Change-UpOctober 14, 2009
Ramblings on LCS Eve
By Patrick Sullivan

Since the dance cards were set for the two League Championship Series, there's been no shortage of interesting baseball content being generated around the web. With three of the four LDS series having ended abruptly - of the LCS participants, only the Phillies failed to sweep their opponent - there was time to step back, reflect on what took place in the LDS and even shift gears a bit.

To start, there's been no shortage of controversy surrounding the umpiring thus far in the post-season. C.B Bucknor was atrocious in the Boston-Los Angeles series, while a horrible foul ball call compromised the Twins' chances of taking Game 2 of the ALDS at Yankee Stadium. With K-Zone type features viewable on nearly every pitch now for post-season telecasts, the practice of placing a human being behind home plate to determine if a 95-mph pitched passed the plate while in a tightly defined area known as the strike zone seems, well, antiquated. It's not hard to envision baseball turning to sensors and cameras like the ones tennis uses to help determine if balls are in or out or foul balls. And for calls on the basepaths, how much longer would a quick overrule take when video evidence clearly refutes the call on the field?

Jonah Keri took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal and wondered if umpires are even necessary. The whole piece, including a history of why umpires were deemed necessary to begin with, is well worth a read. But the following excerpt hammers home a critical point:

At the end of the day, Mr. Port [VP of Umpiring for MLB] says, the whole argument about umpires comes down to this: "Do we want the tradition of 18 people on the field doing their best to help their teams win, officiated by four trained gentlemen also doing their best? Or do we want to translate over to some sort of technologically advanced video endeavor that removes human elements from the game?"

Joe Mauer could not be reached for comment.

To the extent that a wholesale technological officiating solution would be cost-effective or otherwise feasible, contrary to Port's contention, it would do nothing to "remove the human elements from the game" that any fan cares about. Humans compete hard all season long in baseball, only to have their fate determined by other humans. Only the latter are humans the paying customers do not come to see, and they also turn out to be ill-equipped and incapable of administering the rules appropriately. Keri's point here is that the human we care most about as it relates to the 11th inning play at Yankee Stadium is Mauer and not Phil Cuzzi. Let's get it right so Mauer and every other competitor in post-season play gets an honest shot at pursuing a World Series championship.


I will admit that the thought crossed my mind. With A-List Closers Huston Street, Jonathan Papelbon and Joe Nathan faltering badly in their respective Division Series appearances, it occurred to me that it must be nice to have a relief pitcher operating on an altogether different plane when the time comes to nail down a win. Mariano Rivera once again looked dominant in the Yankees 3-0 sweep of Minnesota.

So yes, that thought crossed my mind - that it sure must be nice to have Rivera. What did not cross my mind, however, was to draw overarching conclusions about the nature of post-season pitching based on a handful of innings of work from some very good relief pitchers in the first round of the 2009 playoffs. But that's why we have Tom Verducci. Tom, take it away!

Why is the ninth inning so much harder for pitchers in October than in the other six months? There is the element of pressure, of course. But there are also so much more detailed scouting reports and so much studying of that information. (Players couldn't possibly absorb and apply that much information over 162 games without frying their brains, but it works for a five- or seven-game series with off days.) Finally, there is also more intense focus by the batters in the postseason. No one gives away an at-bat in the ninth inning of a postseason game. No one. Yes, it does happen during the regular season.

So there's "pressure", there's "scouting", and there's "more intense focus" by the hitters. Got it. What about the prospect that the hitters are also just better in the post-season? Or better yet, maybe it was just random. Maybe with another 18 innings to look at, since these guys are excellent pitchers, we would see entirely different outcomes? Why don't we look historically at how relievers have fared in the 9th inning of post-season play versus the regular season to see if we're working with anything meaningful? That way there, we aren't devoting a full paragraph of conclusions drawn from 18 innings of work. Someone missed sample size class at baseball school.

Let's play a quick game. I will re-write that paragraph:

Why is the ninth inning so much harder for hitters in October than in the other six months? There is the element of pressure, of course. But there are also so much more detailed scouting reports and so much studying of that information. (Players couldn't possibly absorb and apply that much information over 162 games without frying their brains, but it works for a five- or seven-game series with off days.) Finally, there is also more intense focus by the pitchers in the postseason. No pitcher lets up for a hitter in the ninth inning of a postseason game. No one. Yes, it does happen during the regular season.

See what I did there? Doesn't make any less sense, does it? And in Verducci's world, it may have even been applicable had Street, Nathan and Papelbon pitched as they usually do. Assertions are fun!


