Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Back in Business
2008-05-29 09:13
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to

For the past couple of seasons, Jay Jaffe's blogging has slowed considerably as his writing for BP, the New York Sun, etc. has increased. However, Jay's been back at it this spring at The Futility Infielder, which is good news for us. Check out this recent post on Doc Ellis and this fine one on his grandfather, Bernie.

Today gives Jay's excellent piece on Marvin Miller. Peep, don't sleep.

Comments (51)
Show/Hide Comments 1-50
2008-05-29 10:36:20
1.   Chyll Will
I know it's Jay's grandfather you refer to, but putting "grandfather" and "Bernie" together in the same sentence is slightly depressing... >;)
2008-05-29 10:39:38
2.   Alex Belth
So was watching Bernie's hair get grayer and grayer the last years with the Yanks. Ah, old Bernabee. He was the best.
2008-05-29 10:45:21
3.   ms october
1 that was my first thought too chyll

2 yep bernie was the best - i still miss him the most

we could run wild with this epmd theme with bernie - out of business; unifnished business; business never personal

that was a really good piece on marvin miller

2008-05-29 10:51:03
4.   Alex Belth
I thought Jay did a great job with that too. Good for Miller. Guy is definitely a legend. I've dealt with him on a number of occasions and have found him to not only be sharp, with a great sense of humor, but for him to considerate and approachable. A true gentleman.
2008-05-29 11:38:09
5.   rbj
I get to listen to Jay on 1470 am the Ticket (Toledo) Wed. afternoons -- when I remember it. Pretty nice segments -- honest discussions without screaming and taking wild positions just to drive up ratings due to controversy.
2008-05-29 11:45:10
6.   Shaun P
Speaking of BP, Joe Sheehan has a phenomenal (free) column up regarding instant reply:

I'm on board with him. I wish more people were.

2008-05-29 11:58:22
7.   standuptriple
6 You sure that it's free?
(yes, I'm cheap)
2008-05-29 12:15:06
8.   Alex Belth
Really, you are for machines to call balls and strikes too? What about system errors, what if it is raining? Imagine the IT nightmares.
2008-05-29 12:25:55
9.   Raf
6 But we already have instant reply...
2008-05-29 12:35:05
10.   mehmattski
8 Pitch f/x doesn't seem to care whether or not it's raining. Extreme solar flares might be a problem, but then the game would be endangered by the planes falling out of the sky anyway.

Seriously, though, maybe it's a generational gap thing, but as someone who grew up with computer technology, I don't get the level of distrust. What is so bad about getting the calls 100% correct?

What we've seen from Pitch f/x data is appalling... the strike zone is not only different between umps (we knew that already) but individual umps change their strike zones based on who is pitching! Finesse pitchers are much more likely to get strike calls than are power pitchers. The strike zone changes based upon the point in the game and the count. Considering that the type of pitch thrown and location are largely dictated by the situation and the count, the accuracy of the strike zone has to be the most important thing of all!

You're still going to need a couple umpires at each game to judge plays on the bases, at least until various microchips are installed in balls and gloves and the players wear special uniforms. So if the technology malfunctions, then stick an ump behind home plate.

It is sometimes up to the younger generation to stand up to the elders and say that "Because that's how it's always been done!" is insufficient. I feel this is one of those times.

2008-05-29 12:53:38
11.   Shaun P
8 Not at the start. I'd still have the ump behind the plate, but looking at a display instead of, for example, relying on where the catcher's glove is. The ump would truly have to be blind to miss calls then.

However, I also believe that writing software to make the determination automatically would be trivial. Image recognition technology is improving by leaps and bounds. I think the ump would have to stay up there, not only to announce calls but to deal with check swings and foul tips.

Its also pretty easy to build redundancy into such a system, to deal with errors and/or equipment failure. That doesn't worry me.

10 I'm not sure I'd use PitchFX as the basis for it, or even Questec, because I'm not sure how accurate either of those are. Questec, for example, relies on an operator to set the zone for each hitter. Or at least it did, maybe that's changed. Pitch FX, I'm not even sure how you'd test its accuracy, and I'd prefer to see some publically released (and reviewed) data on it before I relied on it to help officially call balls and strikes.

MLB was ridiculously smart to jump the curve with MLBAM. They ought to do the same thing here.

2008-05-29 12:54:36
12.   OldYanksFan
11 I can understand missed calls in the field. Close plays at a bag, fair or foul, HR or not, it's sometime hard to see the right call even after watching instant replay a few times.

