Friday, April 10, 2020

Case Play 2020-2 - Pitcher's Hidden Ball Trick

A recent video of University of Massachusetts Dartmouth baseball pitcher Adam Horowitz's pitch from Windup Position while removing an empty pitching hand from his glove before loading the hidden ball and delivering to a stunned batter who takes the pitch for a called strike has led baseball fans and umpires to wonder about this delivery's legality.

Case Play Question: Can a pitcher attempt to conceal the baseball from the batter during delivery by separating and reuniting his hands three times during the windup? Is it legal to pin the ball against the outside of a glove using the index finger of the gloved hand?

If this is illegal, what is the penalty with no runners on base and what is the penalty with runners?

Is a mound magic trick featuring a (feel free to read up on the seven basic principles of magic here [Penn and Teller have a fine act on the subject]) steal, misdirection, and load legal?

AnswerRule-by-rule explanation as to legality of F1's windup trickery (4/14/20).

The following video analysis lists all relevant rules (OBR/NCAA/NFHS) and what to watch for when making your call and interpretation of whether this pitcher's delivery is legal or not. Thanks to the Umpire Video Archive for sharing.

Rules Library & Video as follows:

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Robot Fans? How International Baseball is Coping with COVID-19

Forget about robot umpires: Taiwan's CPBL plans to introduce robo-fans when baseball resumes. While MLB eyes a May start, Japan had to shut down after players tested positive for coronavirus, crippling NPB just weeks after the league resumed Spring Training in empty stadiums.

Here's how baseball leagues throughout the world are handling their season postponements, with an example as to the difficulty of playing baseball in a viral world, even with no fans in attendance:

United States (Late May or June): MLB has not officially committed to a revised date for Opening Day, though the most recent reports indicate an eye toward starting a season without fans in late May or early June. One of the potential issues we identified, however, was the question of a player testing positive.
Related PostMLB Considering Electronic Strike Zone for Social Distance Safety During 2020 Season (4/7/20).

Although MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred would reportedly want to continue playing the season while isolating the positive player(s)—hence the need for expanded rosters—one look at MLB's Japanese counterpart shows why this might be more difficult than it looks.

Japan (late May): Nippon Professional Baseball Commissioner Atsushi Saito announced an extended delay to the NPB season after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a national state of emergency. NPBL initially hoped to begin playing on April 24, but Abe's national declaration has pushed NPB's start date back by at least one month.

Three Hanshin Tigers players, pitcher Shintaro Fujinami, outfielder Hayata Ito, and catcher Kenya Nagasaka, additionally tested positive for the virus; the trio reportedly had dinner together on March 14 and didn't exhibit symptoms until late March.

Japan had resumed Spring Training with no fans in attendance in a sign of tentative optimism, but the recent viral flare up in Japan (cases and deaths have increased), including the infection of multiple NPB players after the restart of play, and state of emergency made the no-fans plan a no-go.

The development could prove disastrous for USA's MLB by portraying the perils of trying to resume too soon, even in an otherwise controlled environment.

South Korea (early May): The Korean Baseball Organization began scrimmaging recently—intrasquad affairs thus far and hopes to start its season in "early May." South Korea has become the world model for tackling COVID-19 through its combination of widespread testing, isolation, and contact monitoring.

Because South Korea was so successful in testing early-on in the contagion, the country has been able to successfully manage the virus' spread, which has given KBO Secretary General Ryu Dae-hwan the confidence to announce preseason games beginning on April 21 with a goal of Opening Day in early May.

Unlike MLB, Korea isn't seeking to squeeze in a full schedule through doubleheaders in one metropolitan area; instead, KBO is looking at playing a full 144-game schedule, with all games pushed approximately one month back with playoffs lasting through November.

Taiwan (April 11): The Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL), following local CDC guidelines, decided to begin the 2020 season in empty stadiums. One team, the Rakuten Monkeys, announced it would place "robot mannequins in the stands dressed up as fans." CPBL President John Wu has instructed fans to stay home and avoid gathering outside the stadiums.

The CPBL has only five teams, meaning the Taiwanese league has the smallest group to manage over a 48-game schedule.

Europe (Cancelled): The European Baseball Association (CEB) cancelled international European baseball cups, which would have taken place in Ostrava, Czech Republic, in June.

United Kingdom (May): Already dealing with CEB and London Series cancellations, the British Baseball Federation (BBF) postponed all activities until May.

Italy (June 13): The Federazione Italiana Baseball/Softball (FIBS) announced plans to begin playing in mid-June, and has actually built-in to its schedule the ability to stop playing all-together for several weeks in August in the event of a flare-up.

Southern Hemisphere (including Australia): Although the Australian Baseball League (ABL) is in its winter offseason, Oceana does ordinarily play some baseball over the April-August period. Baseball Queensland, for instance, has postponed all leagues until at least May 19, 2020, with the goal of eventual re-evaluation that might push that date farther back.

The Greater Brisbane League, specifically, prematurely concluded its season, awarding Division Premierships to teams presently at the top of their divisions at the time of the season's termination.

Mexican League (May 11 or later): LMB was one of the final leagues to stop playing Spring ball, and other than an initial mid-March announcement of expecting to postpone the season until May 11, LMB has been silent on the issue. One team, Los Leones de Yucatan, announced that doctors and nurses will get free tickets to Lions games for the entire 2020 season.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

MLB Considering Electronic Strike Zone for Social Distance Safety During 2020 Season

Could MLB return with electronic strike zones? Sources say Major League Baseball is considering a late May or June start to its 2020 season, with all 30 teams playing games at facilities in the greater Phoenix, Arizona area.

Social distancing features prominently in a list of possible rules changes under consideration, including one such change long pushed for by Commissioner Rob Manfred.

Some potential possibilities—all in the brainstorming stage—include the elimination of all mound visits, seven-inning doubleheaders to allow for more games, players sitting in the stands six feet apart instead of in a dugout, and more extensive on-field microphone use.

Remember, 2020 was the first season MLB crew chiefs were to be mic'd in order to explain Replay Review decisions.
Related PostUmpires to Explain Rulings via Mic in 2020 (1/27/20).

An umpire steps back to allow ABS to see.
The final proposal is implementation of an electronic strike zone "to allow the plate umpire to maintain sufficient distance from the catcher and batter."

Did MLB read our April Fools article this year?
RelatedNew Atlantic League Rules for 2020 (4/1/20).

Or is coronavirus simply an excuse to prime a baseball audience for electronic balls and strikes? After all, MLB can proceed with development of an K-zone—the MLBUA agreed to robo-ump development during its last round of CBA negotiations in December 2019—and if MLB can entice fans and players to accept electronic balls and strikes for the sake of playing the game in some form this summer, what's to say that the robot zone won't stick around later on as well?
Related PostMLB, Umps Union Reach Tentative Agreement (12/21/19).

Logically speaking, the umpire-catcher interaction is perhaps the most prolonged and intimate pairing on a baseball field, so risk of contagion should decrease simply by increasing distance.

Will players wear masks during play?
But what about batter-catcher? Or runner-fielder? Or coach/manager-player? So much of the supposedly non-contact sport of baseball is built

Then there are the logistic concerns. All teams will play in Arizona, but the greater Phoenix area is expansive. The Cactus League uses 10 sites (several teams share ballparks) spread out over an approximately 100 square-mile area, not to mention additional minor league parks and other fields that would be used.

Though the plan is to sequester all teams and umpires in local hotels, which themselves would be closed off, the risk of transmission would remain. What if an inbound participant contracts the virus during their inbound flight...or brings it with them from their city of origin? If the person is an asymptomatic carrier, it could be devastating: NBA Donovan Mitchell said the "scariest part" about being infected with coronavirus is showing no symptoms, potentially infecting others without even knowing.

What's the risk of transmission here?
With MLB apparently aware that players are low-risk for COVID-19, coaches, managers, and umpires—especially crew chiefs—aren't.

Sources indicate that MLB wouldn't want to "quarantine an entire team or shut down the season" as a response to a positive test...yet many virus carriers have no-to-mild symptoms, especially in the "low-risk" group.

Does this mean MLB is willing to risk an asymptomatic carrier participating and potentially transmitting the disease?

Not all ejections are ball/strikes-based.
Sure the economic upside could help the league what with baseball being the only sport playing so soon—as evidenced by MLB reportedly considering an offer to pay minor leaguers full MLB salaries and benefits in exchange for expanded rosters just in case a player drops out due to testing positive for the virus—but at what cost?

What happens when a player, manager, or coach wants to have a conversation with the umpire or tries to make a double-switch? Social-distance smoke signals?

Forget about ejections, which, despite MLB's efforts to decrease with expanded instant replay, reached a 14-year high in 2019 with 217 heave-ho's, the most since 2006's mark of 218...and 2019's QOC = Correct rate for ejections actually was up compared to previous years...meaning players and coaches literally argued just for the sake of arguing.
Related2019 Stats - Ejections Spike, But So Do Correct Calls (9/30/19).

Is this Futurama scene protective enough?
And has MLB even considered that the MLB Umpires Association might not want to put its membership in harm's way, even if that means losing out on a year's paycheck?

After all, if MLB wants to insert an Automated Ball/Strike System in order to socially distance the umpire, then MLB must logically have concluded that the umpire is someone who needs that social distance protection.

And if that's true, wouldn't putting MLBUA members in harm's way anyway constitute negligence if not reckless disregard?

Video as follows: