November 4, 2019

Demand For Robot Umps Is Getting Louder, After Dozens Of Wrong Calls In World Series

In the end, advocates of robot umps may have Lance Barksdale to thank when major league baseball finally comes to its senses and institutes an electronic strike zone.

Barksdale made several incorrect calls in the late innings of Game 5 that caused hundreds of thousands of jaws to drop in front of television screens across North America and prompted numerous online and newspaper columns about the increasing problem of games turning on obviously wrong calls. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred needs to accelerate any plans for an electronic strike zone before an umpire's blown call directly results in one team losing the World Series.

Actually, that has already happened. There were so many blown calls behind the plate during the seven games of the 2019 World Series, it's impossible to say which team would have come out on top if all of those blown calls had been properly made. And if it happened in 2019, then it certainly has happened in seasons in which the technology did not exist to illuminate every incorrect call. Umpires have imposed their subjective, distorted, and imperfect reality on professional baseball for more than 120 years. Now that MLB can end what had long been accepted as the best solution to this problem, it must.

Barksdale was not the only villain behind the plate during the World Series, of course. There were six others and every one of them made an excessive and intolerable amount of bad calls. Those bad calls affected the final score of every single game. It's hard to care about baseball games when you know, without a doubt in your mind, that what happens on the field does not necessarily get recognized.

While Game 5 prompted several in-depth articles, it was Game 7 - with Jim Wolf (praised by Fox's Joe Buck as MLB's most accurate regular-season pitch-caller) behind the plate - that was the worst-called game of the series. In a winner-take-all, World Series Game 7, Wolf was wrong on roughly 12% of the pitches he called.

That is not only bad, it's unforgivable. It's outrageous, egregious, preposterous!

(Perhaps you would like to make a cup of tea. This is going to take a while.)

First, the commentary:

Dan Gartland, Sports Illustrated, October 28, 2019:
Bad Calls In World Series Had Everyone Talking About Robot Umps

Is it time for robot umps?

After Game 5 of the World Series there's one thing on every baseball fan's mind. Not the question of how differently things might have gone if Max Scherzer wasn't scratched. Not the Astros being on the verge of a dynasty-making win. Not even the frosty reception of a certain world leader.

It's the umpiring, and specifically whether that job should continue to be conducted by human beings.

Players on both sides took issue with Lance Barksdale's calls behind the plate throughout the night but there were two calls that were particularly egregious.

The first came in the top of the sixth with Tanner Rainey pitching for the Nats. Rainey threw a perfect fastball on the lower inside corner that froze Michael Brantley. Catcher Yan Gomes was just about to start throwing the ball around the horn when Barksdale called it a ball.
The call of note was this one that went against Nationals outfielder Victor Robles, on a Gerrit Cole fastball that sure looked like it missed wide for ball four.
Those examples have two words on everybody's lips: robot umps. ...

I used to be pretty staunchly against robot umps but after last night now I'm not so sure. I thought the need for players to adjust to an umpire who was giving more strike calls on the black on the inside of the plate and fewer on the outside was something that made baseball unique and interesting.

But let's go back to that Yan Gomes play and pay closer attention to the exchange between the catcher and the umpire. You can hear Barksdale say to Gomes, "You were taking off on me." And Gomes replies, "Oh, it's my fault?" What you have there is an umpire refusing to call a strike because he doesn't appreciate that the catcher assumes it's a strike. The ump should never insert his ego into the game like that, and even more so in a World Series game. Electronic pitch-tracking machines don't have egos.
Adam Kilgore, Washington Post, October 28, 2019
Game 5 Umpire Controversy Raises A Question: Should MLB Use An Electronic System To Make Calls?

Barksdale's faulty ball-strike calls ...provide a backdrop as Major League Baseball continues a seemingly inevitable — if potentially misguided — creep toward robot umpires.

All game, the Nationals fumed over borderline calls that went against them. Immediately and decisively, technology allowed them, their fans and anybody with an Internet connection to validate their anger. The combination proved toxic for the sport. On its grandest stage, umpiring decisions became ... a dominant topic of conversation that overshadowed the baseball brilliance on display.

It is precisely that scenario that prompts MLB's consideration of an automated ball-strike system. Players, media and fans have instant access to data compiled by TrackMan and synthesized into binary outcomes. ... The only person without access is the umpire, the man charged with making decisions that games and seasons and legacies hang on. ...

The next logical step, of course, is that if everybody can see clear-cut results immediately, why shouldn't they be used to determine outcomes rather than a failure-prone set of human eyes? Game 5 of the World Series raised the question: Should MLB use an electronic system to call balls and strikes? ...

