World Series Preview: The UmpiresBy
For our final World Series preview post before the Game 1 game thread, may I present to you the umpires…
Amidst increased scrutiny, Major League Baseball yesterday evening announced the umpire crew for the World Series. After a series of controversial and obviously bad calls during the ALCS, MLB decided to go with a veteran crew. The crew chief for the World Series will be 28-year veteran Gerry Davis, and joining him are Joe West, Dana DeMuth, Brian Gorman, Jeff Nelson and Mike Everitt.
Now, an ideal world, we would never hear about the umpires. The men in blue are supposed to go about their jobs by making calls and generally staying out of the way. Over the last few years, though, umpires have taken over more and more of the spotlight. It probably started with the Roberto Alomar spitting incident when our collective attention turned to the umps, and it grew worse when, in 1997, Eric Gregg’s NLCS home plate was about 15 inches wider than it should have been, thus allowing Livan Hernandez to strike out everyone.
Since then, umps have grown in infamy for things they say or do. We saw one ump refuse to call a strike down the middle of the plate against the Red Sox in Boston this year because the Angels’ catchers supposedly moved their mitts too frequently and too far. We saw one ump call Derek Jeter out and then tell the Yankee Captain that he didn’t need to be tagged as long as the ball got there first. We routinely see umpires take too long to call balls and strikes and generally showboat all over the place.
Until this week, fans had no real way of judging the umpires, but all that has changed thanks to Larry Granillo at Wezen-Ball. Granillo compiled 11 years of data — from 1998-2008 — to assess how umpires judge strike zones. In his post about the project, he discusses his methodology:
Using the current Retrosheet database (which still only goes through the 2008 season), I found all umpires who worked the plate 10 or more times last year. I then went through the database and gathered all relevant stats from the games the each umpire worked behind the plate between the years of 1998 and 2008. These are the “Umpires’ Stats” …
With the “umpires’ stats” calculated, we could now take a look at an individual umpire to see how many plate appearances he umped per game, or how many balls and strikes he called per plate appearance. Without more information, though, we wouldn’t be able to do much with it. How could we know, for example, that Umpire X’s tendency to rack up a lot of strikeouts per nine innings was a result of a wide strikezone and not merely because he was behind the plate for too many Tim Lincecum and Justin Verlander starts? Without knowing the performance of the pitchers that Umpire X saw in games that someone else was behind the plate, there are very few conclusions that we can draw. So I went ahead and made those calculations. For every pitcher that a particular ump called in a given year, I went through the database and gathered all relevant stats from the games in which the pitcher pitched in and in which Umpire X was not behind the plate. These are the “Pitchers’ Stats.”
In the end, Granillo made the raw data available at his site but also provided a link a Google spreadsheet with the World Series info. That data shows very little discrepancies amongst the umpires. Gerry Davis, tonight’s home plate ump, calls fewer strikes than the pitchers on the mound generally receive. The difference though adds up to only one called strike per 20 plate appearances. Interestingly, though, with Davis behind the mound, pitchers’ K/9 IP drops by around 0.54 while BB/9 IP rates increase by 0.41. Of the World Series umps, only Jeff Nelson rings up more batters than his pitchers do overall.
On the surface, these differences are small, but with more data available, we can begin to assess how an umpire behind the plate can impact a game. Hopefully, during the World Series, we won’t suffer through any egregious bad calls, and Davis and his crew will ump a fair Fall Classic.