MLB hires seven new umpires, names a Director of Instant Replay

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Press release from MLB on the officiating front. The league announced today that seven umpires have been named to the full-time Major League Umpiring staff.  In addition, as another part of this season’s expansion of instant replay, the Office of the Commissioner has appointed Justin Klemm as Director of Instant Replay.

Klemm, a former minor league umpire and minor league umpire administrator, will report to Peter Woodfork, MLB’s Senior Vice President, Baseball Operations. Which I assume means Joe Torre will be relieved of even more uncomfortable press conferences when things go screwy. Klemm will be based at the headquarters of MLB Advanced Media, which will serve as the Replay Command Center.

Here is the rundown of the seven new umps, all of whom have had callups as replacement/fill-in umps in the past. And one of whom served as Nick Carroway’s love interest in “The Great Gatsby”:

  • Jordan Baker – Baker, 32, has been an umpire in the Minor Leagues since the 2005 season.  In 2013, he worked in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League.  Baker worked his first game in the Majors on June 24, 2012 and overall, he has been a part of 199 regular season Major League games.
  • Lance Barrett – Barrett, 29, has been a Minor League umpire since 2003.  He is now the youngest full-time Major League Umpire.  In 2013, he worked in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League.  Barrett debuted in the Majors on October 1, 2010 and he has worked 237 big-league games.
  • Cory Blaser – Blaser, 32, has been an umpire in the Minor Leagues since the 2002 season. In 2013, he worked in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League.  Blaser made his Major League debut on April 24, 2010 and he has worked 346 Major League games.
  • Mike Estabrook – Estabrook, 37, has umpired professionally since 1999.  In 2013, he was on the staff of the Triple-A International League.  Estabrook’s first Major League game was on May 7, 2006, and he has been assigned to 698 Major League games.
  • Mike Muchlinski – Muchlinski, 36, has been a Minor League umpire since 1999.  In 2013, he worked in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League.  Muchlinski made his Major League debut on April 24, 2006, and he has worked 569 Major League games.
  • David Rackley – Rackley, 32, has been an umpire in the Minor Leagues since the 2001 season.  In 2013, he was on the staff of the Triple-A International League.  Rackley had his first Major League game on August 13, 2010, and he has been on the field for 165 Major League games overall.
  • D.J. Reyburn – Reyburn, 37, has umpired in the Minors since 2000.  In 2013, he worked in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League.  He has worked 440 Major League games since his debut on June 10, 2008.

All hail our new replay overlords. All hail our new human elements.

Justin Verlander changed his mechanics to prolong his career

Justin Verlander mechanics
Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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Last week, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reported that Astros starter and reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander changed his mechanics in order to prolong his career. Specifically, Verlander lowered his release point from 7’2″ to 6’5″.

As Brooks Baseball shows, Verlander drastically altered his release point after being traded to the Astros from the Tigers on August 31, 2017. The change resulted in a huge bump in his strikeout rate. Verlander’s strikeout rate ranged between 16% and 27.4% with the Tigers, mostly settling in the 23-25% range. With The Tigers through the first five months of 2017, Verlander struck out 24.1% of batters. In the final month with the Astros, he struck out 35.8% of batters. He then maintained that rate over the entire 2018 and ’19 seasons with respective rates of 34.8% and 35.4%. Just as impressively, the release point also resulted in fewer walks. His walk rate ranged from 5.9% to 9.9% with the Tigers but was 4.4% and 5.0% the last two seasons with the Astros.

Verlander finished a runner-up in 2018 AL Cy Young Award balloting to Blake Snell before edging out teammate Gerrit Cole for the award last season. Despite the immense success, Verlander described his mechanics as unsustainable. Per The Athletic’s Jake Kaplan, Verlander said, “I changed a lot of stuff that some people would think was unnecessary. But I thought it was necessary, especially if I want to play eight, 10 more years.”

Verlander is 37 years old, so 10 more seasons would put him into Jamie Moyer territory. Moyer, who consistently ranked among baseball’s softest-tossing pitchers, pitched 25 seasons in the majors from 1986-2012.  He threw 111 2/3 innings with the Phillies in 2010 at the age of 47 and 53 2/3 innings with the Rockies in 2012 at 49. But aside from Moyer and, more recently, Bartolo Colon, it’s exceedingly rare for pitchers to extend their careers into their 40’s, let alone their mid- and late-40’s.

The Astros have Verlander under contract through 2021. The right-hander will have earned close to $300 million. He’s won a World Series, a Rookie of the Year Award, an MVP Award, two Cy Youngs, and has been an eight-time All-Star. Verlander could retire after 2021 and would almost certainly be a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2027. That he continues to tweak his mechanics in order to pitch for another decade speaks to his highly competitive nature.