posited that sports bettors leaked the Academy Award's winner for Best Director with widespread discussion that someone had inside information regarding the category. As a result, betting firms largely closed the Best Director option to new bets, but not before a handful of accounts already wagered on longshot and rumored winner Yorgos Lanthimos. Lanthimos ultimately lost to Alfonso Cuarón, leading to speculation as to potential manipulation, similar to price manipulation built on manufactured rumors in the stock market.

Watson, for instance, was found by Sportradar to have placed a series of low-value wagers, which doesn't sound like much, until the angle of manipulation comes into play.

To borrow from the SEC's case book, stock manipulation can be based on inside information, or with no actual information whatsoever (instead, the simple illusion of information can be enough to manipulate the market or even cause a panic [what is a fear-driven rush to sell?]). When it comes to low-price stocks, penny stock fraud commonly takes the form of "pump-and-dump" schemes wherein manipulators buy shares of penny stocks so as to create a public drive-to-buy. As soon as the manipulated penny stock/microcap reaches a certain price point, the fraudsters dump the shares, earning massive profits while leading duped consumers holding the bag with a largely worthless stock.

The ballpark formerly known as Enron Field.
This brand of manipulation sounds very similar to what occurred with the 2019 Academy Awards, and considering its ties to sports betting, there is a great risk it may try to make an appearance in a professional sports league, in some form.

And last but not least, it should come as no surprise that alleged manipulation plays a prominent role in Ogles' lawsuit against Dodgers ownership.

Sidebar Trivia: Just like 2017 World Series foe Los Angeles, the Houston Astros are forever connected to insider trading, as that club still plays at a stadium once known as Enron Field, named for the Texas company taken down by a massive fraud, money laundering, insider trading, and conspiracy scandal (though Enron never owned the Astros).

In other words, the 2017 World Series featured two clubs—the Dodgers and the Astros—with connections to fraud, though only the Dodgers' connection concerns a current lawsuit, and the club's actual ownership.

The Good: MLB's desire to control the release of this information is not an overreaction, just as Joe West's line—"it scares me to death"—is not an overreaction. Sports has become big business and betting has the potential to rival the stock market, one day in the distant future (remember, securities have a massive head start), and it behooves leagues to get smart about the way their game-day information is being used.

It's a good thing that MLB will address betting.
The Bad: Cries from non-MLB partners are valid as well. We have yet to see how MLB's new release-of-information system will function, but if Sportradar and MGM are favored over other entities with info-release, that itself could be deemed a manipulative act that places non-preferred gamblers at a disadvantage, which at some point down the road, depending on future state and federal legislative action, could be illegal and lead to lawsuits.

Sidebar: That means ejection statistics will now be sports betting fodder. Sports betting may be legal, but the Umpire Ejection Fantasy League remains free.

Conclusion: As West and MLBPA representatives alike said back in May 2018, the gambling ban reversal is not good for athlete and umpire safety. While it may prove financially beneficial for the league in the short run, it could provoke Tim Donaghy-level controversy and tarnish the league's reputation if a system safeguard were to fail, whether or not a bad actor exists inside or outside the league office.

That said, no private sports league is above the law, so MLB must do its best to adapt to it. That's largely what has happened here, with MLB seeking to create a central repository and controlled-release system for lineup information. The only issue is whether the league has gotten too greedy with its preferred partners in Sportradar and MGM, who I'm sure would pay top dollar for even a two-second advantage, or whether it will level the playing field by making an official feed available to everyone, at the same time.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Pace of Play in Hernandez-MLB Lawsuit Slows to Crawl

As Spring Training kicks into high gear and we prepare for a third MLB season touched by the pending lawsuit of an umpire alleging racially-motivated discrimination, we catch up with the offseason docket activity for Angel's Hernandez v. The Office of the Commissioner of Baseball et al suit.