It may be coming soon. ... This year, MLB formed a partnership with the independent Atlantic League and experimented with robot umpires by using a setup called the automated ball-strike system. It also employed the ABS system this year in the Arizona Fall League.

The introduction of the system in the majors would come with undesirable consequences [JoS: It would?], some of them unintended and some unforeseen. It would change the way the sport looks as we know it. [And? ... So did integration.] For 150 years, a pitcher who missed his spot in the strike zone and made his catcher lunge awkwardly often was punished with a ball; those would become strikes. [Yes, because the ball was, as you said, "in the strike zone".] The three-dimensional nature of the strike zone, and the human eye's ability to recognize how a 90-mph projectile flies through that plot, means balls in the dirt have always been balls, even if they clip the very front of the zone at the knees. Those would become strikes. [If it clips the strike zone, it's a strike. This should not be hard to understand.] It would also eradicate the skill of pitch framing or expanding the zone throughout the game, skills that make baseball richer. [It's far more important to get as many calls right as possible. A game filled with wrong calls makes baseball poorer.] ...
Jeff Passan, ESPN, October 29, 2019:
How One Blown Strike Call In Game 5 Illustrates MLB's Need For Robot Umps

The dawn of the robot umpire is near, and it is time. Game 5 of the World Series exemplified this. Plate umpire Lance Barksdale actually called a decent game by the current standards for umpires [Jeez, that's damning with faint praise.], but the combination of an untimely blown call and a hot-mic video of his rationale behind another poor judgment illustrated why automated balls and strikes must be part of baseball's future sooner than later.

Nobody in the Washington Nationals clubhouse would say as much on the record ... There is baseball left, and so long as there is baseball left, no player will dare draw the ire of the fallible men with disproportionate control of the game. [The fact that players are afraid to acknowledge obvious truths because they fear direct on-the-field retribution speaks volumes about major league umpires.] But one player acknowledged that Game 5 changed his mind about a computerized strike zone -- that having witnessed a bad call rob the Nationals of a potential game-tying opportunity, the arguments in favor of technology over eyeballs are simply too compelling. ...

The logic behind human over technology crumbles upon even the simplest critical analysis. If a system exists that tracks balls and strikes not just accurately but also, more importantly, consistently -- it does not yet, but it is close enough to become a reality over the next few years -- then why stick with something inferior? ... The question for baseball is if the romance [of the human element] ... is more important than right vs. wrong.

It really is that simple, that binary. A ball is a pitch outside of the strike zone. A strike is a pitch inside the strike zone. There is no gray area, no ball one time and strike another. This makes automated balls and strikes the perfect sort of system to institute -- not one that is up for interpretation, one that can be tricked or fooled, or one that necessitates sleight of hand. A ball is a ball, and a strike is a strike like grass is green and sky is blue. ...

When true, unbridled consistency is an option, rather than a figment of the imagination, anything short of that feels insufficient.

That's what makes glamorizing the human element such a farce. Just because the game itself is full of errors shouldn't give leeway to its arbiters to be judged by that standard. ... Automated balls and strikes are their savior, not their enemy.

Now, a caveat: As the beta testing in the Arizona Fall League this month has shown, the robot ump needs work -- a lot of work. Breaking balls in the dirt that cut through a fraction of the three-dimensional zone have been called strikes. They look ridiculous. Hitters think they're ridiculous. Even the pitchers themselves think they're ridiculous. [But those pitches "cut through" the strike zone! A minute ago, you wrote: "A strike is a pitch inside the strike zone." Everyone is going to have to get used to the new idea that those have *always* been strikes, even if they look odd.] ...

Currently, MLB and the umpires' union are negotiating a new labor contract. An automated strike zone belongs in the center of the discussions. Umpires understand how instant replay has been beneficial to them. Taking balls and strikes out of their hands would be even more so. ...

[W]hether it's two or three or four years from now, home plate in the World Series is going to be run by a computer feeding a call into a set of earbuds worn by the person in blue standing behind home plate. [two pls]
Demetrius Bell, SB Nation, October 28, 2019:
If you've spent five minutes on Twitter during a postseason (or any) baseball game, you've probably heard people saying that MLB needs robot umps, right now. It's been a common thread for most of this season ...

There's a strike zone on the Gameday tracker on MLB's own website. There's a strike zone on most television broadcasts these days. After the game, you can head over to a website like [Actually, it's] and look at the charts for a pitcher in each game. You can either use those charts for research purposes or you can use them to rage about that bad call that you know for a fact torpedoed your team's chances at a win. ...

It's well known that ... things vary from umpire to umpire. It's been an tolerated part of baseball for a long time ... It's the human element that we hear so much about.

With that being said, last night's umpiring was an example of what happens when the human element becomes infuriating and it's also unacceptable. ...

[The call on Cole's pitch to Robles] appeared to be a case of the umpire having an adverse reaction to the players seemingly "showing him up." ...

Of course, this isn't to say that Barksdale cost the Nationals or helped the Astros win. ... The umpiring probably didn't do a lot to move the needle either way, but it was still disturbing to see and it was also the continuation of a trend that's been going in the wrong direction for the umpires as of late.
Oh, god forbid we even hint that umpires are "moving the needle either way". Why do so many writers still feel the need to treat the idea of umpires costing teams games - which has been a proven fact for many years - like a wacky conspiracy theory? They will write that those people over there are all worked up over this issue, but not me. Isn't it clear the frustrated fans from which the writer is distancing himself look completely sane and the writer appears clueless and naive?

Acknowledging that umpires change the outcome of games every single day forces fans to face some uncomfortable truths. Once you accept the reality of this problem, there's no turning back. So what then? Do you stop watching baseball until the problem is fixed?

Ben Walker, Associated Press, October 29, 2019:
With every pitch at the World Series hurtling toward that strike zone box superimposed on TV screens, the call gets louder and louder: Bring on the robot umps! ...

A curveball can clip the front and almost end up in the dirt, or hook down to catch the back part of the dish.

Consider this, too: What is a strike? [The pitch you just described would be a strike.] ...

"You want the strike zone to be consistent. But these guys are human," [Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki] said. "It's part of the baseball game. You've got to deal with it."

[An umpire that is consistently *bad* is not something anyone wants. You want the strike zone to be consistently *correct*? There's only one way to achieve that.]
Katherine Acquavella, CBS Sports, October 28, 2019:
CC Sabathia Speaks Out In Favor Of Electronic Strike Zone After Blown Calls In World Series

Appearing on ESPN on Monday, newly retired MLB pitcher CC Sabathia said he's in favor of an electronic strike zone being implemented in the big leagues.

"Yeah, for sure," Sabathia said when asked if he supports automated-ball-strike system. [Of course. For sure. Obviously. Thanks, CC, for waiting until you retired to speak out. You're such a stand-up guy (who doesn't like to bend down and field bunts).] ... "We just want consistency [See above article] and if you go to the electronic strike zone, we know if you throw it here, it's a strike, you throw it here, it's a ball. That's what we want every time out." ...

As far as the electronic strike zone goes, after initial testing in the independent Atlantic League, the technology was used during MLB's Arizona Fall League games. If MLB wants to take another big step in testing the system, the league could try using it in spring training next season.
Andrew Joseph, USA Today, October 28, 2019:
I know it'll never happen, but if MLB offered fans an uncensored viewing option with live mics, viewership would go through the roof. It would make for compelling TV, and it might also prevent the kind of bush-league umpiring that we saw during Sunday's Game 5 of the World Series. Or … you know … MLB could get with the times and give us robot umps. ...

Traditionalists love the human element of baseball, but that human element leads to oversensitive umpires blowing calls in the freaking World Series because they didn't like how a catcher reacted to an obvious strike. Get out of here with that.

Give us robot umps or live mics. But mostly, give us robot umps. [How about both?]
Andrew Holleran, The Spun, October 27, 2019:
It's time for robot umpires, Major League Baseball. The home plate umpire in a critical Game 5 of the World Series has made several questionable calls, including a devastating one for the Washington Nationals in a key spot. ...

When you're getting calls like this in the World Series, it's time to re-evaluate things.

Figure it out, MLB.
Jason Del Rey, Vox, October 31, 2019:
[Amazon spokesperson Jay] Carney's latest misstep was an offensive tweet during Game 6 of the World Series on Tuesday night in which he called the game's umpiring crew "overweight, diabetic, half-blind geriatrics" after a controversial call that went against the Washington Nationals in its game versus the Houston Astros. Carney, a longtime Washingtonian, is a Nationals fan.

With the "[b]ring in the machines" line — referring to the idea of robot umpires — Carney also hit on the touchy topic of job automation that Amazon officials have worked hard to downplay as it relates to their company. Major League Baseball is also a customer of Amazon Web Services.

Carney tweeted out an apology on Wednesday afternoon, calling his previous night's rant "unnecessarily unkind and personal". He also maintained that the umpire call in question was "horrendous".
While researching this post, I discovered an amazing Twitter account: Umpire Auditor.

