In last night’s 7-4 victory by the Los Angeles Dodgers over the Colorado Rockies, the third baseman and manager of the road team were both ejected for arguing balls and strikes.
Another one of the completely illogical and unwritten rules of baseball that is apparently beyond debate and never followed in any kind of consistent manner, the ejections probably did little to affect the outcome of the game or the postseason hunt but still showcased exactly the kind of behavior that needs to be addressed when it comes to how MLB games are umpired.
Alfonzo Marquez proved once again that umpire ego is more important than getting the call right and the reason we know this is because the statistics actually back up those doing the arguing, not those doing the ejecting.
In the old days — by which we are talking about 5 years ago — all a player or manager could do about a bad call was argue until they got the boot. Back then, it was a common refrain that even if a call was missed, it was an outlier and a team’s performance would always outweigh poor umpiring. But, as it turns out, this has been proven untrue on the basis of measurable facts.
Once it was taken out of the realm of ambiguity and instant replay was implemented, a clearer picture came into view. In 2016, there have been 1,279 challenges to an umpire’s call and only 52.6 percent have been upheld. 47.4 percent, or 606 calls, have been overturned. That may not seem overwhelming to some, but all 606 (so far) would have remained no matter how blatantly wrong before the challenge system. Remember Armando Galarraga?
And how many might have resulted in ejection? And a fine? Typically, only the most egregious misses are vehemently contested and that’s what tends to lead to removal from the game. Players will admit when they are wrong, especially after they’ve seen the video like Nolan Arenado did last night.
Umpires, on the other hand, and as we’ve discussed before, are never put in a position where they have to admit anything because they are shielded from answering questions from the press. This creates a natural kind of resentment from players, and incidents like what happened last night only serve to further the mistrust of umpires who have arguably more control over their individual sport than any other kind of official.
Of course, this brings us to the nature of this particular call. Like with tags on the bases and other difficult bang-bang plays, it would be to the great benefit of everyone involved if their were a limited number of challenges on balls and strikes per game. We don’t need to move to fully automated strike zones in one fell swoop, but as instant replay has already proven, it can be done in brief enough time and have monumental consequences toward making the games more fair while eliminating the need for prolonged arguments and ejections.
If a year of reviewing balls and strikes reveals a near 50 percent overturn rate, then maybe we can move forward with even more drastic measures. If not, let’s get rid of it after a year. Either way, statements that the umpires are “probably getting 90 percent (or more) of the important calls right” simply do not stand up with what recent history tells us and ought to be truly put to the test.
Because the system we have now reflects the idiocy of the Armando Galarraga situation while pairing it with incentive-backed up by unwritten rules to eject superstar level players after making blatantly wrong calls. Wouldn’t the extra minute-and-a-half of everyone’s time be worth not having to pretend like this makes any sense?