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Replay review and ejections

How did the expanded use of replay impact the number of people ejected from games in 2014?

Rick Renteria was ejected seven times in 2014 -- six by umpires, once by the Cubs
Rick Renteria was ejected seven times in 2014 -- six by umpires, once by the Cubs
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Baseball introduced a broader replay system in 2014, one reviewing more than just home run calls, which could be initiated by people other than the umpire crew chief. The system was set up to re-examine close plays on the base paths, fair or foul calls, stolen base attempts, and the like, and wasn't intended for use on balls and strike calls (see a more complete explanation here). Every other major sport uses some form of replay to make sure calls are correct, and the thinking was increased technology would lead to the right call being made more often. It's hard to argue with this objective — who really wants a game decided by an incorrect decision if mechanisms exist to make the correct call?

Earlier this year, I wrote about manager ejections using data from Retrosheet, and was waiting for 2014 data to see if there were changes in ejections based on the expansion of the review parameters. In the meantime, I stumbled across the Umpire Ejection Fantasy League (UEFL) and found all the ejections for 2014. Combining these two data sets shows this pattern of ejections for 2013 and 2014:

Replay

It appears the expansion of reviews resulted in . . . twenty-one additional ejections.

This seems extremely counterintuitive to me. Review expansion should reduce the number of items to argue over, since, in theory, definitive proof exists to support or overturn the call. Reasonable men should be able to review the play from multiple angles and reach the correct conclusion. This is possible, but leaves aside the fact the manager/player/coach might not be happy and still wish to further discuss the issue in words other than the Queen's English.

These are the reasons for ejections:

Reason 2014 2013
Abusive language 1 0
Arguing 6 0
Arguing ejection 3 0
Arguing replay review 19 1
Arguing warning 5 4
Balk 7 2
Balls and strikes 88 71
Base paths 6 34
Bench jockeying 1 4
Checked swing 18 10
Fair/foul call 5 5
Fighting 8 11
Home run call 2 0
Illegal substance 1 0
Interference 3 6
Threw at batter 20 18
Unsportsmanlike conduct 6 1
Obstruction 0 2
Other 0 3
Catch/trap 0 6

There are a couple caveats, the first being that UEFL introduced the concept of "unsportsmanlike conduct," one not used in Retrosheet descriptions. In addition, these descriptions are my attempts to group similar calls in umbrella categories -- if I were to use the Retrosheet descriptions as written, I'd have a different description for just about every ejection, and the UEFL data had explanations which I boiled down to a description. My categories are my attempt to meld the two.

An entirely new category for ejection emerges: "arguing the replay," one in which the manager/player/coach respectfully disagrees with the decision made after the review and wishes to extend the discussion. The number of abusive language calls decreased, but those very well could be part of the unsportsmanlike conduct calls. Quite frankly, a manager/player/coach who suggests an umpire might be engaged in Oedipal relations or encouraged to perform a solo act which is humanly impossible is probably being a tad unsportsmanlike.

Some things don't change — across baseball history, arguing balls and strikes is the number one reason for ejections, as well as possibly the greatest source of innovation in indecorous invectives in recent memory. Expanded review won't make this go away, and it certainly won't reduce ejections due to throwing at hitters, checked swings or fighting. It did drastically reduce the number of ejections due to calls on the base paths, since it's difficult (not impossible) to argue with what's in front of you — it just appears those ejections turned into the "argue the replay interpretation" variety.

It's only one year and far too soon to tell what difference expanded review will have. I'm not sure there was ever an expectation that it would speed up the game. Daren Willman's baseballsavant.com states there were 1,276 reviews in 2014, and even at a minute each (keep dreaming) this adds the equivalent of over seven games played assuming a three-hour game. I thought ejections might decrease because there would be less to argue about, but it appears to have added something else to argue over.

An article ran on Wednesday at The Hardball Times that covers similar territory and goes into far greater detail than I did. I highly recommend reading it. I'm not a huge fan of either ejections or the behavior that causes them — get ejected in the NFL and there's a small FedEx package with a big fine from the league office on its way. I'd prefer baseball stated that arguing in the game is over; you can protest and make your case like in other sports, but no other sport allows a coach to run onto the field at will and keep jawing away, and I'm unclear as to what this adds to the game. If one of the intentions of expanded replay was to reduce the number of injections, it sure didn't achieve that objective in 2014.

Information on the almost-15,000 ejections that have been tabulated by Retrosheet are shown in this data viz. It's not great and I'm still working on how to best graphically depict the data, but it's something.

All data from Retrosheet and Umpire Ejection Fantasy League. Any mistakes in gathering, amalgamating or ejection classification are the author's.

Scott Lindholm lives in Davenport, IA. Follow him on Twitter @ScottLindholm.