Manager Ejections in the New Replay Era

Mike Scioscia was ejected three times in 2014. (via James G.)

Mike Scioscia was ejected three times in 2014. (via James G.)

The great experiment has ended.

Not that the expanded replay review system begun in the 2014 season is going away. Despite a certain drag on pace of play and other hiccups here and there, replay is a definite success, and MLB has confirmed it’s returning next year. The experiment is over in that it’s become an established part of baseball.

Still, with a full year in the books, it’s time to take stock of the effect the new replay system has had on the major league game. Other writers have done some of that work here already, and I have my own contribution. It concerns a prediction I made here in April, before the replay system had gotten underway.

So let’s go back in time to embarrass me.

In Part Three of my “You’re Outta Here!” series on manager ejections, I speculated on how the replay system would affect the frequency of managers getting themselves thrown out of games. For those disinclined to follow links, here’s the nut of my prediction:

Ejections are going to fall, and substantially, but the bottom will not drop out. The decrease will be less than 50 percent, possibly as little as 25 percent. I’ll predict an ejection rate in 2014 of 1.25 percent, against a 1.75 percent rate in 2013.

So what actually happened? In 2013, there were 85 manager ejections, for a rate as stated of 1.75 percent. In 2014, with expanded replay ostensibly taking away the reason for many of the manager-umpire rhubarbs, there were 90 ejections, for a rate of 1.85 percent. I predicted a serious fall, and instead the rate crept up.

Now, a rate increase of a tenth of a percentage point is nothing decisive. Random variation could easily produce it for an unchanging environment. The trouble is, the environment obviously changed. Had the current I foresaw really existed, the managers couldn’t have swum against it by random fluctuation. Something different was happening.

I made my forecast by feel, trying not to be too extreme one way or another. To examine why I was wrong, I need more than feel. I need data. Lots of data. Years of data.

The Many Shades of Ejection

I looked up every manager ejection, not only in 2014 but in the two seasons prior to that. My main objective was to learn what the managers were arguing that got them tossed. The replay system should have taken away a wide swath of those motivations; instead of jawboning that went nowhere, managers could call for a review with a good chance of bringing a reversal.

The total ejections for each year are fairly close to each other: 82 in 2012, 85 last year, 91 this year. (The figures include postseason ejections, one in 2012 and one in 2014.) Putting the category breakdowns side-by-side should give us a reasonable view of why managers got the thumb before expanded replay and what changed after it arrived.

The table below counts every ejection cause that occurs more than once in its year, with the rest combined as “Other” to keep the table from taking up half the page. A category may contain its opposite; e.g., not just arguing a balk that was called, but one that a manager wanted called that wasn’t. The fractional cases in 2012 come from Ron Gardenhire arguing two related matters to get himself heaved.

Causes of Manager Ejections, 2012-2014
2012 # 2013 # 2014 #
Balls/strikes 27 Safe/out 22 Balls/strikes 32
Safe/out 24 Balls/strikes 21 Disputed result of replay 23
Check swing 5 Check swing/bunt 6 Check swing 9
Catch/no catch 5 Catch/no catch 5 HBP warnings 7
Warnings 4.5 Foul calls at plate 5 Fair-foul 5
Balk 4 Interference 3 Disputed ejections 4
Disputed ejections 2.5 Warnings 3 Balk 3
Interference 2 Post-warning HBP 3 Basepath 2
Fair/foul 2 Pitcher throwing at batter 2 Interference 2
Other 6 Obstruction 2 Other 4
HBP/no HBP 2
Other 11

In all three years, there are two main causes of ejections, with all the others well behind. What the replay system did was change the identity of one of those causes to something even more futile than it had been previously.

A constant through the seasons has been arguing balls and strikes. By rule, the strike zone isn’t arguable, and you can be ejected just for starting such a beef. After two years of a close contest for the top, balls and strikes ejections moved to a clear-cut lead in ejection causes. The shift isn’t decisive in such a small sample (and you’ll be hearing the SSS lament a few more times here), but it is suggestive and a piece of the larger puzzle.

What is decisive is the disappearance of safe/out ejections. From 46 over two years, they went extinct in 2014. Exactly what the league hoped and I presumed would happen did in this case: the arguments became challenges. The “catch/no catch” category did likewise, going from five a year to zero. That’s almost exactly a third of the ejections in 2012 and 2013 swept away, pretty close to the prediction I made earlier this year.

But those ejections, tossed out through the door, came back in by the window. Disputing a reviewed call is, like arguing balls and strikes, explicitly forbidden on pain of getting the thumb. Like balls and strikes, this did not stop managers from arguing anyway, despite the fact that the person making the calls they disputed wasn’t even in the ballpark.

One might argue that, this being a new part of the rules, managers had to get burned a few times before they learned not to argue after a replay ruling. The data don’t really support this idea. Argued replays made up just about a quarter of all ejections, 23 out of 91. The table below shows the ratios for each month of the season, excluding the 0-for-1 on the playoff ejection in October.

