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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?

 

Drew Creasman is the Managing Editor of BSN Rockies and a writer at Pop Culture Spin in addition to working as a solo musician in the Denver/Boulder area. A lifelong Coloradan, Drew has always been plugged into the local sports and entertainment scene and has a healthy obsession with fact-based debate.

  • Gil

    Drew, you might want to consult information publicly and readily available from SABR and Close Call Sports regarding replay and ejection information before making claims purporting to reference ejection statistics. For instance, as of last month’s sabermetrics update, umpires in 2016 were 62.0% accurate on calls exclusively associated with ejection, which suggests that statistics do not, preponderantly, “actually back up those doing the arguing, not those doing the ejecting.”

    One of the many reasons electronic Replay Review of balls and strikes is not permitted concerns the technology’s shortcomings, which have been documented by sabermatricians and technical analysts. Sometimes, the error is quite obvious, but other times it is less so. Most notably this season, for instance, Pitch f/x erred during a Yankees ejection on August 30. In real-time, the umpire’s strike call appeared incorrect. After a post-game adjustment to correct the problem, however, the strike call was determined to be proper.

    PitchInfo & Brooks, for instance, purport to account for calibration error, but this calculation can only be made post-game (and, as illustrated by the aforementioned Yankees balls/strikes ejections, even Brooks is susceptible to error if the data itself is inaccurate). It is statistically irresponsible, and equally improbable, to attempt to apply this in real-time, which leaves the technology subject to a healthy dose of error—such as calibration, measurement, capture, fitting or modeling, 2D Zone, pitch classification, and operator errors—that prevents reliable real-time application.

    As a proponent of and writer with a self-described healthy obsession with fact-based debate, referencing those facts and statistics might prove beneficial in placating that desire.

    • Drew Creasman

      I didn’t see these comments and have no idea if you will see this reply nearly a month later, but I am very aware of the stats and issues you raise. First, even according to your own statistic, that means umps are ejecting people even though they were wrong nearly 40 percent of the time. That is WAY to high, especially when combined with all the stats I’ve already presented. If you are going to eject someone (something that isn’t done so cavalierly in other sports) that number needs to be close to 90.

      Also, showing one example of a missed calibration when we literally have hundreds, nearly thousands, of missed pitches every year is unconvincing. You would need to show that these calibration issues are LESS accurate than umps, not just imperfect. Finally, I highly recommend HBO’s recent documentary on the subject which debunks several of the concerns about Pitch/FX and properly puts the problem in context. Sure, it isn’t perfect yet, but using Pitch/FX has been statistically proven to be far more accurate and that is what sports should be. Fair and accurate. That so many calls are missed and then ejections come on top of that is really just the icing on the crap cake.

  • Steve Wanamaker

    That’s excellent information Gil. I certainly hope Drew engages you in a fact-based conversation.

  • Steve Wanamaker

    I don’t understand why the author has decided that Marquez’ “ego is more important than getting the call right.” The pitch to Arenado was up. Marquez then gave Arenado plenty of latitude in arguing the call. Arenado was very demonstrative and clearly upset to any casual observer. In fact, his manager decided that he needed to get himself ejected to ensure his star player stayed in the game. Did Marquez eject Arenado then? Nope. He let him vent and return to the dugout. Then, when Arenado took the field in the next half-inning, he decided to prolong the argument by yelling back at Marquez, and Marquez STILL gave him 2 warnings to stop before finally ejecting. Perhaps he gave Arenado that much rope because he thought that he missed the pitch. Perhaps it was because he knows Arenado is a star player that people paid ticket money to come watch. Either way, that ejection, even though based on an incorrect call, was due to Arenado’s inability to let it go. We get it. He’s out there competing. It’s an emotional game. But players know damn well what will get them run, and the last person that should have been surprised at this ejection, was Arenado himself.