Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Postseason Injury - Jeff Nelson and the 5-Umpire Crew

When crew chief Jeff Nelson left Game 3 of the 2019 Astros-Yankees American League Championship Series, 2B Umpire Kerwin Danley took over at home plate with other umpires sliding over, leaving left field vacant. In 2008, a foul ball injury forced Derryl Cousins out of the ALCS in Tampa Bay, similarly leaving a five-person crew.

Injury Scout: With two out and none on in the top of the 4th inning of ALCS Game 3, Astros batter Martin Maldonado fouled a 97.5-mph 3-2 fastball from Yankees pitcher Luis Severino directly off the facemask. Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez gave Nelson time by going to the mound as the training staff attended to him and 2B Umpire Danley came down the line to check on his crewmate.

After the 4th inning, Nelson exited the game due to the head injury and potential concussion and Danley moved from second to behind the plate with other umpires sliding over to fill in the infield gap—leaving a hole in left field—and 1B Dan Bellino remaining at first, Mark Carlson moving from third to 2B, Marvin Hudson moving from left field to 3B, and Cory Blaser remaining in right field, thus leaving left field uncovered.

Umpire movement after Nelly's departure.
Precedent: This isn't the first time an umpire has had to depart a postseason game, leaving his crew shorthanded.* in 2008, Derryl Cousins left Game 6 of the ALCS in Tampa Bay due to injury. 1B Umpire Tim McClelland (set to work Game 7) took over behind the plate, with Sam Holbrook moving from second base to 1B, Brian O'Nora moving from third to 2B, Brian Gorman moving from left field to 3B, and Alfonso Marquez remaining in right field.

Accordingly, leaving left field vacant and sliding each umpire up a slot (other than RF) keeps with precedent, except that MLB in Game 6 of the 2008 ALCS preferred regular season crew chief McClelland behind the plate to then-non-cc Holbrook.

It's not unusual to vacate the left field line.
*Or Not. Perhaps instead of considering a five-umpire crew to be shorthanded, it may be better to view it from the perspective of what other sports do in the postseason: MLB puts its umpires on a constant power play throughout the playoffs while the other sports keep their officials behind the scenes.

In NBA, NFL, and NHL postseasons, the league assigns what is known as a standby official or officials. For instance, hockey assigns both a standby referee and a standby linesman to its Stanley Cup crew of four on-ice officials.

Wes left the Western Conference Finals' Gm 6.
Accordingly, if either of the two referees becomes injured—as occurred with referee Wes McCauley during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs—the standby referee takes his place on the ice, and a similar procedure occurs for a hurt linesman.

The reason not all six officials are on the ice at the same time is rather simple...where would hockey reasonably put a fifth and sixth official where they wouldn't be in the way or otherwise complicate matters?

MLB's LF and RF Umpires are Quasi-Standby Officials: In baseball—barring an infield fly rule situation in left field—adding standby officials as line umpires with play calling responsibilities doesn't complicate logistics as it would in other sports, and allows the league the opportunity to add two additional plate umpires to the series (whereas the other sports substitute entire crews between playoff games). Combined with a Replay Official who rotates onto the field, this means that a seven-game MLB championship series with no injuries will never have an umpire work the plate twice.

McClelland and Cousins in Game 6 of '08.
Game 7's alignment in 2008 was as follows: HP Umpire Gorman, 1B Holbrook, 2B O'Nora, 3B McClelland, LF Marquez, and RF Umpire Angel Hernandez, who was brought in just for Game 7 to work in place of injured regular season crew chief Cousins, thus affording MLB the opportunity to hand-pick a Game 7 plate umpire (other than McClelland). McClelland was the 2018 ALCS crew chief, and served as such for Game 7 from his position at third base, which is a standard day-after-plate rotation during the regular season.

MLB Unprepared? Major League Baseball has a long history of assigning two regular season crew chiefs to the League Championship Series and World Series rounds of the postseason—the idea is that if the umpire designated as postseason crew chief exits the game due to injury, the second regular season on the crew simply takes over as acting postseason crew chief for the remainder of the game or series.

Although it initially appeared 1B Bellino ran off the field to change into plate gear as FS1 went to commercial break, it was actually 2B Umpire Danley who later emerged in full plate uniform under the watchful eye of an MLB official who appeared to be Peter Woodfork, the league's Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations.

Imagine instead of Game 5, an umpire is suddenly thrust into plate work in Game 3, after expecting that Game 4's umpire would be the backup in case of injury.

The plate scores for Nelson (innings 1-4), Danley (innings 5-9), and combined (1-9) were:
Nelson: 59/61 Balls + 28/28 Strikes = 87/89 = 97.8%. +0 Neutral.
Danley: 54/54 Balls + 16/20 Strikes = 70/74 = 94.6%. +2 Houston.
Total: 113/115 Balls + 44/48 Strikes = 157/163 = 96.3%. +2 Houston.

MLB failed to assign a 2nd ALCS crew chief.
MLB had a chance to assign a regular season crew chief, such as Joe West, to replace the previously-injured Mike Everitt (injured during the Wild Card Game) to the 2019 ALCS, but for whatever reason neglected to make the assignment. As originally configured, 2019's is the first October since the players' strike prematurely ended the 1994 baseball season that West and/or Gerry Davis will not appear in the postseason—that's a 25-year streak snapped.

Now that the chickens have come home to roost, the ALCS as configured in Games 1-3 was left without a bona fide crew chief when Nelson stepped off the field.

We'll See: If ESPN's report that Nelson is concussed is accurate, that means an automatic stint on the week-long concussion list, which would disqualify Nelson from further service in the ALCS. If he cannot continue, what transaction will occur ahead of Game 4? Will Bill Welke (not a crew chief) come out of Replay Review and go back onto the field or will another umpire get assigned to the postseason? Or will MLB bite the bullet and finally assign a second crew chief to the ALCS, seeing as this crew now needs a bona fide chief?

Video as follows:

Alternate Link: Nelly 's concussion protocol prompts MLB umpire chess (FS1)


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