Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Shouldering responsibility

The list of baseball incidents likely to catch the attention of the British press is a short one, topped by steroid scandals that over the past decade have sadly ‘won’ the sport a fair few column inches across the pond.

A 50-man plus, bench-clearing brawl is on that little list – who doesn’t enjoy seeing a good old dust-up? – and if you add in an injury to an expensively-acquired player an extra paragraph or two will be tacked on to the story.

As Carlos Quentin charged into Zack Greinke recently and everyone else began the familiar shoving match, the thought that came to mind was that it’s a wonder so few brawls (if we can really call them that) end up with an injury being suffered. In Greinke’s situation, you would not expect the player to come out from underneath the heap unscathed.

Against the odds, often a few bumps and bruises are the sum total of the damage done, but it wasn’t long after the bitter Dodgers-Padres clash ended that we found out Greinke had not been so lucky. Initial estimates propose that he will be out of action for at least eight weeks after undergoing surgery on his broken left collarbone.

Manager Don Mattingly’s emotional post-game opinion that Quentin should be banned for as long as the time Greinke has to miss was understandable, if never the least bit likely. When you invest $147m in a top-line pitcher, you’re going to be upset to see him injured in such a bizarre way.

Plenty of debate has been had about any intent on Greinke’s part with the high-and-inside pitch and Quentin’s decision to charge the mound, but in hindsight you would also have to question Greinke’s decision to meet Quentin by putting his shoulder into the well-built outfielder. It has shades of the macho stance that still leads some catchers to block the plate as a baserunner comes barrelling down the third-base line trying to smash him into next week.

That approach may please the masochists, but it isn’t clever to put yourself at such an extreme risk of injury that could cost your team dear. The smart catcher can skilfully tag the runner without putting himself in harm’s way. Greinke would have been wise – rather than a wimp – to have displayed a quick bit of footwork to sell Quentin the dummy before the cavalry came to smother out the danger.

Some may see it as a kill-joy, health-and-safety-gone-mad stance, but this isn’t rounding the edges off those dangerous pointy flapjacks. The Dodgers aren’t paying Greinke $147m to be a nightclub bouncer, they are paying him to pitch and he won’t be doing that for the next couple of months.

Replay the instant replay debate

The Premier League announced last week that they will be implementing HawkEye technology for goal line decisions from next season. MLB has apparently ruled out the use of such technology for fair/foul line calls, but it is expected that an increased use of instant replay will be adopted for the 2014 season.

The game-ending call between the Rays and Rangers last Monday raises an interesting question as to how that should be implemented.

At first glance, umpire Marty Foster’s decision to call the Rays’ Ben Zobrist out on strikes is exactly the sort of play that instant replay should be there for. It came at an important time (the final out of the game with the Rays trailing 4-3 with a runner on first) and was a clearly incorrect call. Nobody wants to see a blatant mistake by an umpire play a crucial part in the outcome of a game, especially the umpire that has to live with the mistake.

However, we don’t yet know whether an expanded instant replay referral system would include balls and strikes calls. My guess would be that the Umpires’ Union, and quite probably the MLB Commissioner’s Office too, would be dead-set against it.

The incorrect strike call on Zobrist was a freak event; most disputed calls on balls and strikes are more marginal. Most, if not probably all, cameras looking towards home plate do so at an angle that distorts the perception of the path of the pitch, so you couldn’t use the standard camera angles. That brings in the prospect of a PITCHf/x type tracking system being used and whilst some fans would be happy for computers to call all pitches, it’s safe to say the umpires would not agree.

As things currently stand, any new referral system would need to be introduced with the approval of the Umpires’ Union and opening the door to the use of a pitch-tracking system is likely to be refused.

It’s possible that the new system would give the umpires ultimate discretion to check any call and therefore a completely baffling error such as the one Foster made could be rechecked (i.e. with the umpire knowing that they had blown it and so referring it themselves), but don’t be surprised if the new system still results in such a call being met only with the consolation of an apology from the umpire.

Which for the team in question is no consolation at all.

Replay on Rajai

Another potential replay scenario cropped up during last week’s series between the Toronto Blue Jays and Detroit Tigers.

The Blue Jays’ speedster Rajai Davis attempted to steal second base and was called safe. On first viewing I thought the umpire had got the close call exactly right and I maintained that view having watched a replay. However, a second angle revealed that after narrowly beating the throw, Davis actually came off the bag briefly whilst Omar Infante kept the tag applied.

Infante didn’t make a big deal of it, but maybe he would have done had there been an option to refer the decision to a replay process.

Rule changes typically lead to changes in the way a game is played and the expanded use of instant replay will be no different. Every baserunner tries to stay on the bag when sliding in, just as every infielder knows they should keep the tag applied, but once instant replay comes into effect you should see players refining their technique.

The demand for additional replay has grown deafening as technological developments in TV coverage have hugely magnified the slightest error by an umpire. What shouldn’t be overlooked is that expanded replay will cast the same level of inspection on the players and slight mistakes that they presently get away with may come back to haunt them.

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2 Responses to Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Shouldering responsibility

  1. Ryan Ferguson April 17, 2013 at 7:54 pm #

    As always, a great column! I wrote at length about the Greinke-Quentin incident in my weekly Dodger blog at the weekend; it would be great if you could check it out – http://britishdodger.mlblogs.com/

    My blog is written on a weekly basis, usually a Sunday, and offers a British perspective on baseball throughout the season.

    As ever, great job!

    • Matt Smith April 17, 2013 at 8:55 pm #

      Thanks Ryan. Always good to see other Brits writing about the sport. Great job!

      Cheers
      Matt

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