Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Argument For Better Officiating in Baseball

Take a quick look at this, or if you’re in a bind for time I’ll summarize. Terence Moore believes that umpires are all but infallible. He’s willing to concede that they make mistakes from time to time, which is good for his credibility but not necessarily good for his argument. The crux of his argument is that “bad” teams complain about umpires, and good teams win games. I call bullshit. With Jim Leyland, Bobby Valentine, and Charlie Manuel all having argued with, and having made comments about umpires abilities recently he’s taking an incredibly small sample and turning it into something that it’s not.
I don’t necessarily think that baseball needs to do away with the current system, but sticking a 5th man in a booth, and holding home plate umps accountable for the strike zone they call I can get behind. The Questec system worked alright, it kept umpires on their toes if nothing else, but now with pitch tracking software implemented in EVERY stadium we don’t even honestly need the home plate ump to call strikes. MLB and ESPN both provide a gameday application and web page that allows you to see pitches, and where they are in relation to the plate. Borderline calls I can forgive, but seeing close pitches called balls, and pitches several inches off the plate called strikes because they were well framed isn’t exactly forgivable. there has been some effort made to correct the strike zone as it has over time become wider and shorter.  The textbook definition of the strike zone as per wikipedia is :

The top of the strike zone is defined in the official rules as a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the batter's shoulders and the top of the uniform pants. The bottom of the strike zone is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap. The right and left boundaries of the strike zone correspond to the edges of home plate.

For a time we saw basically the belt to the knees, and 2-3” on either side of the plate. That’s not the strike zone we’re seeing now. That is in part because of the Questec system, and partially because of the pitch tracking system in place now, The umpires were happy to call whatever strike zone they fancied most days into the early 2000s. Better evaluation tools have helped eliminate this type of error, though it is not gone entirely it is part of the game.That said, the umpires have cost pitchers perfect games, and awarded them beneficial calls regardless of the correct call. Having a 5th umpire upstairs would have prevented these two plays from going the way they did. Placing a 5th umpire in the stadium with a nice little radio system would be a perfectly reasonable way to keep this kind of system from slowing down the game. If we’re so concerned about paying an extra umpire, why not take the home plate ump and stick him in the booth. The sheer volume of cameras used in any given stadium would be adequate to replace the home plate ump. The only thing anyone’d really miss would be the occasional loud barking coming from behind the plate, I for one wouldn’t miss it enough to care.

I’m not saying we need to revolutionize the way things are done in baseball, but every team will argue with umpires here and there, I don’t know that any manager in the majors can say they’ve never been ejected for screaming at an umpire, many in games that their team went on to win. The point of the matter is that arguing that baseball doesn’t need instant replay is technically true, but the cry is heard loudest from those who are stubbornly opposing the use of technology in sports. I doubt that Mr. Moore would argue that batting helmets are a bad idea though certainly the game had been played without them for years, and while getting more accurate fair/foul calls isn’t quite the same as preventing concussions, it is in the same vein of using advances in technology to provide a better product on the field. So, to you Mr. Terence Moore, I’m not complaining about umpires, I’m complaining about the troglodytic view of instant replay and that because umpires have been a part of baseball for longer than I’ve been alive that they are clearly the only “correct” way to officiate a game.

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