Sunday, September 1, 2019

Umps Surpass 2018 Ejections Total in August 2019

With a pair of ejections Friday, MLB surpassed 2018's total for regular season ejections...and we still have an entire month left to play in 2019. Umpires are on pace for over 200 heave-ho's for the first time since 2015, when baseball's second season of Replay Review and the slide rule, too, helped cause the spike. What's the reason?

New Era: Not just a hat company, ejection trends in Major League Baseball tend to follow a pattern. Since 2000—the World Umpires Association (WUA)'s first year as the MLB umpires' official collective bargaining unit—ejections have spiked and crashed, coincidentally or otherwise coinciding with several key events in modern baseball history. The following analysis (watch the video if you'd like the fast version) reviews ejection numbers and statistics since the year 2000 and attempts to investigate why ejections have increased in 2019.

Power Grab: In 2003, ejections spiked from 213 the year prior to 289. WUA filed a grievance in 2003 against MLB's use of the electronic QuesTec system, and 2003 was also the same year that WUA President John Hirschbeck received a suspension for an incident involving MLB's then-labor lawyer Rob Manfred over the firing of former umpire, American League ump coordinator and MLB Commissioner's Office employee Phil Janssen. See the following article for a much more detailed review of this saga.
Related PostMLB Fight with Hernandez Evokes 20-Year-Old Feud (5/24/19).

At its core, the strike zone is the prime culprit.
Ejections declined to 236 in 2003 when the umpires received somewhat of a concession (though not related to QuesTec per se): MLB rehired eight umpires whose resignations had been accepted in the 1999 failed CBA mass resignation strategy. Ejections continued steadily decreasing when Tom Hallion and Ed Hickox made it back to the majors in 2005, on through Bob Davidson's hiring in 2007.

Goodbye QuesTec (Hello Joe West): In 2009, MLB was finally set to remove QuesTec and replace it with SMT SportVision's Pitch f/x program. WUA also got a new President during this contract year for the umpires in Joe West. Ejections crashed from 207 in 2008 to 165 in 2009...only to climb right back up to 201 in 2010, when WUA ratified its contract with MLB.

In 2011, ejections started another descent to a low of 178 in 2012. 2011 was the year that MLB hired or promoted Joe Torre, Peter Woodfork, Randy Marsh, and Rich Rieker, to name a few. Joe Garagiola, Jr. left the Commissioner's Office for the Arizona Diamondbacks, but remained a consultant for disciplinary matters for a time.

Ejections for ball/strike arguments are up.
Another Contract, Another Increase in Ejections: By 2014, WUA and MLB sought to renew labor peace through another round of contract negotiations, ultimately resulting in the 2015 WUA ratification of a new deal, and another spike in regular season ejections to 212.

Torre Issues Memo: Concerned that teams were using new video technology afforded by MLB's 2014 expansion of instant replay review, Torre issued a memo to all 30 teams in 2016 ordering managers to stop using video replay to argue ball and strike calls. Seasonal ejections decreased to 190 in 2016 and 184 in 2017, which is when MLB removed SMT SportVision (QuesTec's successor) and replaced SMT's technology with MLBAM's in-house StatCast and PitchCast features, supplied by third-party vendor TrackMan (the Danish golf company).
Related PostPitch f/x SMT Sportvision Sues MLBAM for StatCast 'Theft' (5/21/18).

WUA-to-MLBUA: Shortly after the umpires' 2017 white wristband protest for "escalating verbal attacks," WUA rebranded as MLBUA, Bill Miller succeeded Joe West as union president, and ejections bottomed out at 179 in 2018.
Related PostWUA-MLB Relations Deteriorate with New Umpire Protest (8/19/17).
Related PostWUA Rebrands as MLB Umpires Launch MLBUA (8/13/18).
Related PostMLBUA Calls for BOC Action After Latest Umpire Abuse (9/23/18).

2019 Increase: Ejections through August 2019 in baseball reached 182, which is a figure three greater than the 179 ejections across MLB for the entire 2018 regular season, and just two less than the 184 ejections experienced in 2017.

Players aren't heeding umpires' warnings.
What gives? We've noticed that two factors seem to correlate with an increase in ejections: First, MLB fiddling with the electronic strike zone concept, and, second, actions that involve the union including new contracts. Although union events and strike zone changes fell during separate years early on, 2009-to-2010 looks like a near-mirror image of 2019-to-2020, in that MLB is set to change up its electronic tracking system (2009-10 : QuesTec-to-SMT SportVision :: 2019-20 : TrackMan-to-Hawk-eye) while simultaneously negotiating a contract with the umpires' union.

Yet the expected spike in ejections here has followed not the contract negotiations model from 2009-10, but that from 2014-15, when talks stalled and the word "lockout" made it into the conceivable picture.
Related PostMLB-WUA Contract Talks Stall, Lockout Possible (Source) (12/9/14).

The two-faced stat approach increases tension.
Gil's Call: Are contract negotiations in 2019 going the way of 2014? MLB's increased insistence on testing an electronic balls/strikes concept in the Atlantic League (using TrackMan...which is going away...) while continuing to power an unreliable and misleading PitchCast broadcast graphic that falsely portrays strike zone inaccuracy in concert with MLB seeking internal communication between the union and at least one of its umpire members (Angel Hernandez) could spell increased ejection throughput as a logical outcome of a sport failing to adequately support its officials.

Finally, the longer MLB tells its umpires in private that they are, on average, 97%+ accurate on balls and strikes while telling the public (including teams/players) through StatCast data that umpires are only 91% accurate, the more disagreements, and ejections, there will be for ball/strike disputes. There's a strong reason MLB uses the 97%+ figure...yet muddying the waters by supplying the public with only the 91%-related data does nothing except increase tensions between umpires and outsiders.
Related PostVideo - Truth About Baseball's Electronic Strike Zone (5/30/19).

Video as follows:

Alternate Link: MLB Ejections are Increasing - Why?


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