But ball and strikes... inside or outside? The number of bad calls behond the plate already this year has been appauling! Maybe I just notice it more as television coverage gets better, but home plate umps are missing calls not by an inch or 2, but by 6, 8 and 10 inches. iambi was called out on an outside pitch, that according to the replay, clearly crossed well into the opposite batters box. I mean, how far is that from the plate?

While I understand tradition is an important part of baseball, to me, the MOST important thing about baseball. and sports in general is: FAIR PLAY. FAIR competition. The fact that in an unfair world, sports are fair. Or they should be. Losing hits, runs and/or games because of bad umping is NOT fair. This is why I am for technology to help the umps. To make the game more FAIR.

2008-05-29 13:00:12
13.   JL25and3
12 As long as the calls are impartial, they're fair. They might be wrong, but they're fair. That's one reason blown calls don't bother me all that much.
2008-05-29 13:08:45
14.   ny2ca2dc
As someone who works in the technology realm, I think people are dramatically overestimating the capability of the technology that's out there. I would NOT trust the pitchFX data completely, I've seen it get stuff quite wrong. That's not to say replacing plate umps with a machine would be impossible, or a bad idea, but it would be non-trivial. The umps have sucked on special level this year, though, and I don't have any principled devotion to sticking with all human umpires. I think it would be really, really fun to build a pitch calling machine!

I'm still annoyed with how arcane and nonsensical the pitchfx data is tracked and presented - "break" and "pitchFX", WTF is that supposed to mean, and in relation to what?! (Yes I've read the explanations, and they're shit; how about just showing me the data - where's the ball released on what vector, and what path does it travel. sheesh!)

2008-05-29 13:13:11
15.   Shaun P
12 What happens when all games are broadcast in stunning 1080p, and its not just close observers, but anyone with a 46+ inch TV that can clearly tell if a pitch is that far outside?

It just makes no sense. "We could do this better, more accurately, improve the product, but we won't, because we prefer that errors be present, that mistakes be made." I'd be looking for a new job if I told my boss that.

2008-05-29 13:16:17
16.   RIYank
14 Huh, I like the Break and pFX stuff. I think if the thing just showed me the data I couldn't make any sense out of it, personally.
2008-05-29 13:18:27
17.   Bob Timmermann
The Break and pFx stuff don't seem to mean as much when you look at just one pitch. I've seen pitches with identical data, but they get different results.

So unless I'm getting a sample of 100 pitches, I'm not sure what I'm seeing.

But it looks cool.

2008-05-29 13:21:24
18.   Shaun P
14 Yes, but if its not automated, its a piece of cake to implement. Its a 2-d problem: does the ball ever cross the plate, and does it ever fall between whatever the height requirements are (bottom of knee to top of letters?).

For left and right, you string a high resolution camera directly over home plate, and show the feed to the home plate ump on the display. Its damn hard to call something off the plate a strike in that situation.

For up and down, it gets a little trickier, but it can be done. I think the hardest part is protecting the cameras from foul balls, broken bats, throws to the plate, and players running over it trying to catch pop-ups.

If all this means you have two (one to watch the over the plate camera, one for up and down), or three (those 2 in a booth, the third behind the plate announcing the calls), "home plate" umps, so be it.

2008-05-29 13:27:32
19.   Simone
Alex, great contribution to Jaffe's excellent piece on Marvin Miller and the Hall. It is an embarrassment to the players that Miller isn't in the Hall when some of the worse characters are in there. Miller is 91 years old. Are the players really going to let the man die before putting him in the Hall after all he did for them? Selfish the lot of them.
2008-05-29 13:28:53
20.   JL25and3
18 Huh? It's not a 2-D problem at all, because it has to cut through both planes at the same time. Not insurmountable, but not quite as easy as you suggest.

As for suspending a camera directly over home plate: where were you planning to suspend it, and how? Yes, it will work perfectly - unless there's, say, wind.

2008-05-29 13:33:55
21.   mehmattski
Some resources to back me up:

Umpires have vastly different concepts of what a strike zone is:

On average, they call a different strike zone for left-handed hitters and right-handed hitters:

The strike zone can also be influenced by which catcher is behind the plate, and his ability to frame the pitch:

There was an article published this year, I think by either THT or Baseball Musings that found that finesse pitchers like Greg Maddux are more likely to get calls on the outside part of the plate than do power pitchers like Randy Johnson.

So, given all that evidence, the strike zone is fair? 13 I don't think so. Impartiality is not the only measure of fairness.

2008-05-29 13:34:11
22.   Alex Belth
Simone, they don't deserve Miller.
2008-05-29 13:37:39
23.   JL25and3
21 Gee, I think it is. I think you're talking about accuracy and precision, not fairness.
2008-05-29 13:46:06
24.   Shaun P
20 Fair point on the dual nature, but if it can be done by a person standing at angle behind the plate with some amount of accuracy, we ought to be able to do it with cameras.

As for the overhead camera - if the networks broadcasting NFL games can put cameras right over the field, and not have wind derail them, its doable. (I reserve the right to retract this statement if the NFL only uses those cameras in domed stadiums.) I might not have the ideal solution, but I do maintain that it could be done.

2008-05-29 13:46:19
25.   mehmattski
23 Ok... Oxford English Dictionary:
Fair. adv Equitably, honestly, impartially, justly; according to rule.

Calling the strike zone something other than "by rule," that is according to Major League Baseball, is unfair. Calling the strike zone differently depending on which pitcher is on the mound, which catcher is at the plate, the inning, the count, and the handedness of the batter... fails the "equitably" part of the definition and so is, inherently, unfair.

More facetiously, I find inaccuracy of officiating disgusting, so it fails the "appearance" definition of fairness as well...

2008-05-29 13:46:26
26.   Raf
19 ,22 I think I read somewhere that Miller doesn't want enshrinement.
2008-05-29 13:46:43
27.   JL25and3
21 Btw, the last article you cite reaches the conclusion that its analysis is faulty.
2008-05-29 13:49:54
28.   JL25and3
25 And, as I said, it just doesn't upset me that much. I'm not convinced that a new system will be better; at the very least, it will have unforeseen and unintended problems of its own. I find the devil I know to be perfectly livable.
2008-05-29 14:02:25
29.   mehmattski
28 And so this is where I think there is a definite generation gap. I can't read all of Sheehan's article because I let my BP subscription lapse. But I completely agree with his first paragraph: why should anyone other than the players get to decide which team wins a sporting contest?

I've heard the "devil I know" argument before, and it almost always comes from someone at least ten years older than me. Check out Scott Long's most recent post for another example. Change is bad. That's the way we've always done things. We don't know what could happen. It's too risky.

I wonder if fans of the sport of Fencing would like to return to the days before electronic sensors to imperfect judges. I bet most professional tennis players are grateful for the ball-tracking technology that has eliminated ugly McEnroe-type meltdowns. FIFA is experimenting with special soccer balls that can sense whether they've crossed the goal line, and very few people are complaining. Do people similarly gnash their teeth and rustle their garments when referees are reviewing whether a the basketball left a shooter's hand before the buzzer?

It seems like the fans of each of those sports have adapted and accepted the new technology, because it improves the integrity of their sports. Baseball fans who care about the integrity of the game should care about the accuracy of their calls. Missed calls are not "quirky." They're irresponsible.

2008-05-29 14:09:21
30.   Raf
29 Do people similarly gnash their teeth and rustle their garments when referees are reviewing whether a the basketball left a shooter's hand before the buzzer?

Brent Barry is... But that's another matter entirely

2008-05-29 14:11:26
31.   Bama Yankee
Dear Bud Selig,

I like baseball the way it is, without instant replays used for home run calls.

Yours truly,

Jeffrey Maier

2008-05-29 14:23:37
32.   Bama Yankee
I wouldn't mind seeing them implement instant replay for home runs. But it needs to be quick and decisive. Baseball is slow enough as it is. They do not need to slow it down by having the umps looking under a hood at a video screen.

I've often wondered if the umps on the field don't already use instant replay to help get the calls correct. On a close play they usually huddle up and discuss the call. I can imagine one of the umps saying "dude, I hate to tell you this, but I took a peak up at that 50' screen... it was a homer."

2008-05-29 14:35:22
33.   ny2ca2dc
32 Hey good point - The new Nationals screen is huge and brilliant, and the new Yanks one should be even bigger. Here's to hoping when there's a camera angle that benefits the Yanks the scoreboard operators show it blown up in HD slo-mo on that screen. I can see home operators only showing replays that benefit the home team - how screwy would that be. Got a good shot of your team hitting a homer (ARod), show it on the screen; have a shot that hurts ya (Delgado) don't show it!!
2008-05-29 14:35:44
34.   mehmattski
32 Well, umps under a hood couldn't possibly last as long as some of the ump-conferences that still end up getting the call wrong anyway:

1. Ump calls true homer foul.
2. Hitter complains.
3. Hitter's manager storms out of the dugout in protest.
4. After much argument, the umps agree to talk it over.
5. It's not likely that any other ump has seen it better, but they still delay anyway. Maybe one of them did sneak a look at the replay and overturns the call.
6. Other manager now storms out of the dugout in protest.