2014 Manager Ejection Breakdown
Reason April May June July August Sept.
Replay 3 2 7 4 6 1
All 8 19 18 17 20 8

Five times in the first two months, followed by 11 in the next two, does not suggest managers were learning not to argue with the guy on the other side of the crew chief’s headphones. The change in managers’ attitudes that is suggested, I will discuss later, after covering some smaller issues.

In case you wondered, the pattern of overall ejections—few in the first and last months of the season, with a sustained peak in the middle—is reasonably in line with previous seasons. April is the quietest month all three years, partly from sometimes not having games scheduled for the full month, but it does appear managers ease themselves back into their antagonisms with the umpires.

Manager Ejections by Month, 2012-2014
Year April May June July August Sept. Oct.
2014 8 19 18 17 20 8 1
2013 11 13 14 16 19 12 0
2012 10 19 11 12 17 11 2

I took a look at a few other patterns in the ejection numbers to see whether the replay system affected them. The sample sizes prevent me from making any bold and certain declarations, but at least I can try for interesting inferences.

In the seasons before replay, managers tended to get ejected more often on the road than at home. It was 44 out of 82 away in 2012, and 47 out of 85 as the visitors in 2013. That margin shut in 2014, with 46 ejections on the road and 45 at home. The numbers are close enough to be random fluctuation, but there’s a hint of a trend there.

Could there be a replay-related cause for fewer ejections coming on the road? If we want to be imaginitive, we can try this. Managers on the road feel more beleaguered and frustrated in a hostile environment and possibly anticipate that umpires will lean towards the home team on the close calls. Where before their only release was a rhubarb with its attendant risks of getting tossed, now they can challenge the play.

That hypothesis can hold water only if managers wouldn’t dispute the review’s results on the road more often. Since the umpire in the MLB offices wouldn’t be swayed by the home crowd, that’s a reasonable conclusion, though the manager might not be thinking about that. We can throw in real-life results, too: 13 out of 23 ejections for arguing a reviewed play were done to the home team’s skipper. So this imaginitive explanation is not disproven. Not the same as actual proof, but as I was aiming for “maybe” rather than “yes,” I’ll take it.

I wondered also if there might be an effect on how often players are ejected in tandem with their managers. With replay providing a safety valve for players’ tempers as well as for their skipper’s, they might be tempted less often to raise a stink that not only gets them thrown out but embroils the manager badly enough that he gets thumbed out, too. The numbers don’t show replay changing that equation.

Players With Managers Ejections, 2012-2014
Ejections 2012 2013 2014
All 82 85 91
Players w/Mgrs. 14 15 16
P/M Ratio .171 .176 .176

The ratio remains so steady over the three years that it almost looks like a clumsy attempt to cook the books. This is belied by some underlying data. In 2013, five times managers were ejected due to their pitchers hitting or throwing at a batter after warnings had been issued. That happened once apiece in 2012 and 2014. The numbers of “domino theory” ejections have gone down and up, with nothing huge enough to link to the replay system.

(By the way, the “Warnings” categories in the first table are for managers arguing that warnings should or shouldn’t have been given, or should have been outright ejections.)

Another possible change I investigated is whether a manager’s team is ahead, tied, or behind when he gets ejected. The frustrations of trailing a game, combined with the call going against the team that generally sparks the argument that brings the ejection, do turn the numbers that way. The tilt, though, has now gotten a bit less steep.

Manager Ejections by Score, 2012-2014
Ejections 2012 2013 2014
Ahead 19 23 25
Tied 19 16 25
Behind 44 46 41

Could a shift away from the trailing manager getting ejected be due to another shift, from arguing a play on the field to arguing the resulting review of that play? The question is complicated by the identity of the aggrieved manager changing. Of the 23 ejections for arguing a review, 14 came on a reversed play. Instead of the one who challenged, more often than not it’s the other manager heading to the clubhouse.

Going by who got removed, the replay ejections break down as five being ahead, seven tied, and 11 behind. However, count it by the manager who challenged (or who stood to benefit from an umpires’ review), and who thus in previous years would have been jawboning and then getting tossed, and it comes out 8-8, with the same seven ties. It looks like replay led to a net shift toward trailers being ejected while the overall trend went the other way.

Obviously, that doesn’t explain the change. We probably have to chalk it up to random chance, the kind that makes a big difference when the sample size is short of triple digits.

Any Reason Will Do?

So how is it that, when given fewer reasons to get ejected by arguing with umpires, managers contrived to get thrown out more often? Fewer, of course, does not mean none. There are plenty of umpires’ judgments remaining for which managers have no appeal, and that is where we saw the numbers rise in 2014. Disputing replays took up much of the slack, but more traditional arguments chipped in.

