With two on and two out in the ninth inning, Torii Hunter had a chance. A chance to not only get the Twins on the board but put them within one of the Detroit Tigers. But that's all. Barring a surge by Minnesota's offense, the Twins would not have won the first of 162-or-more games. But that's not in question, nor has it the topic of discussion just one game into the 2015 regular season.
Umpires are not obliged to appeal to first base on a check swing -- close or not -- and Hunter's case, he did not ask for one. But are the rules on what counts as a checked swing clearly defined enough, and is there an easy way to get rid of some of the arguments that result from home plate umpires making calls on their own? After the call on Opening Day, some of the Bless You Boys staff got together to discuss the topic and they had some interesting answers.
Should home plate umpires be required to check with the first and third base umpires on check swings?
Kurt: Required? No. Advised? Certainly. Who's to say the base umpires have a great angle on a close check swing anyway? If you really don't know, sure, you'd better ask for help. Otherwise you're just substituting one guy's best judgment for another guy's best judgment.
Brandon: Not required. They should be directed to appeal to the corner umpire with the best view, particularly in the late innings. Sometimes the home plate umpire will have the better view. It's not a given that the first base umpire will see it more clearly.
Justin: Required might be a strong word. But strongly, strongly advised? Definitely. I think most umpires do a good job at this. They usually only make that call on their own when it's obvious. I feel like you rarely see umpires do it on such a close call like Torii's.
Jon: Yes, I'd require it. Eliminate as much doubt as you can. The home plate umpire has no angle to determine anything but the most obvious calls. Judging a 95 mph pitch or a diving curve is hard enough without guessing if a batter swing. Check it with the base umpire.
Cameron: Yes, it should be required. There are multiple umpires on the field for a reason. Use them to get the call right. The home plate umpire has a bad angle on check swings, so it should be required that the base umpire opposite of the hitter's handedness make the call.
How could MLB verify whether a hitter went in the case of a close call, and who has the best view for determination?
Kurt: That's a tough question. Swings are different. Pitches are different. Umpires 90-plus feet away coming at it from different angles do not seem to me to be the best judges. I'd say the home plate ump should be the best judge -- other than the fact he's watching to see if a ball comes through the strikezone so maybe the exact check swing a batter takes isn't easy for him to discern either. There's no good solution, it's a judgment.
Brandon: We tend to assume that the home plate ump has the worst view, yet he's square to the pitcher and home plate. Sometimes I think he's going to see it more clearly that the ump at the corner. Not often, but occasionally. This doesn't require a slow-motion camera review.
Justin: I think Kurt's point about the Home plate ump focusing on balls and strikes is an important factor. That's a lot for a home plate ump to focus on in a split second. Perhaps, having the ump solely focus on whether or not a pitch was in the strike zone could be a solution, while having the baseline ump take care of all check swings.
Fielder's Choice: Just make it reviewable. Seems pretty simple to me. There would still be an element of subjectivity, but unless we institute lasers and robots and PITCHf/x umpires, there's no getting around that. Baby steps.
Cameron: I'm not in favor of making the calls reviewable because of the negative effect it has on pace-of-play, but I am in favor of making it a requirement that a home plate umpire appeal to the base ump opposite of the batter. The base umpires have the best angle of seeing how far the bat went, and should therefore be the ones making the call.
What exactly is a check swing/when does it count as a strike as a hitter?
Kurt: A swing is when the umpire says so. That's pretty much what the rule book says. There aren't even any comments in the rule book to offer as guidance. It's probably been passed down in an oral tradition at umpiring schools, told over the campfire with s'mores or something. But what I do know is the things you often hear about breaking the plane of the plate or breaking the wrists or whatever, that is not actually a rule in any way.
Brandon: I would like them to specify that the bat passing perpendicular to the pitcher, or beyond the front line of home plate is a swing, regardless of wrist break. Right now, a strike on a check swing is defined by the umpire in the moment per the rule book.
Justin: I like Brandon's answer. But is there a way to actually verify where the bat passes? Perhaps there's technology available, like something similar to the goal line technology used in soccer.
Cameron: I don't know exactly what a check swing is, but I like Brandon's answer at the moment. What I will say though is that the definition of it needs to be objective, that way there is less gray area and room for argument.
Should check swings automatically be strikes?
Kurt: This would certainly solve the problem! If you believe there is a problem. The batter started to go. He got more or less midway there. Why not call it a strike? Is this truly the best solution? Not really. Acknowledging that you won't always agree with the judgment of those making judgment calls seems better to me.
Justin: No. I don't think we should punish batters for being able to check their swings. That's an extremely difficult thing to do and I'm amazed at how some batters are able to make that adjustment in their mind that quickly.
Brandon: No, and I take Kurt's point that it's defined as a judgement call, and hey, you started to swing at it. Blame yourself here hitter, to some degree.
FC: Absolutely not. Most hitters load up for their swing, and start their hands moving forward on every pitch. There will always be a gray area of what is a check swing and what isn't, so it wouldn't solve anything. It would, however, open up the door for batters to be called out on a "swing" that never had a chance to contact the ball, simply because the ump determined it was far enough to be a check swing.
Jon: No. The game has survived with judging checked swings. Just use the best judge, which is the base umpire.
Cameron: No, check swings should not automatically be called strikes. Make an objective definition of a check swing and enforce it by requiring the base umpires to make the call.
If MLB starts requiring appeals on check swings, would it get out of hand?
Kurt: I don't think anything really changes from the point it's at now. And I have no problem with the point it's at now anyway. Let's just roll with it.
Brandon: Yes, if it was mandated. But you can't mandate it. It would take forever. Personally I think any bunt attempt is a swing, so I'm a bit disposed toward the pitcher already. It's just a judgement call, one that home plate umpires should ask for help on in a close situation. The Torii one is getting overblown though, mainly by Torii himself. You don't get to complain about a strike call, so I'm not looking to make checked swings reviewable. I'd just like more clarity in the rulebook. Then we can yell at Joe West more thoroughly.
Cameron: I think every single check swing should be required to be appealed to the base umpire in order to get the call correct, so there's no need for players to appeal. Miggy is going to appeal to first regardless of the rule.
How does the umpires' union affect the ability to change any of this (Joe West is the president)?
Kurt: Well. You're kind of stuck with him, so far as I understand it. Seniority I guess. Umpires are graded. Surely somebody somewhere knows some awful umps who've been around a while seem to get plum postseason assignments anyway (see: Angel Hernandez). I'd like to see umpiring both in regular season and postseason be more driven by objective grading. Because it sure doesn't seem to be right now, even if they claim otherwise.
Brandon: I would like to see umpires graded and judged by merit, objectively. With Joe West as president, who knows if things will change for the better. Not that it's bad now, but it's a bit of an issue having possibly the worst ump in the game running the union. I've got no problem with the umpires' union having a say, but fundamentally these guys work for the league, and all final decisions should rest there.
FC: Hopefully at some point in the future the umpires union will take an interest in developing better umpires from within, with regular reviews of umpire performance and promotions/demotions based on merit. You know, like a regular job. And that's all I have to say about that.
Jon: How do you minimize the ineptitude of an entrenched bad egg like Joe West? Automated balls/strikes! Then put in unlimited replay from the command center in New York which would put the onus on baseball to fix the mistakes their umpires make instead of making teams decide when to risk a challenge.
Cameron: Joe West is the president. I think that right there is all that needs to be said about the umpires' union.
What do you think? Should home plate umpires be required to appeal to first or third base on check swings?