Watching the Braves-Nats game, and Larry Vanover has ejected somebody on the Nationals, probably hitting coach Rick “My Brother Can’t Throw” Eckstein. After stealing second with one out, Nyjer Morgan took off for third. He was obviously safe — one of those “the throw beat him but the tag didn’t” plays. Vanover called him out anyway. Riggleman came out to argue, fairly briefly and gently, then went back into the dugout. The batter at the plate, Cristian Guzman, then singled over short, “costing” the Nats a run. (Obviously, we don’t know what would have happened if Morgan had been at the plate; Tommy Hanson probably would have thrown a different pitch. Also, you can argue that Morgan trying to steal third “cost” them a run, as he would have scored from second — as he did in the first inning.)
Anyway, the Nats’ dugout started complaing again, and Riggleman came out to argue again. Vanover then tossed someone. I at first thought it was Riggleman, but then Eckstein came out on the field and really went after Vanover; Riggleman and the third base coach held him back, but Chip Caray — who is wrong about many, many things — says an ejected coach coming on the field is a suspendable offense.
I’m surprised more coaches don’t get ejected. If I was a hitting coach, I’d bitch at the umpire all game. There’s nothing a hitting coach can’t do just as well from the clubhouse.
Ah, Billy Hohn. I think he’s the worst umpire in baseball. I will admit a bias — he has ejected nine people this year, and five of them are Braves (counting Bobby Cox twice). He is really the perfect storm of bad umpiring. He has a quick temper, and a quick trigger, he baits players, and above all he is bad at his job. You could deal with the rest if it wasn’t for that. Take for instance, this pitch plot:
The green dot was the third pitch of a four-pitch AB by J.D. Drew against Braves reliever Eric O’Flaherty. The count was 0-2; Drew took the pitch, which was, as you see, clearly a strike. Hohn, because he is bad at his job, called it a ball. Drew hit the next pitch off the wall in left field to give the Red Sox the lead. O’Flaherty, and Cox, were understandably upset. Hohn, as I wrote in my recap of that game, “went crazy” and ejected both of them and went up the third-base line to eject Chipper Jones as well. Ejecting a team’s best player when he’s standing sixty feet away is certainly going overboard. Later in the year, he ejected Cox and Brian McCann, the Braves’ other offensive star. McCann was upset when Hohn called a strike against him on a pitch that was a good foot outside; this came after spending most of the game calling a tiny strike zone. A glimpse — I haven’t studied in detail — of pitch charts from Hohn’s games shows that he normally does call a small strike zone, with many pitches that if not right down the middle are in the middle section of the zone called balls. This is the same game that ended with his now-infamous fist bump with Marlin catcher John Baker, which certainly gave the appearance of impropriety. Is it any wonder that I wrote that Hohn “seems to have a vendetta against the Braves”?He has ejected more Braves than anyone else this year, but I’m guessing he leads the majors in ejections generally. There have been 121 ejections this year; Hohn is responsible for nine, or seven percent. There are 96 umpires in the majors; not all of them are full-time, but obviously Hohn has ejected far more than his share. He’s ejected more than his entire crew’s share.
Last night wasn’t a balls and strikes issue. He ejected Bruce Bochy for arguing about two calls at first base. I can’t find video, but in one instance it seems that the hitter beat the throw to the bag, and in the other that the first baseman both dropped the ball and came off the bag. Bochy was rightly furious; Hohn was his usual arrogant self. I wonder if the other umpires are getting fed up with having to defend him; note Gary Darling’s comments and actions in the “fist bump” story linked above. If the past is any guide, we’ll be dealing with Hohn again.
Over the weekend, perhaps the two biggest stars in the game, Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols, were hit by pitches. In neither case does it seem that the pitcher was actually throwing at the batter. On Saturday, Jim Joyce ejected Ramon Ramirez for hitting Rodriguez with one out and a runner on base in a 2-0 game, in the seventh inning. A warning had been issued in the first inning, but it seems extremely unlikely that Ramirez was throwing at A-Rod. I have a certain sympathy for Joyce in this situation, in that any Yankees-Red Sox game is a powderkeg and he was most likely trying to keep anything from starting. But it seems clear there was no intent here, and Ramirez was unfairly tossed. Not that it mattered; the Red Sox wouldn’t have scored if the game had gone twenty innings.
On Sunday, it happened again; Pirates closer Matt Capps, who had just blown a 3-2 eighth-inning lead by giving up a two-run homer, hit Pujols, and was ejected by Mike Estabrook. Tony LaRussa thinks that Capps was throwing at Pujols, but I generally ignore anything LaRussa has to say, and Pujols in his turn (though he stared out at the mound) said he didn’t think Capps was throwing at him. (Capps, of course, denied it, but that’s meaningless.)
I think in both cases the umpires overreacted, but were overreacting in a situation where it’s understandable, because things could get out of hand. I should point out that in both cases the HBP (and maybe the ejection) cost the pitcher’s team. Rodriguez scored on a bases-loaded walk, giving the Yankees a 3-0 lead that might as well have been 30-0. Pujols scored in front of a Ludwick double as the Cards broke the game open. There’s already a cost to hitting a batter, and it’s why you generally aren’t going to throw at anyone in a close game. It’s in the blowouts that the umpires need to be cautious.
Jonah Keri forwards me a good example of the strike zone problem. Observe:
As stated, either they’re both balls, or they’re both strikes. And yet, not. This was a key moment in a 4-3 game against a team that the Rays need to beat. This sort of thing happens all the time. Occasionally, it gets really bad, and you have an umpire who takes over the game with his strike zone. Most of the time, it’s a relative few mistakes. But if an umpire gets ninety-five percent of strike calls right, you’re still talking about ten or fifteen bad calls a game. That can easily be a deciding factor if they come at the wrong time.
The answer, presumably, is a machine. Assuming we can get one that reacts fast enough and can think in three dimensions, anyway. The umpires and their supporters would answer, presumably, (a) that we’re taking the human element out of the game, and (b) that they tried that before and it didn’t work. As for (a), I personally have never been one who thought that the “human element” was necessarily worth preserving when it meant making mistakes; the “human element” is supposed to be the pitcher and the batter; nobody goes to the ballpark to watch an umpire make mistakes. As for (b), they tried it thirty years ago with essentially the same technology as automatic door openers. I think we’ve come a ways since then.
As for tradition, tennis is if anything even more tradition-bound than baseball, and yet they’ve adopted replay and sensor technology for baseline calls. Traditions change.
Neyer wants Pitch F/X data. Well, I aim to please. If anyone’s got an example of really awful balls and strikes calling — other than Rapuano’s, since I think we’ve been over him enough — I’m all ears. Or write it up yourself. I’m still looking for contributors.
At any rate, I noticed that the Pitch F/X data represents the strike zone as a plane. The plate, of course, has depth; the “area over the plate” is a prism, about a foot and a half deep. Here’s what the rulebook says:
The STRIKE ZONE is that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap. The Strike Zone shall be determined from the batter’s stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball.
It doesn’t say the front of home plate, or the back of home plate, or the middle of home plate. This indicates that the strike zone is a prism, and that going through any of that prism is a strike. If a breaking pitch clips one corner, that’s a strike. And that’s how I’ve always understood the strike zone.
Ah, but there’s a catch. The rulebook also has the following diagram to illustrate the strike zone:
In this, there is no indication that the strike zone is anything but a plane. Of course, it still doesn’t say that it’s the front of the plate or the back of the plate or the middle of the plate or wherever. Anyway, does anyone know where Pitch F/X draws its plane?
And don’t get me started on umpires who call balls and strikes based upon where the ball was caught.
Video of the Victorino ejection. I don’t blame him for being furious. He very well might get suspended for this, while Rapuano will get, at most, a Stern Talking To.
Hamrahi on Rapuano. Apparently, the Awful Umpiring also included legitimately terrible ball-strike calls, though I can’t tell if they were consistently terrible. He called a lot of outside strikes. I kind of like a large zone — I did say that Harry Wendelstedt was a great umpire, after all — but my rule is that if a batter can’t reach a ball with his arms fully extended, the umpire’s strike zone has gone too far.
“PHILLIES CENTERFIELDER SHANE VICTORINO WAS EJECTED BY HOME PLATE UMPIRE ED RAPUANO IN THE TOP OF THE SEVENTH INNING FOR ARGUING BALLS AND STRIKES.”
Okay, it doesn’t sound that unusual. But if you look more closely, you’ll notice that this is a Philadelphia home game and that it was the top of the inning, so Victorino was being a centerfielder, and not a hitter. Rapuano ejected Victorino when he was standing 300 feet away. With an umpire between them. A commenter at BTF says that Victorino was thrown out for raising his arms. I have to see footage of this, but that sure sounds like an overreaction to me.
David Pinto says that’s just what happened. Sheesh. Also, it in effect put the game out of reach, as Jayson Werth screwed up in Victorino’s place.