Quick Recap: In the fall of 2018, we discussed the merits of Hernandez's July 2017 case against the league from a statistical point of view: we found that Hernandez's Replay Review performance as measured by strict quantity of overturned calls outpaced that of at least five other crew chiefs in 2015, 2016, and 2017, and was better than two other chiefs in 2014. As for 2018, Hernandez's regular season Replay performance placed him better than three other crew chiefs, but add in the postseason, even with the three overturns-in-a-game, and one other crew chief still experienced more overturns.
Related LabelUEFL History for MLB Umpire "Angel Hernandez"

Former MLB VP Bob Watson also spoke out.
In fact, Hernandez has never led the crew chief list in overturned calls since replay expanded, and has always performed better than at least one crew chief promoted in his place. Hernandez's original complaint indicated that his ball/strike numbers were better than league average.

Given former MLB VP of Rules and On-Field Operations Bob Watson's prior complaint about MLB's purported lack of diversity in leadership roles (and Crew Chief is a leadership role), we previously concluded that we need more data in order to seek explanation for MLB's decision not to promote Hernandez, and that Hernandez's amended complaint requesting more information from the League would help in accomplishing this analysis. In other words, Hernandez's charges aren't entirely out of left field and they merit investigation.

As we said in July 2017, whether Hernandez is a "good" or "bad umpire," or otherwise is a red herring. As evidence to support charges of unlawful discrimination, Hernandez produced data alleging that MLB has a habitual pattern of not hiring minorities. When it comes to the regular Crew Chief role, Hernandez's complaint indicated that MLB virtually shut out any and all people of color since Rich Garcia chiefed in the 1990s. The gravity of such a charge goes far beyond Hernandez and can't be dismissed by the very tired, "he's just a bad umpire" argument.
Related PostAngel Hernandez, MLB, and Discrimination (Part 1) (7/12/17).
Related PostAngel Hernandez, MLB, and Discrimination (Part 2) (7/13/17).

When faced with an impending request to open its secret files, MLB filed and was granted a request for confidentiality, and at last we spoke, we awaited the two parties to continue discovery and figure out exactly what documents would be shared.
Related PostHernandez's Lawsuit Seeks Replay - A Review of Our Stats (12/4/18).

Where We are Now: Since December 2018, MLB filed more motions to dismiss the suit, answered the amended complaint, Hernandez's team opposed MLB's motion to dismiss, etc.—rather boiler plate legal mumbo jumbo.

January looked like a scene from Boston Legal.
There was a rather amusing sequence in January 2019 when a plaintiff's attorney tried getting himself approved to appear in New York, the court replied that his motion was deficient, and this back-and-forth continued on for about two weeks with more attempts before an amended motion was ultimately granted.

But after this comic relief, the parties got down to business.

In February, Judge J. Paul Oetken referred elements of the case to Magistrate Judge Gabriel W. Gorenstein, and the magistrate subsequently denied without prejudice Hernandez's motion for discovery.

In other words, on January 28, Hernandez's team requested certain documents from MLB. MLB responded on January 30, and the court subsequently denied Hernandez's motion for discovery on February 5.

In the month since this denial (2/5/19 to 3/5/19), there was no activity in this case, which tends to follow the speed of this trial ever since it was first filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio on July 3, 2017, though transferring it to New York at the conclusion of the regular season in 2018 spurred some activity, albeit temporarily.

Conclusion: Here we are—Hernandez wants sensitive documents and MLB doesn't want to give them to him (why would an employer want to share confidential documents anyway?). That means we have a stalemate and, more to the point, an increasing possibility bearing mention that this case won't make much meaningful progress before Hernandez's Crew Chief and World Series windows—from a statistical/performance standpoint—are slammed shut by Father Time.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor at a Yankees game.
The Judge's Chambers at Yankee Stadium could render a quicker verdict...but it probably wouldn't be all that fair.

Most likely, the money matter is not MLB's most pressing issue, compared to the optics of having Hernandez serve as an on-field Crew Chief or World Series umpire in contravention of the Chief Baseball Officer's desires. If the league is planning to pay the plaintiff, it'd likely prefer to do so in a way that would limit Hernandez's on-field exposure as -cc or -ws.

Succinctly, this lawsuit has encountered a rain delay, and Hernandez might get called in early by curfew before much significance comes of it.

To be clear, we don't know at present whether MLB has violated any laws or otherwise civilly harmed Hernandez because the very trial designed to answer that question is stuck in a holding pattern. Hernandez accused MLB of wrongdoing, and we're somewhere in the middle of trying to figure that out in a stalled process slower than an extra-inning at-bat featuring Javier Baez, David Ortiz, and Don Mattingly as a coach.

Thus, in a sport that has recently placed such a strong emphasis on pace of play, it would appear that in this situation, we might just be observing an attempt to run out the clock.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Of Bullpen Cups & Balls - A Baseball Magic Trick

What is the rule when a batted baseball lodges in a paper cup sitting in a foul-territory bullpen? Is the ball dead for a two-base award or do we play on when the fielder tries to throw it back in? Such a play occurred in Spring Training's Grapefruit League as Cardinals batter Jeremy Martinez's hit to Marlins right fielder Magneuris Sierra took a detour into St. Louis' first-base dugout.

What is the ruling for a ball entering a cup?
The Play: With two on (R1, R2) and two out, batter Martinez hit a fair ground ball down the right field line, whereupon it entered the on-field bullpen in foul territory down the right-field line. Outfielder Sierra ran to play the ball, throwing it toward second base as it became apparent that the "ball" was actually wedged in a discarded paper cup, the force of the projectile bouncing on the infield dirt enough to dislodge the ball as R1 and R2 scored, with batter-runner Martinez jogging into third base.

The Call: Martinez wound up at second base while both runners were permitted to score. Read on for the proper ruling.

The Rule: Generally, a ball remains in play until an umpire calls "Time." All that we need to know here is whether the ball fell out of play by going into the bullpen or lodging in the cup. Official Baseball Rule 5.06(b)(4)(F) discusses base awards for balls falling out of play, with the relevant provisions of this rule as follows:
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.
The batted ball appeared to enter, but not immediately exit via rebound, an on-field bullpen. The Universal Ground Rules do not address on-field bullpens, but individual stadiums with such features generally discuss the on-field bullpen in their ballpark-specific ground rules. For example, the following San Francisco's bullpen rule:
A ball is deemed to be lodged if, in the umpire’s judgment, it has become unplayable by going behind equipment, the seating area or otherwise.
Ball enters the bullpen seating area and rebounds out of the seating area back onto the playing field: In Play. 
The language is identical for Oakland and Tampa Bay. Chicago's Wrigley Field had a similar rule before the Cubs relocated the on-field bullpen to below the right-field stands.

Did (and if so, when) the ball fall out of play?
Analysis: There are two separate issues regarding this play, the second of which relies on the outcome of the first.

First, we must determine whether the ball has become stuck in a bullpen. There's a strong chance that Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium doesn't cover the issue as San Francisco/Oakland/Tampa does, which sets us up for an umpiring elastic clause decision.

In general, however, the SF/OAK/TB provision about a ball becoming unplayable should apply here; we see our 1B Umpire signaling "safe," as if to say, that ball is still playable and thus live.

With our umpire having ruled the ball live, we turn to issue #2, which is the ball-in-cup problem.

The ball and cup break apart after bouncing.
We know that the MLB Umpire Manual interpretation concerning a ball that enters a player's uniform states that "Time" should be called and the umpire should then use common sense and fair play to place the runners in a "nullify the act" standard. We also know this interpretation doesn't apply to a ball lodging in a player's glove, which instead should be treated as a live ball.

But what of a cup?

The MLBUM interpretation for 5.06(b)(4)(F) holds that a ball should be deemed lodged if it "sticks in a fence, scoreboard, shrubbery or vines located on the playing field...[or if it] goes behind a field tarp or wall padding without leaving the playing field."

Johnny Damon drew a cup lodge 2B in 2001.
Precedent: In 2001, Athletics batter Johnny Damon hit a ball that rolled into and became stuck in a plastic cup at the Oakland Coliseum. While Boston outfielder Trot Nixon tried to throw the ball/cup contraption, Damon circled the bases for an apparent inside-the-park home run until umpires ordered Damon back to second base, ruling the play dead under the auspices of this very same lodged-ball rule.

Conclusion: The proper call here is a dead-ball two-base award for a lodged ball. If the umpire deems the ball playable in the bullpen—and that's a judgment call that hinges on your interpretation of "playable" (I'm personally not looking to have an outfielder fish out a ball from behind a steel bench...I can't even guarantee that's the same ball)—we play on, but if the umpire deems it unplayable because it rolled behind the bullpen bench/equipment, we treat it as a lodged ball as in 5.06(b)(4)(F). Assuming that the ball was deemed playable, we have a ball-in-a-cup being thrown toward the infield. By rule and interpretation, for both possibilities (bullpen lodge or cup lodge), this is a lodged ball and is treated in the same fashion: two-bases pursuant to 5.06(b)(4)(F). Score R2, place R1 at third base, and put the batter at second.

Wrap: Miami Marlins vs. St. Louis Cardinals (Spring Training), 3/2/19 | Video as follows:

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Top 10 MLB Hothead Players by Ejection Frequency

On the occasion of Bryce Harper's Phillies contract, we revisit the subject of baseball's biggest hothead player, as measured by the umpire ejection sabermetric value, Games Per Ejection (GPE). Using our historic benchmark of David Ortiz's 175 GPE (aka "the Papi line"), we crown MLB's leading active hothead position player.

History: We first tracked hothead statistics in 2015, finding that dugout phone-smashing David Ortiz held the league lead amongst active players for ejection frequency.

At the time of our June 2015 study, Big Papi's one ejection per 197 games played led all players with at least 2,000 games played, a number of minimum games that limited our study's scope to veteran ballplayers.
Related PostDetermining The League's Biggest Hothead (It's Big Papi) (6/11/15).

In 2016, we repeated the study on the occasion of Ortiz's impending retirement from the game, but dropped our minimum games played barrier from 2,000 to just 500. Accordingly, we found that youngster Bryce Harper had taken over the top spot, by a significant margin, followed by Matt Kemp, Yunel Escobar, BJ / Melvin / Back to BJ Upton, Manny Machado, and Joey Votto had all eclipsed the Ortiz benchmark, which had increased in frequency to 175 GPE, thanks to additional ejection activity after the 2015 study (also see the related post for a note as to why we don't include pitchers).
Related PostPassing the Torch - Papi Out, Harper In as Biggest Hothead (5/13/16).

Harper keeps his crown as MLB's #1 Hothead.
After taking the past few seasons off, we revisit the hothead discussion for active position players. Here are the results (minimum 500 games played). You can also click each player's name that appears in the accompanying table for their UEFL ejection report history.

Legend and Definitions
Ejection Rate: Measured in Games-Per-Ejection (GPE).
GPE: Games played divided by their ejections.
EPS: Ejections per Season, based on 162 GP.

Active MLB Position Players with Highest Ejection Frequency
#Player NameGames Per Ejection
(GPE [GP/EJ])
Ejections Per Season
(EPS [E/GP*162])
1Bryce Harper841.92
2Matt Kemp991.63
3Yunel Escobar1101.47
4Marwin Gonzalez1331.22
5BJ / Melvin Upton1471.10
6Ian Kinsler1640.99
7Josh Donaldson1770.92
8Yasiel Puig1780.91
9Joey Votto1970.82
10Russell Martin2010.80

To summarize:
> Bryce Harper remains the league's biggest hothead player, from 77 GPE in 2016 to 84 GPE in 2018. This is significant, because Gary Sheffield now reclaims the #2 all-time hothead mark, minimum 500 games played, with 78 GPE. For those wondering, #1 belongs to Milton Bradley (55 GPE).
> Matt Kemp and Yunel Escobar have increased their ejection frequency (EPS) since 2016.
> Marwin Gonzalez, Josh Donaldson, and Yasiel Puig had too few games played to be included on the 2016 hothead list. Because these three players kept their ejection frequency up, they are featured in the 2019 list's Top 10 MLB Hothead Players.
> Slots #6 Kinsler and above have been ejected more frequently than David Ortiz. #7 Donaldson and below fall on the less-frequent side of the Papi Line of 175 GPE.
> Here are the 2019 rankings for others who appeared on the 2016 list, but have since fallen out of the Top 10: 5 Manny Machado: #14 (232 GPE), 7 Troy Tulowitzky: #11 (214 GPE), 8 AJ Pierzynski: Retired (187 GPE), 9 Justin Upton: #19 (243 GPE), 10 Carlos Gomez: #17 (238 GPE).
> Mike Trout retains his crown as Cool & Collected. Trout and many other MLB'ers have never been ejected in their playing careers.