Here’s a couple of career stats from the mighty Albert Pujols:
In 1-2 counts: .255/.261/.435
In 2-1 counts: .382/.389/.682
Startling as the contrast may be, it sort of makes sense, right? This is the nature of the ongoing struggle between pitchers and batters for that elusive advantage during the course of an at-bat. It’s the proverbial game within the game, and I suspect (though I haven’t yet proven) that it’s what delineates baseball fans from non-baseball fans. You either love this or you don’t — what the pitcher’s going to throw vs. how the hitter will approach it.
But even I’ll admit, I didn’t know the difference between a 1-2 count and a 2-1 count — i.e. one pitch — could be as stark as a .696 and a 1.071 OPS. That’s night and day. That’s the difference between Omar Vizquel’s approximate career OPS and Lou Gehrig’s. No offense to Vizquel, of course, as he’s a borderline Hall of Famer. But should he get there, it won’t be on account of his offensive prowess, as we all know. Taking it a step further, a call or non-call on 2-2 is the difference between a strikeout and a full count. You get the idea.
And this is why, to me, video review has no place in baseball beyond its current role, which is to award or take away disputed (non) home run calls. A single pitch can effectively amount to an out. It can be the difference in prowess between a slap-hitting middle infielder and the Iron Horse. And so long as no one wants balls and strikes called by a machine — and by all accounts, no one does — then the rest of the game, too, should be presided over by living, breathing umpires, without those anticlimactic interruptions on account of going to the videotape. Because to arbitrarily decide what is reviewable and what is not based on convenience or ignorance would be a gross disservice to one of the overarching themes of advanced analysis, which is that no part of a game is too small to examine, down to each pitch.
It just doesn’t make sense to say, “We have to live with human fallibility for balls and strikes but not for in-play calls.”
Of course, the video-review debate has been ongoing for a few seasons now, but it always seems to reach a fever pitch this time of year, during the postseason, when the stakes are highest. That’s understandable. Everyone’s watching, and everyone — Major League Baseball, the teams and fans — wants the calls to be made accurately. Right now, that’s not happening, unfortunately: Michael Young’s check swing, Greg Golson’s non-catch and Buster Posey’s stolen base were all majorly important plays in their respective games.
What’s the solution? Well, I, for one, have faith in mankind. We did, after all, figure out how to split the atom. Can we not put our heads together and address the issue of umpiring without drastically altering the rules, pace and flow of a game? With a few minor adjustments, we might be able to take care a lot of these blown calls.
First, what’s the harm in putting more umpires on the field? When the U.S. Open was being played a few weeks back, I remember watching it and thinking there were an inordinate number of officials on the court. They’re entirely different sports, I know, but why not do that in baseball? In fact, during the postseason, there are extra umps on the field — down the lines. Let’s keep them there in the regular season so that they become better accustomed to the nuances of the positions. Also, let’s put one umpire in each outfield alley. The thinking is, with more umpires on the field, there will be fewer places where an ump is going to be left to make a call on a play he could not see closely or clearly.
But, by my own admission, the problem is often not that the umpires are removed from the play or can’t see it clearly. Many times, in fact, they simply blow the call, flat out, which was the case with Golson’s trap and Posey’s steal. But if these calls are so obviously blown to the casual observer without even the aid of instant replay, shouldn’t they be the easiest to fix? This is when the umpires need to pool that indomitable human resourcefulness and come up with the right answer, collectively. Why aren’t they doing that already, you ask? Well, sometimes I do believe that they simply can’t get the call right, regardless of how many of them confer or for how long. Some plays are darn near impossible to call even with the aid of replay. But too frequently, the call is not rectified or even considered to be rectified on account of that unseemly hubris we’ve seen cropping up in recent years. And that, to me, is what’s inexcusable.
Did you wonder whether the other umpires on the field at Comerica Park in June saw what the rest of us did — that Jim Joyce cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game with a horribly blown call at first base? I did. But no one spoke up. There was no conference among the umpires, let alone an overrule or call reversal or whatever you want to call it. And that rarely happens because umpires have a bizarre sense of misguided pride, to the extent that it usually becomes a higher priority than actually getting the call right. They can’t be shown up. I’m sorry, but if I were so concerned about my pride, I’d do anything within my power to get the call right. Then, I couldn’t be shown up; I’d be lauded for putting the game’s integrity over my own pride.
For MLB’s part, maybe it ought to begin approaching this more proactively. Commission committees. Conduct studies and interviews. Surely, some umpires are better at calling balls and strikes while others are better on the bases; talk to them about why they think these blown calls are occurring. Ask them what could be done to curtail it. One question I’d want to ask them is, do they feel appropriately trained and well prepared? Obviously, there are more variables here than I could possibly enumerate. But the point is: be proactive. Don’t allow this to run amok on the game the way steroids did.
I think, with a little thought and effort, baseball can have the best of both worlds: fewer blown calls and no review-related delays, resulting in the game’s officiating integrity being restored. And really, that’s all anyone wants.