The Advantages and Disadvantages of Talking to the Umpire

“I’ll tell you one thing I don’t like,” Sean Doolittle said as he grabbed his glove and jogged his way out of the clubhouse for stretch. “The hitters get to talk to the umpire and I don’t.”

You see it all the time, even if many hitters don’t want to talk about their conversations with the umpire. Muttering, head-shaking, even outright questions — “where was that?”. Occasionally you’ll even see demonstrative complaints that don’t result in the hitter being tossed, but do result in some aggressive stares and good old baseball posturing.

On the mound, it seems like the stakes are higher. Pitchers might be allowed a stare or aggressive body language, but if it escalates too quickly… Is Doolittle right? Do pitchers do get less leeway before they are warned or ejected? Or get to say less? They definitely don’t get to talk in close quarters with the person determining the balls and strikes, especially in the American League.

You could see how a pitcher like Doolittle might get jealous of hitters having long conversations. Ask a hitter, and it’s more complicated.

“There’s a thing that sets baseball apart from other sports, and that’s the interaction you can have with an umpire,” Brian Dozier said before a game with the Athletics. He likes having that ability, simple enough.

Just last night, we saw Francisco Cervelli taking the right to converse with the umpire about as far as he could take it without being thrown from the game.

Another umpire might have ejected Cervelli there, actually. Which is relevant to our conversation. Should we find that position players are ejected less often than pitchers if they really have an advantage talking to the umpire at the plate?

2016 Ejections by Personnel Type
Type of Personnel Ejections
Manager 28
Position Player 27
Pitcher 11
Coach 7

You could read that both ways, without more information. We don’t know the reasons behind these ejections. Even if these were all ejections for arguing, we wouldn’t know how often both sides argued in total, or the ejection rate per conversation. In other words, maybe hitters get ejected more often because they think they can have longer more detailed conversations with the umpire about the strike zone, and that false sense of security gets them in trouble.

But it’s not true that pitchers get tossed more often for trying to manipulate the strike zone. Or tossed more often in general, at least.

Dozier wasn’t willing to concede that his ability to talk to the umpire as an advantage pitchers don’t have. “Don’t let Sean say that,” he laughed. “Because there are plenty of ways pitchers can interact with the umpire. Do it with looks, mannerisms, it definitely goes both ways.”


And there’s actually a third party to this situation, one that should have the pitcher’s back. John Baker, now with the Cubs, used to be a catcher in the big leagues.

“I tried to make the umpire my friend and help him keep a consistent strike zone,” Baker told me. “It is easier to get strikes called if you have someone that calls the same pitches consistently. The more rattled guys get the more inconsistent they become.”

The catcher should know the zone, really, and the pitcher could either ask him, have his catcher advocate for him, look for the strike zone on video in the clubhouse, or any combination of those things. If those things fail, he can still stare at the umpire.

After all, not all of the conversations at the plate are all that interesting, as Baker had it. Hitters should know why a pitch was a strike or a ball, what do they get from asking. “I always laughed when guys asked, ‘Where you got that?'” Baker said. “Um. They called it a strike so…. In the strike zone.”

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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7 years ago

If I were a manager, I’d never talk to the umpires (except for genuine rules interpretation questions) and fine/bench players for talking to the umpires. I’ve never seen any good come out of it.

7 years ago
Reply to  fredfotch

I disagree. If an ump is calling an inconsistent zone, which is really all that matters, then I think it does need to be brought up to them.

7 years ago
Reply to  fredfotch

@wildard09 I agree with you, there are times when the manager needs to talk (or more than talk) to the umpire. I think I agree with fredfotch, however, in that I would discourage my players from doing so. If my players feel like the zone is being called inconsistently, I want them to bring it to me in the dugout. I mean, how can a position player tell how the zone is being called between teams? They don’t have a consistent angle from which to judge it.

For the battery, I’d establish a signal for them to relay to me that they believe the zone is being called inconsistently, and I would establish two possible signals for me to give back: signal A, that I see what they’re seeing and will talk to the umpire about it, or signal B, that I’m not going to do anything about it at this time, either because I don’t see it, or I see it but I don’t think it’s egregious enough to have myself tossed. And, of course, I would take it upon myself to talk to the ump if it looks bad, even if the battery isn’t telling me otherwise.

At no point, however, would I think it’s appropriate for a player to talk to the umpire, because I don’t want to lose personnel or have the umps biased against my players for the remainder of the game. I am the liaison between the players and the umps, period. My players would have small fines for any words with an umpire, and huge fines for getting tossed.