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May 19, 2014

Pebble Hunting

How to Still Get Ejected

by Sam Miller

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I remember last summer, the day after Bob Melvin had been ejected in what would turn out to be an extra-innings loss to the Astros, Melvin talking to the media in the dugout. He was abashed to have been ejected from such a game. I wasn’t trying to get run, he stressed. As opposed to all the other ejections we see.

We know that managers sometimes get tossed deliberately. It’s a strategy. (Or a way to free the afternoon for horse-betting.) It fires up the boys, turns the tide. “When searched at greater depth, the ocean of numbers confirms the Chipper Jones Momentum-Turn Hypothesis,” Sports Illustrated wrote in 2010. “Yes, Cox loses more often when he's thrown out. But when we separate each game into two periods—before the ejection and after—and then average the team's performance in each period over 156 games, we can see the momentum turning. On average, at the moment in the game when Cox is thrown out, his team is losing by a little more than a run. And on average, for the rest of the game, his team outplays the opponent by about a third of run.”*

Getting ejected should be getting harder. Even when a manager is trying to get run, he generally needs a pretense for his untoward behavior—either a call is wrong, or a call might be wrong and the umpire refuses to ask for help or try to get it right. Now the calls get made right. And umpires get help.

And yet: Manager ejections haven’t gone down much. We’re on pace to see 76 this year. There were 87 last year. Considering the pace of ejections—after eight ejections in April (and just one in the first two weeks), we’ve already had 11 in May. It appears that baseball has found its ejection equilibrium. How are managers getting ejected this year? It has taken some creativity.

Rick Renteria, April 8 (Umpire Jeff Nelson): Argued balls and strikes.

John Farrell, April 13 (Umpire Bob Davidson): Farrell, upset that a replay had overturned a call that had previously been in the Red Sox’ favor, snuck down through the dugout tunnel, past the clubhouse, through the subterranean kitchen staging area, up a stairwell to the stadium’s main concourse, into a Red Sox team merchandise store. He bought a Dustin Pedroia shirsey, then hopped down into the stands, walked to the front row near the end of the right-field line, told his drunken buddy Roland to get his camera ready, and then hopped onto the field:

That’s an ejection, automatic.

Ron Washington, April 14 (Umpire Ted Barrett): Submitted his lineup card in the form of a Benghazi acrostic.

Bruce Bochy, April 23 (Umpire Chris Conroy): Argued balls and strikes.

Bo Porter, April 25 (Umpire Jordan Baker): Insisted hot dogs are sandwiches, and pizzas are hot dogs, and avocados are steak.

Joe Maddon, April 27 (Umpire Tim Timmons): Bet on baseball, got banned for life. (Slight miscalculation on his part.)

Bryan Price, April 27 (Umpire Bill Miller): Compared Miller’s strike zone to Hitler, Godwin’s Law invoked.

Rick Renteria, April 29 (Umpire Alan Porter): Argued balls and strikes

Joe Maddon, May 2 (Umpire Brian O’Nora): Wasn’t ejected, was just playing hard to get.

Lloyd McClendon, May 3 (Umpire James Hoye): Used his closer in a tie game on the road.

Clint Hurdle, May 4 (Umpire Greg Gibson): Hurdle jogged out to ask for a review of a close play at second base. Umpires told him that, unfortunately, the play fell under the “neighborhood play” exemption and couldn’t be reviewed. “Doggone,” Hurdle said, “I’m still getting a handle on all these new rules. Remind me, fella, what can I review?” Well, Conroy told him, he could review all sorts of things: tag plays at any base; whether a ball was trapped; whether a runner missed a base; “What about fair/foul calls?” Hurdle asked. Well see that’s a tricky one, he could once the ball had passed the base, but between home plate and the base was unreviewable. He could review whether a tagging baserunner had left early, whether a baserunner scored ahead of a third out being made; “What about a hit-by-pitch?” Sure, hit-by-pitches can be reviewed. “Huh. Okay. Okay. Good to know that one. And what about your fat ugly face?” … “If I wanted to see a replay to see whether your ugly face was as ugly as it looked during the play, could we have the guys in the booth check on that? And can they confirm that you smell like a fart?”

