Why showing up the umpire is a bad idea

04/17/2013 11:56 PM

05/20/2014 10:42 AM

In the first inning Alcides Escobar did not like a strike call and looked back at the home plate umpire, Doug Eddings. This is considered a baseball faux-pas (although I’m pretty sure nobody in baseball uses the term faux pas). If a hitter disagrees with a call he can say so, but the hitter needs to keep staring straight ahead while doing so. Turning back to the umpire lets the crowd know the hitter disagrees with the call and umpires don’t like it.

When a hitter gets sideways with an umpire a smart catcher can make things worse for the hitter by setting up even farther off the plate. That gives the umpire a chance to get his revenge: you didn’t like that call? Wait ‘til you see this one.

I once asked a former umpire his attitude toward a hitter who had just shown him up and he said: "Just give me something I can work with." In other words, he wasn’t going to call a ball clearly out of the zone a strike, but a borderline pitch? A pitch he could work with? The hitter wasn’t going to get that call.

I thought Esky might pay the price for making his disagreement with the umpire apparent, but the guy who really paid the price for showing up the umpire might have been Braves second baseman, Dan Uggla. Uggla struck out looking in the seventh inning and then made it clear he thought it was a bad call. Now Uggla was standing at the plate with two outs in the ninth—the Braves last hope in a 1-0 game. With the count 2-2, Royals closer Greg Holland threw a pitch at the top of the strike zone. Uggla thought it was enough of a strike to try to bend his knees and duck under it—trying to make the pitch look high. Royals catcher Salvador Perez thought it was enough of a ball to try to pull the pitch back down into the zone as he caught it—trying to make the pitch appear to be in the zone.

It was a borderline pitch, a pitch Doug Eddings could work with. He called it strike three; the Royals won, 1-0.

The moral of the story is don’t show up the umpire in the seventh and then hope to get a borderline call in the ninth.

Game notes Wade Davis was terrific, no runs in seven innings (see his comment below) and was throwing his breaking pitch for strikes. I’ve pointed out that the ability to throw something other than a fastball for a strike is a big deal—Wade’s outing made that clear. A reader wanted to know why Miguel Tejada was learning to play first base; wasn’t Billy Butler a better first baseman? You may have gotten your answer in the second inning: Alcides Escobar made a great stop and one-hopped the throw to Billy. The hop was a good one, but Billy whiffed completely. Billy is not known for having great hands—unless they’re holding a bat. If Tejada can play first base it gives Ned Yost another option. To be fair about it, Billy did make a nice catch and tag of an Alcides Escobar high throw later in the game. In the fourth inning Lorenzo Cain was thrown out trying to steal third and there were at least a couple of reasons that made the steal attempt seem like a bad idea: there were two outs and a runner will probably score from second base on a two-out hit anyway—and Mike Moustakas was at the plate at the time. Having a lefty at the plate provides a clear throwing lane to third base for the catcher. Before anyone gets upset about Ned Yost’s decision to send Cain, you should know it might not have been Ned’s decision. I don’t know who has what privileges, but some players are given a "green light" on steals. The Royals feel that some guys have a better idea of when to go than the manager in the dugout: the guy on the field knows whether he’s getting a good read on the pitcher and whether the footing will allow him to get a good jump. The guy on the field may see something not visible from the dugout. But make enough bad decisions and the guy on the field may lose the privilege of stealing a base whenever he feels like it. In the past the Royals had a "don’t go" and "must go" sign they could give to a runner with the green light. In the seventh inning Chris Getz came to the plate with two down and a runner on third. With Wade Davis on deck, Chris needed to know if Ned planned on pinch-hitting for Davis should Chris walk. If Ned wanted Davis to go out and throw the bottom of the seventh no matter what, Chris needed to be more aggressive on borderline pitches—no point in taking a walk just to bring the pitcher to the plate. If Ned planned on pinch-hitting for Wade if Getz walked, Chris could be more selective—a pinch hitter would have a better chance of driving in the run. Chris swung at strike three off the plate and Wade pitched the bottom of the seventh.

Was Kelvin Herrera tipping pitches?

Tuesday night Kelvin Herrera pitched the eighth inning against the Atlanta Braves and gave up three home runs. I said his location was bad—his pitches were up in the zone—Herrera said he thinks he was tipping pitches.

Is Kelvin right?

It’s always possible. Tipping pitches means doing something different on different pitches. If the hitter can spot that difference, he knows what’s coming. Say a pitcher "fans the glove." That means when the pitcher rotates his hand to the side of the baseball to throw a breaking pitch, the glove visibly widens. If the hitter can spot this, he knows what’s coming. I’ve also heard of pitchers changing position on the rubber: the fastball is thrown from one spot, off-speed pitches are thrown from a different spot. Some pitchers have different set positions: hands low on one pitch, hand higher on another—or pitch at different tempos: a pause on an off-speed pitch, no pause on the fastball.

Generally, pitchers don’t realize they’re doing something different or they’d stop doing it. Everybody’s watching, everybody’s looking for clues. Opponents might even study video looking for differences in deliveries. Former Rockies pitching coach, Bob Apodaca, once told me he was looking at an opposing pitcher and just


the guy was doing something different on each delivery. When you’ve spent decades staring at pitchers I guess that kind of thing just comes to you. It took Bob a while to spot what it was, but eventually he figured it out and passed the information along to the hitters.

Obviously, tipping pitches is a huge disadvantage for the pitcher, but former catcher Jason Kendall once told me a lot of pitchers


they’re tipping pitches when they aren’t. A guy would be getting whacked around the ballpark, call Jason to the mound and say: "I must be tipping my pitches."

If Kendall—a guy known for being


blunt—thought the pitcher was kidding himself, Jason might say: "No, you just suck today." Catchers have a better idea of what a pitcher has that day than the pitcher does; the catcher is on the receiving end. If a pitcher’s slider was flat, but the guy wanted to blame tipping pitches, it was Jason’s job to set the record straight.

Bottom line: I’ve got no idea of Kelvin Herrera was tipping pitches, but I can tell you for sure those pitches were up.

(Tom Glavine was on the MLB broadcast team for Wednesday’s game and expressed his own doubts about Herrera tipping pitches. When a guy throws in the high nineties, hitters have a pretty good idea of what’s coming—pitchers who throw that hard don’t spend a lot of time trying to trick somebody.)

Wade Davis now batting

Wade walked off the field after taking batting practice last week and I asked him when was the last time he was swinging a bat on a regular basis. Turns out he was 18 years old at the time.

Most pitchers get jacked up about swinging the bat—most of them were pretty good hitters at some point in their baseball career—and I asked Wade if he was hoping to swing the bat or if he’d be satisfied to lay a bunt down and get out of the batter’s box without anything bad happening to him. Davis said: "I hope to pitch seven innings and get the win."


that for predicting the future?


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