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Examining ejection rates in 2014

Are umpires justified in ejecting players, even if they make the right call?

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time in a decade, the King was ejected. Felix Hernandez was one out away from seven shutout innings, backed by a staggering nine-run lead. He set the table for the Tampa Bay Rays, then got back-to-back whiffs from Desmond Jennings and Yunel Escobar. Catcher Ryan Hanigan drew five pitches out of the Mariners' ace, working a 3-1 count on a questionable ball from home plate umpire Mark Ripperger. On the next pitch, he shot a line drive double between Dustin Ackley and James Jones for a three-run rally. As Lloyd McClendon sent his starter to the dugout, Felix lobbed some choice words at Ripperger, criticizing him for working a tight strike zone earlier in the inning. Replay of the at-bat revealed that the call was incorrect, though, to considerable frustration, there is still no rule in MLB that allows for balls and strikes to be contested.

Yesterday, Scott wrote a scathing review of umpires' righteous attitudes following a particularly ridiculous ejection by umpire Bob Davidson during Saturday night's game. It was Davidson's fourth ejection of the season, and despite his unwarranted actions, the only time this year that he ejected someone after making a correct ruling.

Thankfully for the Mariners, neither Felix's ejection nor Miller's had any significant effect on the outcome of the games, with a 12-5 win against the Rays and 6-2 win over the A's. However, Davidson's overblown reaction sparked my curiosity. I skimmed the data on Close Call Sports to find out how often ejections had been issued after correct, incorrect, and irrecusable calls through the first half of 2014. According to the website, irrecusable calls encompass brawls, throwing at batters, excessive contact, and other miscellaneous unsportsmanlike conduct by players and managers. It's possible, though not likely, that an umpire would unjustly eject a player based on an irrecusable call.

Through the end of June, 108 ejections have been issued, following 59 correct calls, 27 incorrect calls, and 22 irrecusable ones. When the numbers are broken down by division, the American League East comes away with the most ejections in the first half -- at 23 -- thanks in no small part to a league-leading nine ejections from the Boston Red Sox. Here are the individual team results:

AL East Ejections Correct Calls Incorrect Calls Irrecusable Calls
NYY 5 3 1 1
BOS 9 4 1 4
TBR 5 3 2 0
BAL 2 1 0 1
TOR 2 1 1 0
AL Central Ejections Correct Calls Incorrect Calls Irrecusable Calls
MIN 2 2 0 0
DET 2 2 0 0
KCR 4 2 2 0
CLE 1 1 0 0
CWS 3 2 1 0
AL West Ejections Correct Calls Incorrect Calls Irrecusable Calls
SEA 4 2 1 1
OAK 4 1 2 1
TEX 7 5 2 0
LAA 1 1 0 0
HOU 2 1 0 1

Overall, American League teams received 53 ejections, 31 after correct calls, 13 after incorrect calls, and just nine after irrecusable calls, due in no small part to the AL Central's totals.

In the Mariners' camp, Felix was the only player to engage an umpire until Miller got tossed last weekend (because his ejection was issued in July, it is not included in the results above). The other three ejections were initiated by McClendon and first base coach Andy Van Slyke, twice for arguing check swings and once for berating the Astros from the dugout.

In the National League, there was little variation in ejection type or frequency, with a total of 55 ejections -- 28 made after correct calls, 14 after incorrect ones, and 13 after irrecusable actions.

NL East Ejections Correct Calls Incorrect Calls Irrecusable Calls
0 1
MIA 3 3 0 0
PHI 4 1 0 3
NL Central Ejections Correct Calls Incorrect Calls Irrecusable Calls
MIL 2 0 0 2
2 1
CIN 2 2 0 0
PIT 6 4 1 1
CHC 6 5 1 1
NL West Ejections Correct Calls Incorrect Calls Irrecusable Calls
SF 3
1 0
SD 2
0 1
AZ 2 1 0 1

With the introduction of instant replay, umpires have had even more opportunities for confrontation. Here, however, replay has seen a remarkably low rate of ejections following calls under review. Of the 624 instances of instant replay through June 2014, only 15 resulted in an ejection. Seven were made after correct calls and eight after incorrect calls.

What these numbers don't tell us, of course, is whether or not an ejection was justifiable. Over 50% of ejections were made after correct rulings, but not every ruling was met with a screaming match by a player or his manager. As we saw with Davidson, sometimes the ejection boils down to a simple case of bullying. Or, as was pointed out in yesterday's comment thread, perhaps umpires are so insecure that the slightest reaction to a call -- even one of approval -- is misinterpreted as a sign of disrespect.

Much as Bob Davidson makes me hate to admit it, it should come as no surprise that umpires are right more often than not. What remains to be seen is if they can use their powers of ejection to improve the quality of the game, rather than satisfy their need for vindication.