Joe Girardi, May 5 (Umpire Laz Diaz): Argued balls and strikes.

Rick Renteria, May 7 (Umpire Tom Woodring): After a missed call, phoned upstairs and asked the organist to play “Three Blind Mice.” That didn’t get a reaction, so he asked the organist to play “You’re Blind.” That didn’t get a reaction, so he asked the organist to play “I’d Rather Go Blind.” That didn’t get a reaction, so he asked the organist to play “Blind.” That didn’t get a reaction, so he asked the organist to play “Blinded by the Light.” That didn’t get a reaction, so he asked the organist to play “Blind Mary.” That didn’t work, so he asked the organist to play “something by Pitbull,” and that did it.

Don Mattingly, May 9 (Umpire Will Little): Argued balls and strikes.

Ron Gardenhire, May 11 (Umpire Joe West): Photobombed West’s Tim Kurkjian impression on MLB Network.

Joe Girardi, May 13 (Umpire Jerry Layne): Wet-willying spree.

Lloyd McClendon, May 14 (Umpire Lance Barksdale): McClendon charged out toward Barksdale, leaned in real close, and started pleading. “Come on, Lance, run me, I gotta get run, do this for me,” and so on. Barksdale replied that he was sorry but there was just nothing in it for him, that if he ejected McClendon then he, Barksdale, would end up looking like the jerk, that people would tweet #umpshow insults at him and the league would call him in asking why he can’t maintain control of a game. Barksdale just keeps repeating, “there’s nothing in it for me, there’s just nothing in it for me.” McClendon takes the hint and asks what would make it worth Barksdale’s while, and Barksdale says he’s been wanting to get a new Harley for a while. McClendon pats his pockets. “All I’ve got,” he says dejectedly, “is this one red paperclip.” (Months later, McClendon finally got ejected, and Barksdale got his Harley.)

Mike Matheny, May 16 (Umpire Sean Barber): Argued balls and strikes.

Fredi Gonzalez, May 17 (Umpire Ron Kulpa): Read ahead and shouted out Game of Thrones spoilers.

So there we go. Managers will find a way. In reality—some of those things I just said were made up—11 of the 19 ejections this year have been for balls and strikes. (The rest were a mix of arguing after the replay, arguing unreplayable plays, or ejections related to inside pitches.) At this point in the season last year, there had been five managers ejected for arguing balls and strikes (out of 17 total ejections). From this we might infer two things: Manager ejections are going to be relatively stable, perhaps because they’re largely intentional, or perhaps just because dudes who are losing get cranky at stable rates; and, for as much as replay takes the pressure off the other three guys, it looks like it might more pressure (or at least more “that’s horseshit”’s) on the guy behind the plate.

My prediction on Effectively Wild last winter that manager ejections would disappear and managers themselves would be marginalized to the point of near-extinction has not come to pass. Baseball, as always, is different but not really.

*Sports Illustrated’s conclusions might or might not be true, but the methods are suspect. A manager is more likely to get run when his team is losing (and hence the need for a momentum shift). And Cox’s teams collectively had a .549 winning percentage overall, so the fact that they were slightly better than their opponents after an ejection is what we’d expect. In other words: The variable being studied was dependent on a team already performing at odds with its established talent level; the “effect” afterward easily explained by regression. This should just be called the Sports Illustrated Cover Curse Fallacy, so that Sports Illustrated writers will remember it.

Thanks to Scott Lindholm for his work on historical ejection rates, and to the 2014 MLB Ejection Fantasy League for the daily updates on this year’s ejections.

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

Related Content:  Managers,  Umpires,  Instant Replay,  Arguments,  Ejections

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