Saturday Notebook: More Doctored Baseballs, A Bad Week For Umpires, Pitcher Safety, and More

A's manager Bob Melvin was right, umpire Angel Hernandez was wrong, and yet Hernandez still ejected Melvin from Wednesday's A's-Indians game for protesting an Adam Rosales double. - Jason Miller

Today's Notebook looks at the claim that 90% of pitchers are doctoring baseballs, the miserable week that umpires had in avoiding the spotlight, Brandon McCarthy wanting people to do more than just chirp that pitchers need more body armor on the mound, and a collection of the past week's GIFs and pictures.

We've had just an awful spring this year and because of it, my softball seasons started a week later than planned due to inclement weather. I'm in both a men's and co-ed league this year, and the men's league postponed our very first game a whole week before it was supposed to be played. Supposedly the league already knew the fields wouldn't be ready for games, I guess. Anyway, we finally had our first games this week and it went very well as we won the first game 27-0 and the second 17-5. It's possible we might be in the wrong league...

I started poorly at the plate, going 0 for 3 in my first 3 ABs, and they were all groundouts. Doing some self-analysis, I figured that I was swinging with a downward plane, and that I had to level it out. My next at-bat, I adjusted by lowering my hands a la Michael Cuddyer. Boom, line drive single to the opposite field. Then, a line drive to center field. A grounder that found the hole between 1st and 2nd. Suddenly, I was fixed. After that 0 for 3 start, I finished the night by going 4 for 6. Now I just have to add in some power to my swing.

In before "no one cares about your softball stories, Bryz."

  • Last week, I talked about Clay Buchholz being accused of putting a foreign substance on his forearm while pitching against the Blue Jays. Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports interviewed a couple pitchers and a source close to the Red Sox and learned from those three that an estimated 90% of pitchers use a sunscreen and rosin combination while pitching. If you remember, Dirk Hayhurst was one of the people that accused Buchholz of using a foreign substance, and I posted an excerpt from Hayhurst's book Out Of My League where he mentioned that the candy bag in the bullpen contains those very foreign substances used to get a better grip on the ball, suggesting that its use is far more prevalent than we thought. However, the consensus among hitters seems to be that they're okay with pitchers doing this, as it doesn't cause unnatural movement on the baseball and the better grip theoretically means fewer hit batters. Well, unless you're Vicente Padilla, in which case you're getting better aim for hitting the batter on purpose.
  • It was not a good week for umpires, regardless of if it was in the majors or the minors.

1. Last Friday, Brewers minor leaguer Cole Garner was batting for Triple-A Nashville in the 11th inning when he grounded a ball off his own foot. The ball rolled into fair territory and was thrown out at 1st base. Garner argued with home plate umpire D.J. Reyburn (who does have major league experience) and was eventually ejected from the game. However, Reyburn then conferred with the other umpires and the other three overturned Reyburn's original call, meaning that Garner was not actually out. The issue though was that since he was ejected, Garner couldn't finish off his at-bat. Thus, Nashville turned to pinch-hitter Hainley Statia, who entered with a 1-2 count and struck out two pitches later. Adding further insult to Garner, Statia's strikeout actually went on Garner's ledger as he accumulated two of the three strikes in the at-bat.

2. On Sunday, Bryce Harper was batting against Wandy Rodriguez with a 2-2 count when he checked his swing on a low breaking pitch. Home plate umpire Bob Davidson asked 3rd base ump John Hirschbeck for help, and Hirschbeck ruled that Harper did not hold up in time. Harper was visibly upset with the call but didn't seem to do anything exceptional, but Hirschbeck still didn't like Harper's attitude and immediately started walking towards him. Harper appeared to talk with Davidson for a bit before throwing his helmet down, which provoked Hirschbeck to throw Harper out of the game. According to the Nationals announcers, it seemed like Hirschbeck had been looking to toss Harper from the game. The video below isn't entirely conclusive, but it gives you a bit of an idea of what happened.

3. From Wednesday, the A's Adam Rosales was batting against the Indians' Chris Perez in the 9th inning of a 4-3 deficit. Rosales lifted a deep fly to left-center that went off the very top of the scoreboard. Rosales would settle for a double and the A's would request a review of the play, thinking it was a home run. The umpires, led by Angel Hernandez, went to look at the replay, which conclusively showed that the ball actually struck a railing just above the fence and that it should be a home run.

However, the umpires returned to the field and signaled that Rosales would stay at 2nd base, instead of having a game-tying home run. The call would be huge as the A's would go on to lose by that same 4-3 score. After the game, Hernandez refused to conduct a recorded interview, which is very frustrating in that he wasn't willing to be accountable. Instead, he just said that the crew didn't have evidence to overturn the call, and specifically that, "It was not evident on the TV we had that it was a home run." In response, Deadspin did a little digging and found that this is supposedly the very replay equipment used by major league umpires. Ouch.

