The umps deny that there is an unwritten rulebook

Leave a comment

In the wake of the Erick Aybar play on Saturday night, an article in today’s New York Times attempts to debunk the notion that there are any unwritten rules:

But as often as Major League Baseball umpires have been caught
making the wrong calls this October, Layne’s call could help eradicate
the notion that umpires make certain calls according to historical
precedent, and not what actually happened on the field.

instance, there is no such thing as tie goes to the runner. And pitches
are not strikes if they go over the so-called “black” part of the plate
for the simple reason that there is no black part of the plate in Major
League Baseball.

And umpires do not give credit to a fielder for
making a good throw, [MLB’s VP of umpiring Mike] Port said. If a tag is not made before the runner
hits the bag, then the umpire is supposed to call him safe.

The gist of the article is that if any of those plays are called, it’s simply a matter of the umpire getting the play wrong, not a matter of umps enforcing rules from some unwritten rule book or based on tradition or whatever.

I won’t deny that they’re technically wrong calls, but we see those plays called all the time, right? I mean, the assertion that “there is no such thing” as balls on the black being strikes or the neighborhood play runs counter to our obvious experience watching games.  In light of that, one of two things has to be the case: (a) there really is an unwritten rulebook; or (b) umpires get way more calls wrong than they’ll ever admit to because, like I said, we see that stuff called every single day.

So here’s the question I’d really like to see answered by umpire czar Mike Post, who is quoted in the article: are umpires disciplined or deducted points in evaluations or whatever when they call an out on the neighborhood play? Or when they call a consistent but technically wrong strike zone? I have this feeling that they aren’t or, at the very least, that “we’ve been calling it that way for 100 years” is viewed as an acceptable defense when umps are being graded and evaluated by their bosses.

If so, then there truly is an unwritten rulebook in practice.  Which may or may not be a good thing (I’m split on some of these things), but it certainly means the linked article is more of a propaganda piece than anything else.

2018 Preview: Oakland Athletics

Getty Images
1 Comment

Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2018 season. Next up: The Oakland Athletics.

The A’s have finished last in the AL West for three straight years. If you believe the folks at Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus and anyone else who makes projections, they’ll either finish in last again or come within a game or two of it. There’s not a lot of suspense to my prediction here — I’ll end up picking them to finish fifth — but the prediction is not really what a preview is about. It’s about the shape of the team and what we can expect in broad brushes.

While I can’t foretell greatness for the 2018 Oakland Athletics, I can’t say the broad brushes are bad. At least if you grade on a curve. It won’t be a good team, but they’ll be worth watching because they have a lot of good, fun and interesting players who are likely to be on that next good Oakland A’s team in the way Stephen Vogt and Brett Lawrie were not.

Their lineup is pretty spiffy for a second division team. Khris Davis, Matt Joyce and new acquisition Jonathan Lucroy are known commodities both inside and outside A’s fandom, but people who don’t pay much attention to the goings on in Oakland may not be fully aware of just how good and promising Matt Olson and Matt Chapman are. Olson hit 24 homers in 59 games last year. That’s not a sustainable pace — the league will figure him out to — but even regression from that will be fantastic. Chapman hit 14 in half a season and played superior defense at third base. He also struck out 92 times in half a season but who’s counting? [editor: everyone counts everything in baseball]. Hey, look, dingers! Yonder Alonso and Ryon Healey are gone from last year’s crew and Stephen Piscotty is new in town. Marcus Semien is a decent bat for a shortstop. All-in-all that’s a lineup that will play, and play very, very well if Chapman and Olson are what they’ve shown themselves to be thus far.

At the risk of criminal understatement, allow me to observe that the starting pitching is not as promising. Sean Manaea and Kendall Graveman are at the top of the rotation. On good teams they’d be in the middle or the back. The rest of their rotation options — Daniel Mengden, Andrew Triggs, Paul Blackburn, who will miss the start of the regular season with a sore forearm — are less-than-impressive. They just signed Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson from the scrap heap hoping, I guess, to recreate some of that, uh, 2010 magic? 2010 was a long time ago!

Jharel Cotton would’ve been in the mix but he’s now out for the year for Tommy John surgery. A.J. Puk, the A’s top prospect would be a nice midseason upgrade, but he’s hurt. Not seriously, but the A’s will probably be more careful with him now than they would’ve been, which still would’ve been careful. All-in-all, there was a lack of quality arms to begin with, but with the injuries mounting, starting pitching could be a trash fire for the A’s.

The bullpen has a new look with newcomers Ryan Buchter, Yusmeiro Petit and Emilio Pagan joining 2017 in-season additions Blake Treinen and Chris Hatcher. That’s a pretty good and pretty interesting group which was going to see a lot of innings as it was in our new bullpenning era, but now that the rotation looks shaky as hell, they’ll see even more. If you’re curious about the limits of leaning on a bullpen, postseason-style are, Oakland will be running a pretty fun experiment to that end in 2018.

I look at this club’s bats — especially the young guys upon whom its so very easy to project so much promise and optimism, because I’m a sucker for hitting prospects — and think that they can outperform those statsy projections and be better than the Rangers and Mariners. Then I think about how the upside — UPSIDE! — for the rotation is 380 innings from Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson and I sorta wanna cry.

If the A’s get some breaks and some unexpectedly good (or average) pitching performances, they could certainly finish above the cellar. Perhaps well above the cellar. For now, though, I’m guessing that they’ll be in 80-win territory at best and finish last in a division that does not have any teams totally punting, making for a competitive and, subsequently, tough year.

Prediction: Fifth place, AL West