Evan Wolff, 12up, October 26, 2019:
VIDEO: Umpire Auditor Twitter Account Reveals Astros Got A Ton Of Help In World Series Game 3

It appears that the Astros had an extra player on the field for Game 3 on Friday night. Umpire Auditor, a Twitter account that analyzes the home plate umpire's performance, took a look at Gary Cederstrom's zone and accuracy. What they found was a bias in which the zone seemed to be favoring the Astros. ...
When these inconsistencies arise, they change the entire complexion of the game. That just can't happen in such high-pressure situations in which the hitters and pitchers, are depending on every call being correct.
Joe Posnanski, August 29, 2019:
The Truth About Balls & Strikes

You have probably seen this chart. It's from a critical at-bat on August 13 between Philadelphia closer Hector Neris and Chicago Cubs pinch-hitter Tony Kemp. The Phillies led 4-2, and Kemp represented the tying run.

You can see where that fifth pitch was, the one that was called strike three. it was a laughably bad call.

Here it is from the indispensable Twitter account @UmpireAuditor ("The worst calls of the day, every day") who we will be quoting many, many times in this piece. Special bonus in this one: Listen to the announcer shout, "No! No! No! No!"
OK, that's one of the worst strike three calls you will ever see …

On the other hand, @UmpireAuditor found this pitch from San Diego's Eric Lauer to slugging machine Cody Bellinger in Monday's Padres-Dodgers game to be every bit as offensive:

... As it turns out, @UmpireAuditor had a busy night on Wednesday. Here are just a few blown calls the account highlighted:

— Charlie Blackmon led off the bottom of the ninth inning of the Boston-Colorado game, with the Red Sox up 7-4. Blackmon worked a 2-2 count against Brandon Workman. Pitch 5 was called strike three:

Blackmon threw his bat, lost his mind, got ejected, Rockies manager Bud Black came out and got ejected too.

— In the tenth inning of the Dodgers-Padres game, facing an 0-2 count, A.J. Pollock took the fourth pitch, which was clearly in the strike zone. If it had been called a strike, the inning would have been over. Instead, it was called a ball and Pollock cracked an RBI single on the next pitch.

— In the Baltimore-Washington game, with two strikes and two outs, Trey Mancini took the fifth pitch here for a ball. He singled on the next pitch, though it caused no damage and the Nationals won big anyway.

In the Mets-Cubs game, the Cubs jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Then in the bottom of the first, with one out, Kyle Hendricks threw a first pitch strike to J.D. Davis. His second pitch was clearly a strike … but was called a ball. ... Davis grounded the ball up the middle for a single on the next pitch.

In the Atlanta-Toronto game, the Braves led 5-1 in the bottom of the fourth inning. With a runner on third and the count 1-1, Braves pitcher Mike Foltynewicz threw what the chart shows to be an obvious strike to Bo Bichette. It was called a ball. ...

There are a couple of points to be made here, one obvious and the other, perhaps, less obvious. The obvious point is that all these happened on Wednesday and that's not unusual because this sort of thing happens every night in every game — pitches that register as strikes are called balls and pitches that register as balls are called strikes. We're not even talking about those really, really close pitches. None of the above pitches are borderline. These are clear umpire misses. Some have significant impact on the game. Some have little-to-no impact. But they happen and again and again. ...

None of this is sustainable, by the way. I've made this point again and again about instant replay — even though, as most of you know, I don't like it: Once there is an obvious gap between what we see at home and what is called on the field, technology will fill that gap. You can bet on it. It might take a year or several years or even longer, but you can't have balls consistently called strikes or strikes consistently called balls anymore than you can have fumbles missed or touchdowns called when the player stepped out of bounds. It's a matter of credibility.

You just can't consistently have games altered by ball-strike calls that go against what our eyes and minds see. ...

Take this pitch from Trevor Bauer on Sunday against the Pirates. The bases are loaded and the oft-maligned C.B. Bucknor is behind the plate and this second pitch to Bryan Reynolds looks an AWFUL LOT like a strike:

Had that been called a strike, it would have made the count 0-2, changing the whole situation. [Exactly! Every blown call has an impact. I think deep down Joe knows this, despite what he wrote above: "little-to-no impact").] As it turned out, it was a ball, Bauer wouldn't get Reynolds to chase on either of the next two pitches and on the 3-1 count, Reynolds smashed a three-run triple. That was a game-changing call. ...

To quote Umpire Auditor figures, there's a 10 or so percent disagreement between what umpires see and what technology tells us. One out of ten or so pitches would be called something else if we go with the robo-umps. That would fundamentally change the game.

