I was finishing a project last night and couldn’t do one of my favorite things: go to Nats Park and watch the umpires practice their craft.
Let’s get one thing straight: Harper was not thrown out for arguing balls and strikes; when he was thrown out, he wasn’t saying a thing about umpire Marvin Hudson’s awful strike one call. Here’s a timeline of what happened. Quotes are my best guess based on my limited lipreading skills, but most of it I’m pretty sure of.
It all happened in 28 seconds.
- 0:00 First pitch of the plate appearance hits the glove.
- 0:01 Hudson calls strike. Harper steps back with one foot.
- 0:02 Harper: “Not even close.”
- 0:03 Harper: “That is so fucking bad.”
- 0:06 Harper steps back with his other foot out; note, I don’t think he’s out of the batter’s box–more on that below. I haven’t seen what happens at this point, as MASN replayed the pitch. I think Hudson told Harper to get back in the box and Harper said something back, perhaps that he wasn’t out of the box. At this point, if Hudson felt Harper wasn’t following his direction, the rulebook says he could call strike two, but he didn’t; again, maybe because Harper wasn’t out of the box. I suspect Hudson then said, more loudly, “Get in the fucking box.”
- 0:11-2 The MASN feed cuts back to Harper stepping into the batter’s box, perhaps muttering one last word. Matt Williams is surely yelling at Hudson now, I think about baiting his player.
- 0:14 Hudson takes off his mask and calls time, and yells at Matt Williams: “Don’t tell me not to [unintelligible]…” There was an exchange where neither was on camera. Then the camera switched back to Williams.
- 0:20 Williams: “Get in the fucking box!” This, I think, was Williams yelling at the umpire the same thing that the umpire yelled at his player.
- 0:21 Hudson: off-camera “___________”
- 0:22 Williams: “Don’t bait him!”
- 0:23 Harper: “I was in the box the whole fucking time.” (This from a later replay)
- 0:24 Hudson: “Bryce _______ [and] let’s go.”
- 0:24 Harper: “But I was right there.”
0:25 Hudson: “You get your ass in the box.” (I may not have this exactly right. Think he probably said ass.)
- 0:26 Harper: “I was right…” [walking towards the box]
- 0:27 Hudson: “Don’t…”
- 0:27 Harper: “…here.”
- 0:28 Hudson ejects Harper.
Clearly, Harper was thrown out not for arguing with the bad strike call, but for “showing up” the umpire.
Now, it may be that the Nats’ bench was griping about calls; PITCHf/x recorded that two strikes Hudson called on the batter before Harper, Yunel Escobar, were both inside by more than two inches.
But when the Matt Williams yells “Don’t bait him” at Hudson, he’s not talking about the strike call.
Absolutely, Harper should have kept his mouth shut and focused on hitting, and he didn’t. And he shouldn’t have marched up so fast to put his foot in the box. He wasn’t hurrying to get in the box like ESPN’s Eduardo Perez said, but he wasn’t tiptoeing up to just barely put a foot in to show up the umpire either. He was showing that he never left the batter’s box before Hudson stopped the game to spar with Williams.
In the 1st inning, MASN showed the view at right, which shows Harper between pitches: he has stepped away from the plate, but he has not left the batter’s box. Baseball’s new pace-of-play rules say the batter must keep one foot in the batter’s box between pitches unless he swung, or had to dodge the pitch, or there was a play, or one of some other events happened. So Harper takes a step back, but remains in the box. And while opposing teams could in theory throw a pitch with him standing there, nobody’s tried to do it yet.
So Harper was legitimately (and provocatively) showing the umpire that he actually was in the box when he was being told to get in the box.
In his postgame, Harper said he told Hudson he’d take the fine rather than hurry back in the box. I’m skeptical; his timeline of events isn’t supported by the video I’ve seen, and I don’t know if there was a time that bit of conversation could have occured.
Harper’s 22. He’s still learning the limits. Hope he learns fast.
SportsCenter had an interesting take on the whole thing, pairing the ejection coverage with video of Harper not running out a grounder to first base in the first inning. Jay Crawford was the talking head for the episode I saw.
“Bryce Harper with a bit of an issue here. Hits a ground ball to first, Mark Teixeira tags… Look, I know it’s an out, he touches the bag right away. But no manager on the planet wants to see his best player though just walk back to… RUN THAT OUT. You’re paid to run that out.”
No mention of the fact that the ball was maybe fair by 12 inches and a one-hopper. It was, literally, the easiest play in baseball. Harper was called out less than two seconds after he hit the ball.