4a. This last one comes in two parts because I'm going to allude to a similar controversy from nearly 2 years ago. In Thursday's Angels-Astros game, Angels outfielder J.B. Shuck came to the plate. Astros manager chose to bring in lefty Wesley Wright to get the lefty-lefty match-up. Angels manager Mike Scioscia countered with pinch-hitter Luis Jimenez, and suddenly Porter had replaced Wright with righthander Hector Ambriz. I don't know how well you know the rules in baseball, but any pitcher must face at least one hitter before being replaced. It's to prevent endless switching by the teams and is why you see a pitcher start an inning by facing a pinch-hitter and that pitcher stays in the game regardless.

Apparently Bo Porter didn't know that, which was evidenced by him taking out Wright without allowing him to face Jimenez. Unfortunately, the umpires, led by crew chief Fieldin Culbreth, didn't catch it either. It appeared as though the only person on the field that knew there was an illegal switch was Scioscia, who promptly notified the umpires that the Angels would play the remainder of the game under protest. As it turned out, the Angels ended up winning the game anyway, so MLB doesn't have any reason to uphold the protest, but they did go ahead and suspend Culbreth for two games and fine the other three umpires for failing to catch the slip-up by Porter.

How could this happen? Well, afterwards Porter explained that he thought the rule was that a pitcher is only required to face the current batter, and once that batter is replaced by another hitter, the defensive team then can switch their pitcher. However, that's not the rule, and neither Porter nor the umpires realized it until it was too late.

By the way, although Culbreth has been given a 2-game suspension, MLB's statement said that the suspension will be enforced at a later date. Call me cynical, but I can see MLB enforcing the suspension when Culbreth is on his vacation as per allowed by his contract, so he doesn't actually miss any additional games of work.

4b. As mentioned in the first sentence of Part A, a very similar event happened as recently as two years ago. Even more amazing, it happened to a man regarded as one of the best managers in the game in Joe Maddon. Back on June 20, 2011, Maddon's Rays were facing the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Since the game was in a National League park, the pitchers had to hit and this meant rampant pinch-hitting as well. In the 8th inning, Maddon would have had reliever J.P. Howell come to the plate, but instead chose to replace him with pinch-hitter Sam Fuld. Then came the bottom of the 8th, and Maddon was having trouble with the bullpen phone. He wanted lefty Cesar Ramos warmed up, but instead the 'pen had righty Joel Peralta throwing. Thus, Maddon instructed Fuld to go to the mound to start warming up as a delay to give Ramos more time to get warm himself. After Fuld had thrown his pitches, Maddon then came to the mound and signaled for Ramos to come into the game.

Just like Bo Porter with Wesley Wright and Hector Ambriz, Maddon technically should have been forced to let Fuld face at least one hitter before bringing in a new pitcher. However, Maddon was apparently unaware of this rule as well and pulled Fuld from the game, and the umpires had no issues with his managing either. In fact, crew chief Jerry Layne and home plate umpire Bob Davidson both reported after the game that Maddon told them that Fuld was sore and was having trouble warming up, a claim that Maddon says was untrue. So... were the umpires lying in this case to cover up that they screwed up as well?

You may also be wondering why the Brewers didn't protest the move. Well, earlier in the game, Davidson had ejected manager Ron Roenicke and bench coach Dale Sveum for protesting that Nyjer Morgan had made a sufficient effort in avoiding being plunked, a view that Davidson did not share. Thus, Maddon's ploy went unscathed until he received a phone call from MLB vice president Joe Torre that he had broke the rules.

My final thought on this issue: From my recollection, no umpires were suspended or fined in the Rays-Brewers game. So why were Culbreth & Co. treated differently in their game?

  • Enough about umpires, so let's talk about pitcher helmets again. You may have heard or seen Blue Jays pitcher J.A. Happ get struck in the side of the head by a line drive from Desmond Jennings back on Tuesday, so naturally the discussion on protection for pitchers was brought up again. Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon McCarthy, the last pitcher to be significantly injured by a comebacker to the mound, expressed his frustration over the people that demand a safer cap be designed for pitchers. Specifically, McCarthy was annoyed over all the people desiring for pitchers to be wearing some sort of helmet while they pitch, but were not coming up with any solutions to the problem. For example, the pitchers would want something that fits the head well and does not affect their balance while pitching (thus messing up their mechanics). I think his "There's no discussion to be had" comment is a little harsh, but otherwise, I think he makes some great points in his mini-Twitter rant.
  • Finally, we end with a collection of GIFs and pictures.
  1. Joel Hanrahan reminds Ace Ticket that StubHub is the best place to buy tickets for your favorite sporting events by putting a fastball through the Ace Ticket ad. Nearly taking off Brian Dozier's head at the same time was just the icing on the cake.
  2. Matt Harvey ain't got time to bleed.
  3. Kevin Frandsen tries to shovel pass a grounder to the pitcher covering first base, but instead moves the ball a net distance of 0 feet while belly-flopping onto the ground.
  4. Vernon Wells made his first career appearance in the infield this week, playing a full inning of 3rd base. He even got a fielding chance and converted it.
  5. Seeing 5'5" Jose Altuve stand next to 6'8" Nate Freiman is nearly as fun as former Twins minor leaguers Chris Cates and Loek Van Mil getting together for pictures.
  6. Late entry I found while I was writing this article: Angel Pagan appears to have a second set of eyes underneath the brim of his cap.
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