For the better? For the worse? This is the choice that's coming fast.
A couple of comments under Posnanski's article (some of which touch on things I did not include in my admittedly large snip):
Jason Snell
I think you're right about the unintended consequences of a robotic strike zone and how framing (and pitcher intent) end up getting boiled out of the process, but fans seeing the computerized strike zone in HD and knowing that 10% of pitches are called wrong is inescapable. I feel like we're all going to have to mourn pitch framing and accept it as a casualty of the new precision of the strike zone. ...
Who cares what the catcher does? Who cares what it "looks" like? Who cares what has been done before, for however long? Who cares what the fans think if the fans are wrong?

The strike zone is a clearly defined three-dimensional space (yes, I know it varies with the height and stance of the batter, and technology shouldn't be implemented for this until it can account for that). If a pitch passes through that space, it's a strike. If it doesn't it's not.

The umpire has an extremely hard job: to track a small object moving at almost impossible-to-see speed passing through a space that he can only envision in his mind. That doesn't make a ball a strike or a strike a ball, but erroneous calls are just that - errors. ...

The fact that the pitch and the catcher's reaction to it created an optical illusion that the pitch missed the zone doesn't mean that the pitch missed the zone.

Balls and strikes do have a RIGHT and a WRONG result. It's entirely understandable that a human crouching behind the catcher can't always see it correctly, but that makes it a problem to solve, not a state of things to accept.
Is there any way in which having balls and strikes called reliably is detrimental? I cannot think there is. Will it change the game? We already have individual at-bats affected by the 10% of calls being questionable - so having at-bats not affected by bad calls I guess is a change - but that's good, right? ... [A] computer generated strike zone can be adjusted for different player heights and stances. ... The tech is ready to go.
Ron H
Several of the comments have mentioned that the box doesn't account for the height difference between players. It makes me ask why not. ... Seems to me every major league player can have the appropriate measurements taken (e.g. knee height) which can be input into a database. ... Computers today should be able to handle this easily. A new player comes into the league? Along with getting a new uniform they get correctly measured and that information is added to the database. ... Am I missing something?
The technology is not going away, so anything that needs to be fixed is going to have to come from within the games themselves. ... The pitcher's job is not primarily to throw a ball to the exact spot the catcher wants it. The pitcher's job is to throw a ball that overpowers or deceives the batter enough to either let a strike go by, swing and miss, or make poor-enough contact to make an out. If he misses the catcher's target, that's not great, but that doesn't mean that the pitch isn't still a strike. I mean, if the batter swings and misses, is anyone complaining about it being a strike?
Here are some tweets from Umpire Auditor during September and early in the postseason. When you scroll back through the regular season, you find tons of blown calls on pitches five or six inches out of (or in) the zone. That's a huge amount of distance. It's clear the outcome of numerous games are being affected, sometimes by only a couple of miscalled pitches.

September 3
Absolutely brutal call on the last pitch of the game. Bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, two outs, down one. Umpire Kerwin Danley called strike 3 to Nick Martini on a pitch off the plate to end the game. #Padres v #Diamondbacks
September 12
A NEW SEASON HIGH! Umpire Ted Barrett missed SEVEN calls in the bottom of the 9th. This is the most blown calls in the bottom of the 9th this season and only one short of the all time record! Watch four consecutive calls that Barrett missed in one at bat. #Phillies #[Atlanta]
September 28
"That's a pitch you can almost not reach" --Rays broadcast
Umpire Laz Diaz rung up @KKiermaier39 on a pitch that missed outside by 6.23 inches -- the largest horizontal miss since September 3rd! #Rays v #BlueJays
October 1
Get to know your NL wildcard ump! #Nationals v #Brewers
Name: Mike Everitt
2019 Ranking: 34th of 89
Percent correct: 91.2%
Largest miss: 6.11 inches
Here are a few of his worst calls...
October 2
The scouting report on your AL Wild Card ump is in!
Name: Chad Fairchild
Interests: Long walks on the beach and occasionally missing the outside corners
2019 Ranking: 16th of 89
Percent correct: 91.9%
Largest miss: 5.26 inches
#Athletics v #Rays

Umpire Chad Fairchild missed 14 calls on the night for a correct call rate of 91.1%.
His largest miss was in the final at bat of the game. He called a strike to Marcus Semien that missed by 2.51 inches. #Athletics v #Rays
October 3
Umpire Will Little off to a rough start. He ended the first inning with a full count called strike out to Anthony Rendon. The pitched missed by 2.15 inches. #Nationals v #Dodgers

