Wednesday, February 19, 2020

MLB Memo to Teams - Umps to Confer on Intent HBPs

After MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred announced a memo that umpires will now confer on certain hit-by-pitch situations to determine pitcher intent (e.g., for warning or ejection), some speculated that a home plate umpire's game management role may be drastically altered and perhaps hindered. Gil's Call posits that the umpire's ability to handle such a tense situation isn't going anywhere.

With the memo's reported characterization that umpires will confer to determine whether the act was intentional, the vague wording may lead some to conclude that umpires will conference after such a potentially hostile act prior to managing the situation with ejection (or warning)—as opposed to the plate umpire's traditional role of immediately responding to the intentional HBP.

To review, Official Baseball Rule 6.02(c)(9) (Intentionally Pitch at the Batter) states that "if, in the umpire's judgment, such a violation occurs, the umpire may elect either to: (A) Expel the pitcher, or the manager and the pitcher from the game, or (B) may warn the pitcher and the manager of both teams that another such pitch will result in the immediate expulsion of that pitcher [or a replacement] and the manager."

Opinion: UIC still has ability to act on HBP.
In my estimation, however, the plate umpire's ability to respond immediately—as exhibited by HP Umpire Tim Timmons during a 2011 ejection in Atlanta after Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano threw at Braves batter chipper Jones, nearly igniting a benches-clearing brawl before Timmons quickly shut it down through, and this is key, immediately ejecting Zambrano—will not be impeded by the new guidelines.

Given that MLB's reported impetus for issuing the HBP guidelines is 2019's Reds-Pirates fighting saga (and not anything Astros-related), it would be odd for "new Joe Torre" Chris Young to handcuff umpires from immediate response—from being able to quickly eject and defuse by communicating to the beaned team, "Hey, I got this. The pitcher is ejected. Your response is not required."
Related PostMLB Ejections 143-151 - Larry Vanover (1-9; PIT-CIN) (7/30/19).
Related PostMLB Ejection 070 - Jeff Nelson (5; David Bell) (5/29/19).
Related PostMLB Ejections 009-013 - Jeff Kellogg (1-5; Puig CIN & PIT) (4/7/19).

Instead, I would consider the new guidelines an addition to the MLB Umpire's Manual section on "Crew Consultation and Getting the Play Right."

Crew consults can upgrade...but downgrade?
Specifically, intentional HBPs may very well be considered a new type of play or situation for which umpires may get together to get the call right, with full knowledge of the officiating axiom that once rung, the bell cannot be unrung (e.g., if the plate umpire ejects the pitcher, the crew probably won't decide to un-eject the pitcher...but if the plate umpire doesn't eject the pitcher, the crew may well decide to eject the pitcher).

To that end, MLB's new directive may result in more situations being looked at by four umpires as opposed to one (see Ejection 070 - Nelson/Bell), but likely won't prevent any plate umpires from acting on instinct and feel for the game. In other words, I'd expect that UICs will still warn/eject as usual with no warnings or ejections being rescinded, but if no action is taken (or a warning, but not ejection, is given), that the crew will retain the ability to decide after-the-fact to upgrade a no-call to a warning/ejection or to upgrade a warning to an ejection.
Related PostHandling a Bench Clearing Incident - Battle of Texas (5/2/17).

Video as follows:

Alternate Link: MLB Memo - Umpires to Confer on Intent HBPs (CCS)


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