This process typically takes anywhere between 3 and 10 minutes. Having an official look at a replay screen can't take longer than that. It would take even less time if there were a fifth umpire assigned to each game and given access to the video feed of both teams. He could have the replay available in seconds and make the call in under a minute. I bet the Umps Union would love that sort of thing, actually.

2008-05-29 14:50:16
35.   Bama Yankee
34 Maybe they could implement a system similar to the one college football uses. Just have an extra ump up in the booth with access to all the replays. If he sees something that is very obvious then he buzzes down to the crew chief who then grabs a headset to find out what the correct call should be. There should not be any manager challenges, just let the guy in the booth watch everything and decide if a call was missed. If he can't decide before the next pitch is thrown, then it is too late. If the call is very obvious (like the Delgado and Arod calls) then the reversal could be made fairly fast, I would think. I just don't want to see them spending time trying to review something that is inconclusive on the replay and therefore lenghtens an already long game.
2008-05-29 14:51:05
36.   Raf
2008-05-29 14:56:54
37.   Bama Yankee
36 Nice.
Now, you've made me want a Twix... thanks alot, Raf ;-)
2008-05-29 15:04:44
38.   pistolpete
Kinda OT here, but I'm actually taking the stadium tour tomorrow afternoon and then hopefully heading into Gotham for dinner with the wife.

Any recommendations? We could go for Mexican, Italian, BBQ or American...

2008-05-29 15:22:42
39.   JL25and3
29 This is not the first time you've put words in my mouth in a generational rant. Perhaps there is one genuine generational difference: I've seen a hell of a lot more changes than you have, highly-touted changes, and they're frequently not all they're cracked up to be. You seem to have boundless faith in change, and in the perfection of technology; I've been sold that bill of goods quite a few times.

That doesn't mean I think things should be done as they always have been. I don't think change is bad; I also don't think change is good. It's just change. It can be good or bad, and usually it's a bit of both.

I don't think things are all that bad as they stand. 15 made reference to "improv[ing] the product," but I think we disagree on what the product is. Once again, I quote Ken Arneson: remember the beer. The product is entertainment, a game fans have been watching, and it's been a staggeringly successful product. Furthermore, "the way things have always been done" is a more essential part of baseball's product than it is in any other sport. MLB sells nostalgia, and sells it extremely well, thank you.

So I'd be awful damn careful about making massive, sweeping changes, particularly when we really don't know what the overall effect would be. I'm not convinced that, over the course of a season, that the problem is egregious enough to warrant them. (I'd also point out that much of the argument revolves around a system that's not only untested but entirely hypothetical.) Before doing that, I'd suggest incremental changes to improve umpiring.

There should be a fifth umpire, an "eye in the sky," who would also be the official scorer. The field umpires could ask for a ruling if they feel it's needed, and the upstairs ump could signal them to overrule obvious and egregious miscalls (like the HRs by Delgado and Rodriguez). Or perhaps the details would work somewhat differently; but in any case, there would be a fallback, an insurance policy against really awful calls.

I don't know how much umpires go over game videos and give each other detailed, honest feedback, but that should be mandated as part of the job. Perhaps it could be a sort of group supervision (which I had, very effectively in grad school), or perhaps the crew chief could evaluate the performance of the other umps, or some combination. In any case, they should constantly be going over those tapes, and feedback should be constant and unsparing.

Or something else. Try it, and see how it works. It won't be perfect, and I'm OK with that. I just don't think it's as staggering a problem as others seem to think

2008-05-29 15:23:09
40.   JL25and3
35 What he said.
2008-05-29 16:31:59
41.   mehmattski
39 Well I apologize for seeming to attack the messenger rather than the message, for it appears that we actually do agree. What I got from 39 that I didn't get from 28 was a sense that not all change is bad, but incremental change is the way to go. I agree with that. I don't think that Pitch f/x is the solution, I said that a Pitch f/x-type system could eventually be relied upon.

