Saturday, March 11, 2023

Called Third Strike Ends NCAA Game - About Umpire Power

After a called third strike wrapped up New Orleans' 7-3 win over Mississippi Valley State, questioned surfaced as to whether the NCAA umpire deliberately called a strike on a pitch that was a ball in order to get back at a player who may have shown the umpire up one pitch earlier. We review the play and discuss the issue of umpire and referee authority and abuse of power.

After the home plate umpire called strike two with two outs in the top of the 9th inning, the batter demonstratively jumped out of the batter's box before returning and gesturing with his bat to where he believed the pitch to have been thrown. The umpire did not discipline the batter and play resumed. The umpire did, however, call a third strike on the ensuing 1-2 pitch, ending the at-bat and the game.

The umpire measuredly walked off the field without addressing the player as the struck-out batter followed and attempted to argue, before the batter was restrained by the opposing catcher.

This has led to accusations that the umpire deliberately called strike three on a clear ball out of the strike zone, due to a grudge or way to get back at the player who behaved disrespectfully one pitch earlier.

To be clear, an umpire may discipline a player for unsporting conduct pursuant to the rules.

NCAA Rule 2-26 states, "the game officials have the authority to eject a player, coach, or team representative for misconduct or unsportsmanlike conduct. MLB's version is Official Baseball Rule 8.01(d): "Each umpire has the authority to disqualify any player, coach, manager, or substitute for objecting to decisions or for unsportsmanlike conduct or language, and to eject such disqualified person from the playing field."

However, when an umpire or referee instead deliberately disregards the rules of the game, for instance, by calling a strike on a pitch the umpire knows to be a ball and outside the strike zone, the official has abused their authority and violated the ethics of officiating.

In sum, discipline the player for misconduct—the rules and, depending on your game, video will support you—but the moment an official has deliberately called a play incorrectly in order to get even with a player or send a message, that official has abused their authority and committed a disservice to the game.

Video as follows:

Friday, March 10, 2023

Pitch Clock Ejection - Time Violation Prompts Coach's Toss

A pitch clock-related time violation and automatic ball call led to ASU head coach Willie Bloomquist's ejection by 3B Umpire Darren Hyman, after Arizona State pitcher Owen Stevenson was called for a time violation due to excess step-off "reset" disengagements during a 6th inning plate appearance against UC Irvine.

With one out and one on in the top of the 6th, Anteaters batter Anthony Martinez stood in to face Stevenson. NCAA uses a 20-second "action clock" as opposed to MLB's variable pitch clock (30 seconds between batters, 20 seconds between pitches with runner(s) and 15 seconds between pitches with bases empty), and also has different rules about pickoffs and step-offs.

Whereas in professional baseball (MLB/MiLB), pitchers may disengage twice during any individual at-bat—including simply step-offs, fake throws, actual pickoff attempts, and other plays on the runner—the college rule limits pitchers to one step off per at-bat with the following exceptions: in college, disengagements due to pickoff attempts and plays on runners are unlimited and at both levels, the limit resets to two (MLB) or one (NCAA) if a runner advances.

In other words, the only real limit for college are the simple step off and fake throws. For the at-bat in question, pitcher Stevenson made several pickoff throws to first base (remember, pickoff attempts are unlimited under NCAA rules), and then briefly stepped off without making a play on the baserunner prior to delivering the 1-1 pitch. This step-off, known as a "reset", put the action clock back at 20 seconds (hence the term "reset") and counted as Stevenson one and only "reset" for the at-bat.

When Stevenson disengaged the rubber for a step-off again with a 2-1 count, this constituted a time violation of the "reset" limit rule, the penalty for which is an automatic ball, making the count 3-1. HP Umpire AJ Lostaglio enforced the rule by calling "Time" and signaling the count as 3-1. By rule, there are no warnings (NCAA Appendix F).

In NCAA, a so-called time violation of excessive resets results in a penalty of an automatic ball.
In MLB, a violation of excessive disengagements (without retiring a runner) results in a balk.

Head coach Bloomquist was ejected from foul line for continuing to argue the call following explanation.

We also talk about the scoreboard in use. Daktronics scoreboard / shot clock models not using tenths of a second result in a "zero" (or horn if there were to be automatic horn enabled, as is the case in basketball or hockey) when the clock display reads ":00" to fans. But internally, the scoreboard will actually read ":00.9" at the moment of the horn.

The nine-tenths of a second thus is also added to the start of the timer, making it look like the timer is delayed slightly when it is started. For a 20-second action clock, the timer thus begins at 20.9 seconds and expires at 0.9 seconds, reading as ":20" to ":00" for the fans.

Video as follows:

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Panama Turns Double Play After WBC Armbrister Tangle

When a batter-runner and catcher became entangled on a bunt attempt in front of home plate during the World Baseball Classic's Panama vs Chinese Taipei game, HP Umpire Roberto Ortiz no-called the play, ruling the contact incidental and legal, before Panama catcher Christian Bethancourt threw to shortstop Ruben Tejada to force out baserunner Kun-Yu Chiang, before a second throw to first baseman Jahdiel Santamaria resulted in a second out.

In no-calling the sequence in front of home plate, HP Umpire Ortiz cited Official Baseball Rule 6.01(a)(10) Comment: "When a catcher and batter-runner going to first base have contact when the catcher is fielding the ball, there is generally no violation and nothing should be called." Although OBR 6.01(a)(10) itself puts the batter or runner out for interference if they fail to avoid a fielder attempting to field a batted ball, the exception posed by the rule's comment thus absolves batter Yu-Chieh Kao of any wrongdoing. Obstruction to the catcher is only to be called in "very flagrant and violent" cases here.

Longtime baseball followers might recall the original play that inspired the rule's comment that occurred during Game 3 of the 1975 World Series. That play was strikingly similar: with a runner on first base, Reds batter Ed Armbrister bunted the ball in front of home plate. As Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk tried to field it, the two players collided, with HP Umpire Larry Barnett no-calling the play. This no-call rule interpretation, in today's books under OBR 6.01(a)(10) Comment, is called an Armbrister tangle (untangle).

A similar play occurred during Game 3 of the 2020 ALCS, when HP Umpire Jeff Nelson properly no-called a similar collision between Astros catcher Martin Maldonado and Rays batter-runner Manuel Margot. Two years earlier, however, HP Umpire Dan Iassogna declared Dodgers batter-runner Matt Kemp out for interference when Kemp failed to advance toward first base and thus didn't satisfy the Comment's "going to first base" criterion. 
Related PostMargot-Maldonado's ALCS Tangle Recalls Fisk-Armbrister (10/13/20).

Video as follows:

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

MLB Promotes 7 Crew Chiefs for 2023

After 10 umpires—including seven crew chiefs—retired to close out 2022, Major League Baseball promoted seven veteran umpires to fill the crew chief vacancies. Senior-most on MLB's list of new chiefs is Lance Barksdale, with Dan Bellino, Chris Conroy, James Hoye, Adrian Johnson, Alan Porter, and Todd Tichenor rounding out the new appointments.

In the table below, we have summarized data, including the umpire's age at time of promotion to crew chief, the year of their MLB debut (the era of NL and AL league-specific debuts is just about over), World Series postseason experience, and as we did last time for the 10 Triple-A call-ups hired to the full-time MLB staff, Replay Overturn Rate and Plate Score. The rankings for both Replay and Plate columns are scaled from one (best) to 19 (lowest), relative to other MLB crew chiefs.
NameAgeMLB DebutWorld Series?Replay Overturn RateReplay RankPlate ScorePlate Rank
Barksdale, Lance562000Yes (2)17.7493.41
Bellino, Dan442008Yes (1)15.3892.85
Conroy, Chris482010Yes (1)12.31792.94
Hoye, James522003Yes (2)13.61492.68
Johnson, Adrian472006No13.91391.715
Porter, Alan452010Yes (1)16.6593.32
Tichenor, Todd462007Yes (1)15.7792.76

Video as follows:

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

College Ejection - Brian DeBrauwere's Intentional HBP

HP Umpire Brian DeBrauwere ejected Gonzaga pitcher Ty Buckner for intentionally throwing at Tennessee batter Blake Burke after the former yelled at Buckner about an alleged quick pitch during the 3rd inning at-bat. Even more interesting, Brian had joined CCS years earlier to discuss game management about pitch cadence disputes between batter and pitcher, and how taking steps to slow things down—by calling "Time" or working with the catcher—could also diffuse potential problems.

Coincidentally, guess what game management tools NCAA and MLB's new-ish pitch clock eliminated?

Sunday, March 5, 2023

What if Batter Hits HR After Pitcher's Clock Violation?

The most common follow-up question we received after Saturday's Max Scherzer pitch clock violation video pertained to the batter: can the offense choose to decline this penalty? In the Scherzer video, the timer expires but HP Umpire Jeremy Riggs doesn't immediately call "Time" to kill play, instead simply pointing at the infraction as Scherzer delivers—late—to home plate. Had the batter hit a home run, for instance, could the offensive team opted to take the result of the play instead of have the pitch clock rule enforced?

The answer to this question is no. Pitch clock violations, at least to start 2023, are to be treated as immediate dead balls. Even if the umpire allows the pitcher to throw toward home plate in an untimely manner, only to call "Time" and enforce the rule after the pitch, MLB sought to eliminate discretion and any potential argument that an umpire wasn't "fast enough" in enforcing the rule by making all such violations an immediate dead ball, with no potential options to decline the penalty or choose an outcome.

This runs in stark contrast to the new infield shift restriction rule, which is treated as a delayed infraction or penalty. In this situation, the offense can choose to take the result of the play (e.g., a sacrifice fly) if the defensive team has violated the shift rule by placing three infielders on one side of second base, for instance. If the batter gets a hit, such as a home run, the shift infraction is simply ignored and the HR stands, similar to the catcher's interference rule in disregarding the infraction if the offense benefits via a hit.

Video as follows: