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The overturning of the Pete Kozma play last night was a preview of the upcoming challenge replay system

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Watching the umpires overturn Dana DeMuth’s awful call on the would-be double play ball dropped by Pete Kozma last night made me wonder about the upcoming expanded instant replay system. Hearing Joe Torre talk about it with Ken Rosenthal a couple of innings later made me wonder even more.

My biggest takeaways from it are that (a) it may reveal why baseball wants a managerial challenge system for upcoming expanded instant replay; and (b) it illustrates a pretty big problem with the the managerial challenge system.

In case you missed it DeMuth, the second base umpire, originally said Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma lost the ball while exchanging it from his glove to his throwing hand, getting Dustin Pedoria at second base. He obviously did not, and thanks to the umpires conferring on the play and overturning their colleague, the right call was made.

Observations:

  • The correct call was made, but the entire process took a long, long time. We had the call, one manager arguing, the conference of umps, then the other manager arguing. Ultimately, it led to a delay in play of several minutes.
  • While long overall, once the umpires conferred, it was pretty clear that all of them except DeMuth knew that the call was blown. Arguments aside, the actual decision to overturn DeMuth was pretty quick once the umps focused on it. Like, less than 30 seconds quick.
  • Getting to that conference was interesting, though. It was hard to tell the timing from television, but it appears as though that the other umpires conferring to overturn the call didn’t happen until Sox manager John Farrell came out to argue.
  • When Joe Torre was asked about the overturn later, he noted that he knew the call would be overturned once he was the umpires “converged” or “collapsed” or some word like that. Either way, it was a telltale sign to him that they knew the call was wrong and it would be changed. He said it as if it happens routinely.

Takeaways:

  • How often could other umps overrule their colleagues because they saw the play better? I suspect a lot.
  • How many blown calls are known to be blown by the other umpires but are never overturned because either the manager doesn’t come out to argue like Farrell did or because it’s not as big a situation as that one was on as big a stage as the World Series? Again, I suspect a lot.
  • If umpires are able to confer — to collapse — as quickly as they did to get the call right and if Torre is so confident in them doing that that he knew what was going to happen when they did, why does he and Major League Baseball lack confidence in a replay system driven by the umpires — say, a 5th one in the booth — and want a managerial challenge system so badly?

I suspect that last bullet point is explained by the first couple of bullet points. Baseball worries about umpire ego and knows that, absent Farrell coming out to argue, they’re not going to convene and overturn their buddy out of some dumb code of umpire solidarity. As such, they want to make them do so (via video anyway) upon a manager’s challenge.

Of course, if we look at last night’s overturned call as a defacto manager’s challenge — which I think it kinda was, only without the video — we can see how long that process might take. Sub out Matheny’s arguing, which will presumably not be allowed under the new system, and replace it with the time for a video review. A review that, in this obvious case at least, wouldn’t really be necessary, but which will likely conform to this sort of time frame.

Given MLB’s concerns about delays in the game, and given its apparent confidence in umpires getting together to get calls right, and given the speed with which the calls are correctly made once umpires actually do get together to confer, I don’t understand why MLB doesn’t simply MANDATE umpires getting together to confer in the form of a fifth umpire up in a booth. Instead, they’re forcing these conferences (i.e. video reviews) via the time-consuming manager challenge.

In this case, the call was right and that was good. And in this case the call would be right under either replay regime.  One would take about 30 seconds, however. The other took several minutes and required a rare instance of umpires not acting defensively when one of the managers came out onto the field to challenge them.

Why MLB wants to institutionalize the latter system, then, is beyond me.

A study showed “grit” isn’t always a great attribute

Washington Nationals left fielder Bryce Harper slides into third with a three RBI triple during the third inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres, Friday, April 25, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
AP Photo/Nick Wass
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This popped up in my Twitter feed and I felt it had some applicability to baseball. This past October, Olga Khazan of The Atlantic highlighted a study in which researchers from the University of Southern California and Northeastern University performed three separate but related experiments to determine how “gritty” their subjects were.

One experiment had them solve anagrams. The second, a computer game. Finally, the third test had them solve math problems. Those who were deemed “grittier” attempted to solve fewer anagrams, which means they were sticking too long with difficult words rather than skipping and moving onto easier ones. The “grittier” crowd worked harder when losing at the computer game, but worked only as hard as the less-gritty when winning. With the math problems, the subjects when stuck were given a choice to take $1 and quit or keep going for a potential reward of $2 but $0 if they failed. The study showed that the “grittier” people weren’t any more productive but were more willing to risk the $1 for the doubled prize.

“Grit” is also a common colloquialism in baseball circles, used to refer to players who always run out a routine ground ball or pop-up. Other common characteristics include a willingness to dive for fly balls, slide into players to break up double plays, and to stick up for their teammates when there’s a disagreement between members of two teams. Often, those deemed “gritty” are in many other ways subpar players, but their perceived “grit” gives them value.

Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper is a rare superstar player who has earned the “grit” descriptor. There are many examples showing why he has earned it, but the most famous incident occurred on May 13, 2013 at Dodger Stadium. Harper turned his back to the field to chase an A.J. Ellis fly ball but went face-first into the wall, suffering abrasions on his face and a jammed left shoulder. This was during a game the Nationals were comfortably winning 6-0 in the sixth inning. At the time, the Nationals were 95 percent favorites to win the game, according to FanGraphs. Is the risk of suffering an injury — which could keep Harper out only a game or two, or cause him to miss the rest of the season — worth potentially turning a double or triple into an out?

Famously, Philadelphia fans and talking heads got on outfielder Bobby Abreu’s case in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s because he appeared gun-shy when approaching the outfield fence on fly balls. He was under a lot of pressure to sacrifice his body for the supposed good of the team, and developed a reputation as “soft”. As a more recent example, former Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins caught flack from fans when he didn’t run out a routine pop-up against the Mets on August 30, 2012. Then-manager Charlie Manuel benched the veteran. At the time, the Phillies were 62-69 and 17.5 games back of first place in the NL East and 8.5 games behind the second Wild Card. Freak injuries can happen, as Rollins’ teammate Ryan Howard showed when making the final out of the 2011 NLDS against the Cardinals. Is that non-zero injury risk worth the tiny chance that the infielder drops the pop-up and Rollins gets a single (or, in rarer cases, a double) in a game that is essentially meaningless?

The aforementioned study shows that maybe Abreu and Rollins had it right after all. Statistically, a freak injury that occurs on a “hustle” play is bound to happen. Maybe that’s what it will take to stop expecting athletes to put their bodies on the line for no realistic gain.

Zach Britton settles with the Orioles for $6.75 million

Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Zach Britton delivers a pitch against the Boston Red Sox in the ninth inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park, Tuesday, June 23, 2015, in Boston. The Orioles won 6-4. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
AP Photo/Steven Senne
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The Orioles and closer Zach Britton avoided an arbitration hearing, agreeing to a $6.75 million salary for the 2016 season, Jon Heyman reports. The club has now handled all of its remaining arbitration cases and won’t have to go to a hearing with any players.

Britton, in his second of four years of arbitration eligibility, filed for $7.9 million while the Orioles countered at $5.6 million. $6.75 million is exactly the midpoint between the two submitted figures.

The 28-year-old lefty saved 36 games in 40 chances last season for the O’s while putting up a 1.92 ERA with a 79/14 K/BB ratio over 65 2/3 innings.

The Blue Jays will also try to sign Josh Donaldson to a multi-year deal

Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson gets up after being unable to handle an infield single by Boston Red Sox's Mookie Betts during the fourth inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston Monday, Sept. 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
AP Photo/Winslow Townson
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Tacking onto Friday’s report that the Blue Jays will attempt to sign Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion to multi-year deals, Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports that the club will try to do the same with third baseman and defending American League Most Valuable Player Josh Donaldson. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports notes that Donaldson’s arbitration hearing is scheduled for February 15, so the two sides will have 10 days to hammer out a contract.

Donaldson, 30, is entering his second of four years of arbitration eligibility. After earning $4.3 million last season, Donaldson filed for $11.8 million and the Blue Jays countered at $11.35 million. The $450,000 difference isn’t much compared to some of the other disparities among arbitration-eligible players and their respective clubs. Jake Arrieta and the Cubs, for example, had a gap of $6.5 million.

This past season, Donaldson let the league in runs scored and RBI with 122 and 123, respectively, while batting .297.371/.568 with 41 home runs and 41 doubles. He earned 23 of 30 first place votes in AL MVP balloting, with runner-up Mike Trout of the Angels grabbing the other seven votes.

Reds prospect Juan Duran suspended 80 games

Banned
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Juan Duran, a minor-league outfielder in the Reds’ farm system, has been suspended 80 games following positive tests for the performance-enhancing drugs Drostanolone, Stanozolol, and Nandrolone.

Duran is 6-foot-7 with big-time power, averaging 23 homers per 150 games since 2011, but he also strikes out a ton and struggles to control the strike zone. He spent last season at Double-A, missing a lot of time with injuries and hitting .256 with six homers and a .728 OPS in 59 games as a 23-year-old.

Duran is on the 40-man roster and is considered a quasi-prospect, but he’ll be ineligible to play until July and figures to head back to Double-A once reinstated.