The Arizona Fall League is under way. This is a very good thing, as most anyone who ever has attended will tell you. Promising players, beautiful weather, relaxed atmosphere. It's supposed to be just great fun. Your best source for real time information, at least as far as I can tell, is going to be Keith Law's Twitter feed. I am sure his column over at the World Wide Leader will be excellent as well. Law's on the ground in the Grand Canyon State, and updating frequently.'s AFL page is terrific, too, with the neatest feature of all being that there is Pitch f/x installed in Surprise and Peoria, home to 3 of the 6 teams. Here's Harry Pavlidis at Beyond the Boxscore recapping the first day's data.

Stephen Strasburg and Dustin Ackley are there. Jason Heyward, Mike Stanton and Buster Posey are there. Pitch f/x is there. You're going to want to keep tabs.


We're back with a full NLCS preview tomorrow and a special ALCS look on Friday featuring our resident Southern California and New York natives going back and forth. There are four terrific teams still standing, and we can't wait to share our thoughts as the action unfolds.


Pitch F/X at the AFL is one of the coolest things ever.

The notion of replacing umpires in order to increase the accuracy of calls is one that I agree with, but I wonder about the costs of implementation. Not in terms of dollars, though.

I am assuming that MLB/baseball clubs would implement systems at the top level, but would they do so throughout the minor league system? And if not, then they'd retain the old umpiring system. Would that system hold up well if there was no path to the majors, or is that a non-issue? If it *is* an issue, what effect might it have on the development of players in the minor league system, especially if the quality of umpiring decreases over time?

Just curious about that. Watching the pitch tracking on TV has brought to light just how often umpires miss ball/strike calls, and also how inconsistent some of them are. In their defense, it can't be an easy job to do... but that would be a point in favor of an automated system.

Rob Iracane's idea makes the most sense to me.

A dedicated official to reviewing close plays. I am not sure we need home plate umps though.

I quit watching major league baseball tonight. It has been coming on for some time but tonight finished it. It started in the 96 series when the Braves killed the Yankees in games 1 and 2 and were up 6 nothing when a yankee popped up behind first and a fat slob of an umpire interfered with Dave Justice making the catch. This resulted in the Yankees getting 4 outs instead of 3. They scored 3 runs that inning and 3 later to tie it. Then they won it and won the next 3 games. But the momentum was changed by the umpiring or lack of it and not by what the players did. Next was the championship series between the indians and yankees. The indians had the series won when the umpires again interfered. This time the yankees were behind but had the bases loaded with Tino Martinez at the plate. He hadn't hit anything the whole series and was behind in the count when on a 2 and 2 count the indians pitcher threw a perfect ball on the inside corner but it was called a ball. It was strike three and the yankees should have been on the plane back home with heads hanging low but on the next pitch was hit into the bleachers and the yankees won. Last year I almost swore off baseball during the world series between the rays and the phillies. the umpiring was so bad that words can't describe it. I thought I was watching Big Time Wrestling where the underdog always get cheated by the Big Bad Guy and the referee tells the underdog he can't get away with some minor infraction while the bad guy gets away with murder. First was the obvious balk that was never called which resulted in Carl Crawford being caught in a rundown when in reality the rays should have had a rally going. Then there was the horrible ball and strike calls. the phillies pichers could throw the ball low and wide of the plate and get strikes called but the rays pithers couldn't get a strike call even when the ball was over the plate and above the knees. Let's not forget the rundown where Longoria clearly tagged the phillies runner on the butt but the umpire called him safe and prolonged another inning for the phillies. Scott Kazmir just shook his head in disbelief when perfect pitches were called balls. His team mates asked him when he got to the dugout what were the pitches called? Too low? Outside? He said in total amazement "I don't know!" Tonight was the final straw. First Swisher is clearly out by a foot on a pick-off move. But is called safe. Then ( blind justice?) he is called out for leaving the base to early on a flyout. Replays show he didn't leave early. Next, and this is when I quit watching baseball, the yankees have runners on 2nd and 3rd when the batter taps back to the pitcher. The runner at 3rd tried to get home and got caught in a rundown. The runner at 2nd got right up next to 3rd base but not on it. The angels catcher chased the runner ( caught in the rundown)back to 3rd. The catcher then tagged out the runner from 2nd ( he wasn't on a base). The runner in the rundown runs past 3rd and the catcher tags him out. But the 3rd base umpire calls him safe??? How many breaks do the yankees get? During this game horrible ball and strike calls were made. The home plate umpire said the angels catcher was too big and he couldn't see the plate. The catcher crouched lower so the umpire could see which hampered his ability to block balls that were in the dirt. The umpire didn't have any trouble with the yankee cather even though he is bigger. major league baseball needs to have profit sharing. the teams in smaller markets can't compete with Boston and New York. A-Rod makes more money than the entire rays organization pays all it's players. They need to have balls and strikes called by machines not men.They also need instant replay like football and tennis. Until all that happens I will not watch another baseball game.