Umpire Will Little is off his game. He [blew] a second full count strike out -- this one in the second inning to Howie Kendrick. #Nationals v #Dodgers
October 5
"Foul ball" --Umpire Manny Gonzalez #Yankees v #Twins

Umpire John Tumpane rang up Ji-Man Choi on a pitch that missed outside by 2.51 inches. #Astros v #Rays
October 6
"Donaldson takes a ball" Umpire Alan Porter was responsible for largest miss of Friday's games. He called a strike to @BringerOfRain20 that missed by 3.11 inches. #[Atlanta] v #Cardinals

#Rays v #Astros Umpire Recap:
Name: Bruce Dreckman
Correct Call Rate: 91.2%
Total misses: 11
Largest miss: 4.79 inches!
Summary: A slightly above average game for a human umpire ...

#Twins v #Yankees Umpire Recap:
Name: Todd Tichenor
Correct Call Rate: 93.7%
Total Misses 10
Largest miss: 1.52 inches
Summary: Decent game ... It was Tichenor's best game since August 29. ...
October 7
#Cardinals v #[Atlanta] NLDS Game 3 Umpire Recap:
Name: Sam Holbrook
Correct Call Rate: 90.8%
Total misses: 14
Largest miss: 3.59 inches
Summary: Below league average game for Holbrook. Responsible for day's largest miss to @ronaldacunajr24 and a bad strikeout call in the 9th.

#Nationals v #Dodgers NLDS Game 3 Umpire Report
Name: Ted Barrett
Correct Call Rate: 91.7%
Total misses: 14
Largest miss: 1.91 inches
Summary: Barrett ranked 84th of 89 during the regular season so it was nice to see him call a league average game.

Umpire Wegner just rang up Yordan Alvarez on a pitch that missed high. #Rays v #Astros #ALDSGame3
October 8
#Astros v #Rays ALDS Game 3 Umpire Report
Name: Mark Wegner
Correct Call Rate: 89.8%
Total misses: 15
Largest miss: 2.84 inches
Summary: This was a below league average game for Wegner in an elimination game. He was responsible for the largest miss of the day.
October 9
#Astros v #Rays ALDS Game 4 Umpire Report
Name: James Hoye
Correct Call Rate: 96.1%
Total misses: 5
Largest miss: 4.28 inches
Summary: The highest correct call rate of the postseason! ...

Umpire Alfonso Marquez just squeezed @stras37. He incorrectly called two pitches to Justin Turner balls leading to a four pitch walk. #Dodgers v #Nationals #NLDSGame5
October 11
#Astros v #Rays ALDS Game 5 Umpire Report
Name: Jerry Meals
Correct Call Rate: 89.1%
Total misses: 12
Largest miss: 5.02 inches
Summary: This was the lowest correct rate of the postseason and the largest single miss. Very disappointing in an elimination game.
October 12
NLCS Game 1 Umpire Report:
Name: Mike Muchlinski
Correct Call Rate: 92.0%
Total misses: 11
Largest miss: 3.59 inches
Summary: Slightly above the league average. ... #Cardinals v #Nationals
October 13
NLCS Game 2 Umpire Report:
Name: Chris Conroy
Correct Call Rate: 91.5%
Total misses: 11
Largest miss: 2.62 inches
A slightly above league average game for Conroy. This called strike out to @Anthonyrendon_6 was the largest miss of the day. #Nationals v #Cardinals
ALCS Game 1 Umpire Report:
Name: Bill Welke
Correct Call Rate: 90.8%
Total misses: 12
Largest miss: 2.50 inches
Average game for Bill Welke, but this missed strike to Jose Altuve was the worst called ball of the postseason! #Yankees v #Astros
October 14
Brutal sequence for umpire Cory Blaser.
Top 11, 2 outs, 2 runners on, 2 strikes, @ElGarySanchez at the plate. Blaser called a foul ball on pitch that Sanchez didn't even come close to hitting. Then, Blaser made the largest miss of the day -- 2.99 inches -- to ring him up.
October 15
This was umpire Bill Miller's worst call of the night -- a strike 3 to Howie Kendrick that missed the zone by 2.63 inches. #Nationals v #Cardinals
October 16
Umpire Jeff Nelson was forced to leave the game with a concussion, which meant Kerwin Danley (ranked 86th of 93) took over. Danley then called a strike to Brett Gardner on a pitch that missed high by 6.46 inches -- the largest miss of the playoffs. #Astros v #Yankees

Umpire Phil Cuzzi called his second worst game of the season last night with a correct call rate of only 88.4%. This miss to @AdamSpankyEaton was Cuzzi's largest of the night. #Nationals v #Cardinals #NLCS
October 17
Umpire Report #ALCS Game 4
Name: Dan Bellino
Correct Call Rate: 91.9%
Total misses: 15
Largest miss: 3.59 inches
Correct call rate was about league average, but that doesn't tell the whole story. Bellino had some awful calls last night. #Astros v #Yankees

We've got a new worst called ball of the playoffs!
Umpire Dan Bellino gifted Aaron Judge a ball. The umpire's eyes should be aligned with the top of the zone and you don't need to CSI enhance this video to tell Bellino squatted way too low. #Astros v #Yankees #alcsgame4
October 19

In the biggest game of the season, umpire Marvin Hudson called the worst game of the playoffs.
Correct call rate: 87.9%
Total misses: 20
Calls helping Yankees: 6
Calls helping Astros: 14
Watch a few bad ones from top of the second... #Astros v #Yankees #ALCS

Umpire Marvin Hudson blew a pair of strike calls to Brett Gardner, including one to ring him up. #Astros v #Yankees #ALCS
And finally ... we come to the World Series.

It's often said that a pitcher's most important pitch is "strike one", meaning getting the first one over gives the man on the mound a big advantage. That's certainly true. Here are the 2019 batting stats for all hitters after a 1-0 count and after an 0-1 count:
             AVG    OBP    SLG    OPS
After 1-0   .267   .384   .474   .858
After 0-1   .220   .266   .364   .631  (AVG -.047, OBP -.118, SLG -.110, OPS -.227)
But a pitch than is even more important is the 1-1 pitch. Especially in this era of increased strikeouts, there is a bigger divide between 2-1 and 1-2:
             AVG    OBP    SLG    OPS
After 2-1   .246   .393   .436   .828
After 1-2   .174   .228   .289   .518  (AVG -.072, OBP -.165, SLG -.147, OPS -.310)
A pitch does not have to be strike 3 or ball 4 to drastically affect a plate appearance.

Here are the number of missed calls by the plate umpires in each World Series game, according to Umpire Auditor. 60 of the 99 calls benefited the Astros; only 39 calls benefited the Nationals.
                         Benefiting WAS    Benefiting HOU    Correct Call % (Avg = 90.3%)
Game 1 - Alan Porter          6                  8                90.6
Game 2 - Doug Eddings         4                 13                90.1
Game 3 - Gary Cederstrom      3                 11                91.5
Game 4 - James Hoye           9                  6                91.2
Game 5 - Lance Barksdale      4                  5                93.5
Game 6 - Sam Holbrook         6                  5                92.4
Game 7 - Jim Wolf             7                 12                88.9
                             39                 60
The Astros received nearly as many "gifts" from the plate umps in the first four games (37) as the Nationals did in seven games.

Thanks to Brooks Baseball Pitchf/x Tool and Umpire Auditor for the following:

October 22
#WorldSeries2019 Game 1 Umpire Report
Name: Alan Porter

Correct Call Rate: 90.6%
Calls helping #Nationals: 6
Calls helping #Astros: 8
Largest miss: 1.4 inches
His most significant miss was a walk gifted to George Springer in the 1st. Springer would score.

Dan Phillips (Jocular/Bellicose Religious Scholar) @BibChr
Well, missing the catcher-interference was a pretty big miss too. Reddick would have walked.

Good point. This was a very tough break for @RealJoshReddick. Reddick clearly hit Suzuki's glove and Alan Porter even seemed to recognize it. Instead of reaching base on catcher's interference, Reddick would fly out.
Springer, Bottom of 1st (UA says Pitch #7 was a miss, but Brooks has it outside the zone)

Kendrick, Top of 2nd (Pitch #2)

Suzuki, Top of 2nd (Pitch #2)

Alvarez, Bottom of 2nd (Pitch #3)

Bregman, Bottom of 3rd (Pitch #2)

Cabrera, Top of 4th (Pitch #1)

Zimmerman, Top of 4th (Pitch #1)

Bregman, Bottom of 5th (Pitch #4)

Turner, Top of 7th (Pitch #1)

Brantley, Bottom of 7th (Pitch #1)

Gurriel, Bottom of 7th (Pitch #2)

Alvarez, Bottom of 7th (Pitch #1)

Rendon, Top of 8th (Pitch #2)

Kendrick, Top of 8th (Pitch #2)

Brantley, Bottom of 8th (Pitch #2)

Suzuki, Top of 9th (Pitch #1)