Ejections for arguing balls and strikes rose from 27 and 21 to 32 in the first replay year. Ejections for check swings went up (5/6 to 9) as did thumbs for arguing fair or foul balls (2/1 to 5). Note, fair/foul calls could be reviewed, but only on balls hit into the outfield; grounders past the bag were left to the umpires on the field. This dividing line may have riled up managers who felt entitled to get a review and contributed to a couple extra dismissals.

Arguing warnings (mostly after hit-by-pitches) likewise brought more ejections, seven in ’14 compared to seven and a half in the two preceding years combined. This HBP spike did not extend to managers getting tossed when their pitchers threw at opposing batters. The spike for that was in 2013; 2014 had just one such instance. It is suggestive that a category of ejection not involving a manager-umpire argument did not join the general trend.

As always with this sample size, there is danger in ascribing too much certainty to what we see. Given that caveat, I’m willing to offer a conclusion. Ejections crept up in the wake of expanded replay because managers, as a body, retain a sense of entitlement to challenge the umpires’ authority. They’re used to having the right to go out on the field and get in Blue’s face. With some on-field plays cut off from this, they shifted to argue others more heavily and extended their privilege to arguing with the replay umpires off in New York.

Does this mean that manager ejections are completely unaffected by the new replay system, that letting them challenge plays is ineffective in restraining the historically high rate of ejections we have had in the 21st century? Possibly not.

As noted, most of the counter-balancing ejections have come from arguing the results of reviews. This is forbidden, but managers still feel entitled to do it. However, new managers might not have that sense of entitlement and thus might conform themselves to the rules in this area.

There were four managers in 2014 who had never before managed a major-league game: Brad Ausmus, Bryan Price, Rick Renteria, and Matt Williams. (I don’t count Tim Bogar and Tom Lawless, who took over for departing managers at the tail end of the season.) These four had 13 total ejections on the year, but only one was for disputing a replay, that by Price*. The overall rate was 23 out of 91, almost exactly one-quarter, so new managers were transgressing less in this area than the veterans.

* Brad Ausmus did have a review-related ejection, but he was arguing that his opposite number had waited too long to challenge a play. It’s not counted because it doesn’t impinge on the regulation in question.

No, 13 ejections isn’t enough to declare a trend, but it’s enough to indicate that there may be one. In seasons to come, we can observe whether new managers are likewise unwilling to cross the line in arguing replays and whether they stay unwilling to do so. If they are, there’s a good chance their combined weight will start bending the curve of overall manager ejections downward. Replay still might cut ejections, in time.

The great experiment may have ended, but the data from the experiment will continue to pour in, year after year. In time, hopefully soon, it will give us some reliable insight into the psychology of the manager-umpire relationship. Until then, we’ll need to make do with the bits and pieces we have.

References and Resources

  • My search for data on 2014’s ejections led me to a true bounty: Close Call Sports. They track and analyze close calls (naturally) and the controversies they engender in sports and encompass something called the Umpire Ejection Fantasy League. The 2012-14 ejection data in this article are all theirs (but any mistakes are all mine). It takes all kinds to make a fandom, and thank goodness for that.
  • Retrosheet and Baseball-Reference filled in some blanks on game results and provided manager lists.


A writer for The Hardball Times, Shane has been writing about baseball and science fiction since 1997. His stories have been translated into French, Russian and Japanese, and he was nominated for the 2002 Hugo Award.
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Richie
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Richie

The stereotypical manager ejection is “OK, we’ve lost the past 3 games, my players are looking for somebody else to blame; like maybe me; hope a call goes against us so they can blame the ump instead, I can go out and stomp around and get myself ejected and thus reinforce their blaming while showing I got their miserable, lousy-playing backs; then manage the rest of the game from the hallway to the locker room; hey, alrighty, there we go!” So what were the pre-ejection records?

elbo
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elbo

How many of the post-replay ejections involved the “catch-and-transfer” fiasco early in the season or the home-plate collision confusion through the year? I’m guessing a fairly significant percentage. If so, we may in fact see ejections decrease next year unless other new rules add to confusion.

Shane Tourtellotte
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Shane Tourtellotte

Richie: That’s a pretty good question, given that I used such an example from Lou Piniella back in my “You’re Outta Here” series. So I ran some numbers for a quick-and-dirty answer. Ejected managers in 2014 had a pro-rated regular-season winning percentage of .495. I checked their records in the three-game and five-game sets before each ejection. In the three previous games, they went 139-134; in the five-game spans, 235-220. Managers, as a rule, aren’t getting themselves tossed out of frustration or to break up a slump. If there’s any specific manager who does so, it would be Joe Girardi.… Read more »

Richie
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Richie

Thanks for looking it up, Shane! 🙂 Well, other than that you ruined my great theory. 🙁

Shane Tourtellotte
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Shane Tourtellotte

Richie, the data ruin most of my great theories too. The facts don’t exist to make us happy: we just have to deal with them.

james wilson
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james wilson

My eye test tells me there was a whole lot of love going on between managers and umpires last season which I was in no way prepared for. Earl Weaver hates replay.