The implementation of expanded replay in Major League Baseball was expected to lengthen baseball games while cutting down on the number of ejections. As it turns out, through the first third of the MLB season, only one of those two things has proven true.
According to Jose L. Ortiz of USA Today, baseball games have been about three minutes longer on average this season. The average through Sunday's games sat at 3:02:14, up from 2:58:51 last season. However, ejections around the league have also increased despite the fact that more plays are being called correctly through review, and despite the addition of a strict rule that calls for an immediate ejection should a manager, coach or player argue after a play is reviewed.
Going into Tuesday's games, ejections of players, managers and coaches in the majors had totaled 61, 22% more than the 50 ejections through May of last season, according to Retrosheet.org. And the No. 1 reason was as clear as that call umpires botched to cost your favorite team a win.
Can you guess the reason? Hint: It's a non-reviewable issue.
Here's the answer from Ortiz.
Ball-strike calls, which are not reviewable, were by far the top bone of contention, leading to nearly half (30) of the 61 ejections. Last year at this point that figure was 16, with another 12 getting tossed for disputing calls on the bases.
It appears those who thought heated confrontations and arguments on the field would soon be extinct were way off. Apparently, with players gaining more confidence in replay getting calls in the field correct, they've refocused on the strike zone, where consistency is rarely established and calls still vary from umpire to umpire. At least that's the theory of Detroit Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter.
"That's when we really want to give it to them, because we can't argue anything else," Detroit Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter said.
"The game is trying to be so perfect that, when you look at the balls and strikes, you're hoping they would be perfect, and they're not. Anything with a man in it is not perfect, but the machine can make something perfect. And when the umpires don't have that machine behind them calling balls and strikes for them, there's going to be mistakes made."
Is it that simple, or, is it as Oakland A's catcher John Jaso theorizes?
"Maybe umpires are quicker to pull the trigger on an ejection because they are getting put under the microscope a little bit more," Oakland A's catcher John Jaso says. "That would be the only [explanation] I could think of."
Those are two interesting ways to look at it. The real answer probably lies somewhere in between, though Jaso's theory was obviously influenced by the ridiculously quick ejection of Scott Kazmir by home plate umpire Jerry Layne during a recent start in Cleveland. Perhaps a deeper look into which umpires have recorded the most ejections and under which circumstances would shed even more light on what's behind the surprising rise in ejections.
Regardless, it will be interesting to see which direction these numbers go in the coming weeks, especially now that this information is out there to be absorbed and perhaps addressed internally by MLB. Chances are it'll wait out the season before drawing any major conclusions, but it has to have at least caught the league's attention, as well as the attention of those directly involved.
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