Friday, February 21, 2020

MLB Hires Nic Lentz to Full-Time Umpire Staff

Major League Baseball hired Nic Lentz to its full-time umpire staff, cementing the 30-year-old Michigan native's place in MLB history. Nicolas James Lentz joins the MLBU roster with 485 games of big league experience and eight ejections following his debut in April 2016. He wears the uniform sleeve number 59.

After graduating from the Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring in 2008, Lentz journeyed through Minor League Baseball's Arizona, Florida Instructional, New York-Penn, Midwest, Florida State, Arizona Instructional, Eastern, and International Leagues.

Lentz ejected Boone in August 2018.
He also officiated the offseason Venezuelan and Arizona Fall Leagues. Lentz is the first Coastal Plain League alum to debut in the Major Leagues; fellow MLB call-ups Roberto Ortiz, Shane Livensparger, and John Bacon also are CPL alumni.

New-hire Lentz received the UEFL's Best Ejection of the Year Award in 2018 following his banishment of Aaron Boone in New York over a balls/strikes dispute.

As we noted in the wake of a slew of Yankees ejections in 2019, Boone appears to find himself ejected by Triple-A call-up umpires at a disproportionate rate, and Lentz constitutes the first Triple-A Boone ejector to be subsequently hired by MLB to the full-time staff (Boone has only been managing the Yankees since 2018).
Related Post2018 UEFL Award for Ejections of the Year - West & Lentz (11/8/18).

Lentz was one of several young umpires to run a half-marathon this offseason, along with Brennan Miller, Chris Segal, and first-time Spring Training roster invitee Erich Bachus.
Related PostTriple-A Tradition? Young Umps Run for Charity (2/17/20).

In 2018, we identified Lentz as the MiLB umpire most likely to be hired by Major League Baseball. He fills the vacancy left by the loss of longtime MLB umpire Eric Cooper.
Related PostFuture MLB Hiring Outlook at the 2018 Break (7/16/18).
Related PostEric Cooper Dies at 52 Following Blood Clot (10/20/19).

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Gary Cederstrom Retires Following World Series Finale

31-year AL and MLB umpire Gary Cederstrom has retired, electing to exit baseball on top, having officiated the 2019 World Series (and ALDS), bringing his career totals to 3,579 regular season games officiated, along with three Wild Card Games, nine Division Series, eight League Championship Series, and four World Series.

The North Dakota native and NDSU Bison fan worked his way through the Midwest League, Eastern League, and American Association before his 1989 American League debut.

Amongst Cederstrom's 41 career big league ejections were Paul O'Neill, Terry Collins, Joe Girardi, Buck Martinez, and, most recently, Eric Thames in 2019, which was Cede's first ejection since Bruce Bochy in 2017, which in turn was his first since Miguel Cabrera in 2015.
Related Label: Gary Cederstrom

Cederstrom truly leaves the game on top, having been named the UEFL's Crew Chief of the Year following the 2019 season. He also won the Crew Chief of the Year Award in 2015.
Related Post2019 UEFL Award for Crew Chief - Gary Cederstrom (11/6/19).

Congratulations, Gary! We'll have news on other staff changes—including retirements and promotion activity—in the coming days.

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:

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Sign Stealing Scandal - Prepare for Retaliation, Umps

In November, we analyzed the Houston Astros sign stealing scandal and an umpire's role in such thievery (hint: it's nearly nonexistent). With MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred's penalties doled out, umps should prepare for retaliation in 2020, given the league-wide response from various players to the entire episode.

To review, sign stealing is a legal enterprise that, absent Little League modifications or NCAA's rule regarding video communication equipment, does not fall under an umpire's jurisdiction. For MLB specifically, even if the scheme abuses technology (and trash cans), umpires do not have basis in the Official Baseball Rules to intercede.

In this case, a professional umpire's only potential response is to notify the league office after the fact in a post-game report. That's it.
Related PostAbuse of Technology - Umpire's Role in Sign Stealing (11/18/19).

And with that out of the way, we turn our attention to widespread reaction from non-Astro players largely denouncing Houston's actions as 'cheating' and otherwise nefarious, for even though sign stealing isn't prohibited in OBR, the on-field aftermath/revenge is left to the umpires to manage.

With Braves player Nick Markakis just the latest to advocate for some measure of retribution ("every single guy over there needs a beating"), umpires must acknowledge the very real probability of retaliation during regular season games (teams generally don't go for revenge during Spring Training, but Grapefruit League crews should still keep the possibility in mind).

Vegas has a betting line for 2020 Houston HBP.
For MLB umpires, it would be improper to judge whether implicated players escaping Commissioner Manfred's punishment is a just outcome or not; instead, umpires must remain cognizant of opponents' reactions and messaging.

Despite the Commissioner's statement that retaliation, most likely in the form of intentional hit-by-pitch acts, will not be tolerated and could result in enhanced discipline, umpires have no say in before- or after-the-fact matters: the only concern is what happens on the field, and at this stage, it is growing increasingly likely that on-the-field retaliation will occur, and potentially on multiple occasions.

And when it does—whether a pitcher intentionally throwing at a batter, a runner spiking a fielder, fighting, or otherwise—umpires must be ready to respond evenhandedly and readily, for in this case, as Ron Kulpa once infamously declared in Houston, an umpire must be prepared to "do anything" necessary to restore order after an unsportsmanlike incident, which in this case may include, warnings, ejections, or other actions.

Video as follows:

Monday, February 17, 2020

Triple-A Tradition? Young Umps Run for Charity

The 2019-2020 offseason may have established a new @UmpsCare tradition and possible fitness test for young umpires climbing the MiLB-to-MLB ladder as Nic Lentz, Brennan Miller, Erich Bacchus, and Chris Segal all ran half-marathons for charity over the winter months.

Bacchus, Lentz, and Miller each ran the Holly Springs Half Marathon in North Carolina in November while Segal took to the Colonial Half Marathon course (Williamsburg, Virginia) in February.

The professional umpires, all of whom will call MLB Spring Training games in 2020, ran to fundraise for UMPS CARE Charities under the heading "UMPS CARE Run for Bears," so-named for the charity's in-season Build-A-Bear Workshop experience for children.

In addition to helping to finance Umps Care's in-season programs such as Build-A-Bear, Blue for Kids hospital visits, and on-field events such as Blue Crew Tickets, the young umps coincidentally proved their physical fitness to baseball observers.

A traditional half-marathon is 13.1 miles (21 kilometers) in length.