“Eye-sight is not essential in baseball.”
– legendary umpire Bill Klem
KILL THE UMPIRE!
By John B Holway
The most recent study shows that major league umpires call balls and strikes right 86% of the time.
It’s like an airline boasting, “Our pilots have a record of 86 safe landings out of every 100.”
That’s 86% total! Including the easy pitches. If we counted only borderline pitches, the success rate might be about 50%.
We should have 100%.
And we can.
PITCHf/x has been installed in major league parks for 11 years now. Until a couple years ago, most teams showed a TV graphic of every pitch and exactly where it crossed home plate. Almost no team shows it any more, I suspect because the umpires’ union complained.
The average game sees about 288 pitches. Subtract balls which are swung on, and what do you have? Maybe 150 pitches for the umps to call, or 75 per team, eight per inning. If one out of seven (14%) are wrong, that’s about ten blown calls per team per game. One per inning! Tens of thousands a year.
That turns baseball into a crap shoot. How can you tell which team is the best under those conditions?
Baseball’s been doing it for almost 150 years. We’ll never know how many classic games would have turned out entirely differently if the umpiring had been better.
For the first time in 74 years, this April I actually rooted for the Yankees to win. That’s because Tanaka was pitching, and I’m a big Japanese baseball fan, The umpire called 22 pitches incorrectly: 18 “balls” should have been strikes, and four “strikes” were really balls. Tanaka won the game, because the other pitcher got screwed just as bad. But Tanaka got a shameful example of American umpiring to write home about.
As in all the games I’ve plotted, the low pitch is by far the hardest one to get right.
Baseball should be about which team puts the best men on the field, not about whether or not the umpires are doing their job.
It’s not just the 9th-inning ball four that forces in the winning run. Every pitch is vital to the pitcher. He has his plan how to get each batter out. One blown call, and his plan goes to hell.
And woe to the batter who objects.
In the scene above, everyone watching at home saw that the pitch was several inches outside. (The paying customers weren’t allowed to see it.) We all knew what Bryce Harper knew – that the pitch was a blatant ball. Not even close. But who got thrown out of the game? The ump who blew it? Or his victim?
Harper stormed into the clubhouse. And the ump stomped back behind the plate and added several more egregiously bad calls. I don’t even remember who he was. He may be back in the minors by now.
If we could throw the umps out, we might have a lot better umpiring.
There have been studies done showing that the home town gets an edge from the umps, and that white, black, and Latin umpires favor white, black, and Latin pitchers. Probably most of this is unconscious and not deliberate. But it shouldn’t happen anyway.
This is the kind of umpiring we’ve been getting since Abner Doubleday’s day. That’s because the human eye was the only technology we had back then.
Not any more.
It would be a simple matter to install TV cameras focused on home plate that emit a loud gong, whistle, or musical note for every ball passing through the strike zone. No gong, no strike.
And no argument. Who you going to argue with?
Meantime, until that halcyon day, if an electronic monitor were installed in each dugout, the aggrieved manager could appeal, the umpiring crew could take a quick look at the re-run and make a decision in a few seconds.
Actually, such software is already installed in every park, and every pitch is reviewed by MLB in New York. If your report card is bad, it’s back to the bush leagues for you.
So why not use it in the games?
Klem used to be the regular home plate ump in every game. Wy don’t we do that any more? Identify the 30 best ball-and-strike umpires and assign one to be behind home plate in every game. Where did baseball get the crazy idea to rotate umps? We don’t make Clayton Kershaw play all nine positions before he’s allowed to pitch again.
Even with a ball-strike machine, we’ll still need good umpires to call plays on the bases, trapped balls, balks, etc. and we’ll need someone behind the plate to call hit batters, foul tips, and of course close plays at home.
Let’s not forget the rest of the field. Why not electronic foul-line umps? They have them in tennis. And electronic home run umps. No need for appeals any more.
While we’re at it, put plexiglass barriers all around the field so fans can’t reach out and interfere with batted balls – or get brained with one – or fall out of upper grandstands. Hockey has them.
Come on, baseball. This is the 21st Century. Get with it.
JUD THE UMP KILLER
Jud Wilson was a gruff, burly Negro league slugger, who batted .345 against blacks and .313 against white big leaguers. They called him “Boo-JOOM,” reportedly from the sound his hits made rattling off the fences.
He loved to hit and fight, not necessarily in that order.
And he hated umps.
Jud chased one ump around the bases with a bat – rules were more lax back then. He clapped a bucket on another one’s head and beat on it – they fined him $25. He followed a third to his hotel with a loaded pistol – Harper could relate to that.
Jud’s buddy was little, mischievous “Country Jake” Stephens. “You want to know how Jud really got his nickname?” he asked me.
He was courting a girl who lived across a stream, which Jud crossed on a fallen log. One night mid-way across, he dropped his pants and squatted. When he got across, he was greeted by people holding their noses.
“Damn!” he exclaimed. “I thought I didn’t hear no boo-JOOM!”
SEE A GOOD MOVIE
The Washington Post gave “Mistress America” and “The End of the Tour” both 4 stars (tops). It gave “A Walk in the Woods” a 2 (below average.) So I bet $10 on each one. I walked out of the first two after about four handfuls of popcorn. “Tour” was like “My Dinner With Andre,” only slower.
But I chuckled all the way through “Woods.” A lot like Paul Giamatti’s wine-tasting classic, “Sideways.” Nick Nolte turns out to be a great comic.
Interesting HR Stat
I’ve read many of your posts on evaluating MLB player performances. One interesting note is that every player does not always follow certain trends such as peak HR years by age. This is certainly true with Nelson Cruz.
Prior to 2014, he never hit more than 33 HR’s in a season and he preceded 2014 by a string of 20-29 HR’s. However, today he hit #40 which gives him back-to-back 40+ at ages 33-34.
His best HR years came after he served a lengthy suspension for performance enhancing drugs.
Slaves and Bombs
I did the tour of the slave quarters in Ghana. I think all should be required to do that. Tuesday I will do the Peace Park in Hiroshima. Although not an Infantry officer, I was an Army MP.
Keep these posts coming!
I am an attorney and have been a baseball junkie since 1949 when I was seven years old.
I applaud you for your commentary, “Should We Have Dropped the Bomb on Japan?” That issue has troubled me greatly since 1962, when I attended Pasadena City College. In our American Government class, each student had to give a speech.
One student was a 33-year old lady from Hiroshima. Both parents, four brothers and sisters, and numerous cousins perished. Her speech left every person in the room in open tears.
In America in 2015, we have almost zero persons who had actual experience with the 1945 bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. that makes it very hard for us to fully understand what happened to all those innocent Japanese women and children in August 1945.
Thank you for sending these posts. Do the RISP leaders show relative consistency from year-to-year as we would expect with lifetime leaders in other hitting or pitching categories? Clutch hitting ability usually fails this test because the results are all over the place from year-to-year, and it looks like statistical splatter rather than some ability that can be tracked and predicted. In any sample of data someone is likely to come out on top, and the results will have a range of variability.
If a compiled ranking has the acknowledged stars on top, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is a useful list, and if a compiled ranking has ordinary players scattered throughout, that doesn’t indicate it is of no use. But it seems to me that, for all the calculations done, nothing useful is being found here.
Perhaps the RISP leaders should be shamed for bearing down only when run-scoring situations occur, rather than putting forth maximum effort all the time.
We must await further data from other years to answer your questions.
What you say about lists would also apply to home runs etc.
In the days of Cobb and Ruth, there was great consistency year-to-year. Now we rarely see repeat champs in anything. That’s because the ratio of player:population is so much larger and competition so much more strangling.
However, like you, I have doubts about RISP for other reasons. A RISP with the score 1-1 is of great value. A RISP with the score 6-0 is not. There are a lot more drawbacks. I’ll have more to say about this in a future post called TOGAR (Tying Or Go-Ahead Runs). This is the ultimate RISP.
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Submitted on 2015/09/14 at 6:34 pm By Jim Finke
Enjoyed the article as far as it goes! But you don’t know how many they would have blown themselves. While there is obviously no way to positively determine this, a survey of their losses could indicate how many times they blew a game after the 6th inning. The percentage of those games could be used to adjust the added wins and give a possibly more accurate predicted final total. Wish I had the time/energy to pursue this but calendar has turned over to much.
From: Jay Berman jayandirene@***.com
Interesting piece. Johnson just might be the last 300-game winner. You’re right.
Always interesting take on conventional baseball wisdom, however you’re making a huge assumption that Clemens would have won all 67 games he left leading, Maddux – 61 and so on. Maybe that’s why they both had careers into their 40’s and were able to win as many as they did. I would think the 5 man rotation (vs 4 man of Spahn, Marichal era) and fewer starts would have as much if not more impact on win totals. Fewer starts means fewer win opportunities.