Now, if Teixeira had been clever, he wouldn’t have stepped on the bag; he should have thrown to second for the force out; with Harper slow out of the box, the double play would have been easy. Instead he went for the tag play at second, and didn’t get Escobar. Why wasn’t this mental mistake highlighted by ESPN? I wonder.
“Later in the 3rd another issue… we blurred the lips there of harper because he used some inappropriate language. Now Hudson steps out and he tells the manager Matt Williams ‘you better control your guy or he’s going to the showers.'”
This fires me up. Crawford is speaking as an authority, as if he knows what was said, but he clearly has it wrong, since Harper was in the box, not talking, ready to go when Hudson responded to Williams. But I guess Crawford is a mystical mind-reader and can hear things from great distances.
“Now Hudson just telling Harper to get in the box. Get. In. The. Box.”
Just. Oh yes, Hudson was just telling to get in the box. No salty language there, huh? Apparently not, since they didn’t blur Hudson’s mouth when he may have said “fucking” and certainly said “ass.” I’m surprised Crawford didn’t claim Hudson said “please.”
“And watch what Harper does – ‘there, I’m in the box.'”
Again, Crawford says with authority something completely untrue.
“No you’re not – you’re in the shower. Gone… I can tell you what Jim Joyce thinks: he’s not impressed, the eye roll as Williams walks past him.”
Hey Jay – I bet you a nickle Joyce was rolling his eyes at Hudson’s action, not Williams’s.
Sorry for the rant.
Here and here I’ve put forward a few thoughts on MLB pace of play and the relative impotence of this year’s rule changes to make much of a difference. Today I learned that Baseball Reference has compiled a page with some important pace of play data.
Most interesting to me here is the time/9IP metric, which normalizes data to neutralize an abnormal prevalence of games that go more or less than a full nine innings. I hadn’t thought to do this, and though it doesn’t matter much (historically 3-6 minutes on a per-game basis), better analysis is better analysis.
Interestingly, the page doesn’t get into per-pitch analysis. It does list plate appearances per game and pitches per plate appearance, but doesn’t take the obvious next steps and list pitches/game or seconds/pitch.
A quick look at the data (which has more games than my prior analysis) shows this year to be about in line with 2012. Still slower than the 1998-2011 period, but faster than 1988-1997, in the asking-to-be-improved pitches/game metric.
Last night I wrote about baseball’s non-existent pace of play “problem.” My basic argument is that the increase in average duration of baseball games over the last 50 years is mostly due to fundamental changes in how the game is played, and not so much because the game’s natural gaps have gotten longer because of extended commercial breaks or more intense nether-region scratching or something.
I noted that while games last almost 6% longer than they did in the late-1980s/early-1990s, they include almost 8% more pitches, and that the pace of play, when measured in seconds per pitch, is faster today than it was then. I noted that sec/pitch, while much better than hours/game, is still fairly rudimentary. I have started looking into parsing the time data more, but I probably won’t have the time needed to really get into it for a while. So here’s my survey of the important data that’s out there. Read the rest of this entry »
A lot is being made of MLB’s new rules that are intended to solve the “problem” that games take too long. But there’s nothing MLB can do to significantly shorten the average game duration, and we all need to understand why.
It’s in the data. Read the rest of this entry »
Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg struggled during his first two starts of 2015, giving up 19 hits in 10 2/3 innings, including 4 hits on curveballs. Lots of folks noticed that Strasburg’s curveball appeared lifeless. The Washington Post’s Neil Greenberg wrote a Fancy Stats column on it on April 16, complete with a chart showing that Strasburg’s curveballs haven’t been close to the knee-bucklers we’ve seen in the past. Read the rest of this entry »
[As I finished writing this, I came across Adam Kilgore’s piece here, which also gets into the differences between regular season and playoff pitcher management.]
This post is not about the Nationals’ terrible, awful, no-good NLDS hitting, where the lineup (not including pitchers, pinch hitters, Rendon, or Harper) hit .112 with an OPS of .316. This post is about Matt Williams’ criticism for his management of the pitching staff.
The critics have missed the moves that were the biggest mistakes. Williams’ errors were related to being stuck in a regular season mindset and/or not thinking far enough ahead. Read the rest of this entry »
Game 5. All Washington Nationals fans remember. An epic collapse in the Nats’ first playoff series, losing a 6 run lead to the Cardinals including a 4-run swing, from from 2 up to 2 down, in one devastating, soul-crushing, monumental 9th inning meltdown.
I was in standing room, right up from 1st base, at the back of section 130. I was with my brother, back here in our hometown from Houston on business. My brother Jon.
The Cardinals fan. Read the rest of this entry »