A fifth-umpire method for reversing errant calls (as suggested by Bama 35 you 39 and I 34 ) would work in the short-term to reverse errant calls such as home runs, foul balls, and fan interference.

The other thing that 39 showed that 28 did not was a realization that awful calls need to go. In 28 you made it seem as though awful calls aren't a problem for you. But I'd wager that most fans (for example, 1996 Orioles fans) want calls to be made correctly. Replay is the way to ensure that.

The strike zone is something different on a number of levels- it's not replay at all, it's live affirmation of strike/ball. It has it's precedent in Tennis and I hope to one day see it replace egregious and (I consider) unfair strike zone variation among umpires. Maybe if instant replay works, you'll feel better about the latter.

2008-05-29 16:52:38
42.   JL25and3
41 Probably not.

Of course I'd like to see egregious calls go. I don't care nearly as much about ordinary borderline calls, or even about predictable strike-zone variation. Maybe I'm more willing to look at things in terms of the season rather than the at-bat. Individual plays are certainly affected; games, much less so (cf. homers by Delgado and Rodriguez); and the season, extremely little. It's the virtue of 162 gasmes; things really do even out.

Umps that change their strike zone during a game are more of a problem for me; I see that as unfair. But they should be identified, trained, and either corrected or ditched.

2008-05-29 16:57:37
43.   Raf
38 Not sure how much you like meat, but try a churrascaria in little Brazil. All you can eat meat :)

If you like touristy areas, try Bubba Gumps or Dallas BBQ in Times Square.

Virgils isn't a franchise, but they have good eats there

2008-05-29 16:58:16
44.   JL25and3
41 And, btw: the Orioles had a dozen chances to win the Jeffrey Maier game. The team lost that game, not the umps.
2008-05-29 17:03:12
45.   OldYanksFan
35 Exactly! Having an IR (Instant Replay) Ump in a booth, with 6 screens (or as many screens as there are cameras) and a good video tech would actually speed games up. Delgato's and ARod's HRs would have been discerned and decided before the arguments even began.

Arguing an IR decision would be an automatic ejection... but what manager would think he had a better view then 6 cameras? A good tech guy could be reviewing close plays the instant they happen... while guys are still rounding the bases.

It will speed up the game and get the calls correct, but we will miss Girardi's hat-kicking routines.

2008-05-29 17:36:56
46.   Shaun P
35 40 45 I am all for incremental changes, if that's what gets the job done. Bama (and those who weren't able to read the whole thing - my bad 7 it wasn't free) Sheehan agrees with you in his article:

"For decision plays [ie not balls and strikes, or foul tips/check swings], I would implement the college football approach. Every crew would have a fifth member in the booth, observing every play and buzzing the crew chief when a call deserved review. The opinion of that official would be final."

Sounds great to me.

42 I agree re: umps who change the zone during the game. The problem is, whoever took over for Sandy Alderson in supervising the umps is doing a shitty job. Alderson stayed on top of the umps, and the zone was called properly ~97% of the time (or better). Now, its all over the place, and I don't see anything being done, or hear it. (The umps complained a lot when Alderson was breathing down their necks.) Does anyone know who supervises the umps these days?

2008-05-29 17:54:37
47.   Jay Jaffe
Aw, shucks. Thanks for the kind words, Alex, and thanks to all of you who enjoyed the piece as well.

5 - Glad to find a Toledo-area listener, and that you enjoy the show. I really dig talking to Norm and Matt; they're a fun pair, they've always got good topics to kick around, and they usually fall on the side of data and evidence instead of gut feeling, suspicion and tradition when it comes to many of the big debates, which helps to keep things civil.

I wish that station streamed over the web so more people could hear it. I'm killin' in Toledo, I tell ya!

2008-05-29 18:51:04
48.   OldYanksFan
6 I guess just the first paragraph is free? Is the article worth $5?
2008-05-29 18:59:19
49.   Shaun P
48 I'd say yes, but I've been a BP reader since before they charged for online content, so I'm biased. Think of it like this - even if you read only 1 article/day for the month the $5 buys you, that's what, 17 cents an article? Can't beat that.

You'd also end up with all their draft coverage, which is pretty good, so I say, pay the $5 and go read the whole thing.

2008-05-29 19:14:26
50.   OldYanksFan
Anyone around in 1956?
I love the man!
Show/Hide Comments 51-100
2008-05-30 08:44:31
51.   Raf
44 It should also be noted that the O's tied the series the following day. It was 1-1 heading to Camden Yards.

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