October 23

#WorldSeries2019 Game 2 Umpire Report
Name: Doug Eddings
Correct Call Rate: 90.1% (League avg 90.3%)
Calls helping #Nationals: 4
Calls helping #Astros: 13
Largest miss: 3.23 inches
Unfortunate to have a sub par game in the World Series. He squeezed pitchers 11 times last night
Turner, Top of 1st (Pitch #2)

Brantley, Bottom of 1st (Pitch #1)

Zimmerman, Top of 2nd (Pitches #3 and #4)

Alvarez, Bottom of 2nd (Pitch #2)

Correa, Bottom of 2nd (Pitches #2 and #4)

Eaton, Top of 3rd (Pitch #1)

Springer, Bottom of 3rd (Pitches #2 and #4)

Altuve, Bottom of 3rd (Pitches #2 and #3; with Springer, that's 4 missed calls in a span of 5 pitches taken)

Correa, Bottom of 4th (Pitch #2)

Rendon, Top of 5th (Pitch #6; instead of an inning-ending strikeout, Rendon walked)

Brantley, Bottom of 5th (Pitch #2)

Cabrera, Top of 6th (Pitches #1 and #5)

Bregman, Bottom of 6th (Pitch #2)

Correa, Bottom of 6th (Pitches #4 and #5; #4 is borderline, but it's also in the exact same spot as a ball called on Cabrera in the top of this inning)

Tucker, Bottom of 6th (Pitch #1)

Reddick, Bottom of 7th (Pitch #6; instead of a strikeout, Reddick walked)

Brantley, Bottom of 7th (Pitch #1)

Alvarez, Bottom of 8th (Pitch #1)

Maldonado, Top of 9th (Pitch #1)

October 25

#WorldSeries2019 Game 3 Umpire Report
Name: Gary Cederstrom
Correct Call Rate: 91.5%
Calls helping #Nationals: 3
Calls helping #Astros: 11
Largest miss: 1.67 inches
Sorry @Nationals, but a four game sweep isn't good for @MLB's bottom line.
Brantley, Top of 1st (Pitch #2)

Bregman, Top of 1st (Pitch #4)

Springer, Top of 2nd (Pitch #3)

Correa, Top of 3rd (Pitch #2)

Sanchez, Bottom of 3rd (Pitches #1 and #2)

Soto, Bottom of 3rd (Pitch #3)

Chirinos, Top of 4th (Pitch #1)

Zimmerman, Bottom of 4th (Pitch #3)

Brantley, Top of 5th (Pitches #3 and #4; instead of a strikeout for the second out, Brantley hit a single, scoring Altuve, giving the Astros a 3-1 lead)

Eaton, Bottom of 5th (Pitch #1)

Reddick, Top of 7th (Pitch #1)

Rendon, Bottom of 7th (Pitch #1)

Kendrick, Bottom of 8th (Pitch #1)

Gomes, Bottom of 8th (Pitch #1)

Gurriel, Top of 9th (Pitch #3; the strikeout ended the inning)

Turner, Bottom of 9th (Pitch #5; should have been a leadoff walk against Osuna, with the Nats down 1-4; instead, Turner flied out to deep right-center; Astros won 4-1)

Eaton, Bottom of 9th (Pitch #1)

All Pitches

October 26

#WorldSeries2019 Game 4 Umpire Report
Name: James Hoye
Correct Call Rate: 91.2%
Calls helping #Nationals: 9
Calls helping #Astros: 6
Largest miss: 2.75 inches
The rate was fine, but a bad call to Carlos Correa [Correction: Bad call to George Springer! There are too many to keep track of...] turned a strike 'em out/throw 'em out to a grand slam 3 ABs later
Springer, Top of 1st ((Pitch #8; instead of a walk to begin the game, Springer was called out on strikes; the next five Astros reached base and Houston scored 2 runs)

Correa, Top of 1st (Pitches #1 and #5; Correa ended up walking on Ball 6)

Rendon, Bottom of 1st (Pitch #1)

Marisnick, Top of 2nd (Pitch #2)

Turner, Bottom of 3rd (Pitch #5)

Rendon, Bottom of 4th (Pitch #1)

Kendrick, Bottom of 4th (Pitch #1)

Gurriel, Top of 5th (Pitch #4)

Zimmerman, Bottom of 5th (Pitch #5)

Robles, Bottom of 5th (Pitch #2)

Marisnick, Top of 6th (Pitch #1)

Parra, Bottom of 6th (Pitch #4)

Kendrick, Bottom of 6th (Pitch #3)

Tucker, Top of 7th (Pitch #4; Tucker walked on the next pitch (Ball 5))

Springer, Top of 7th (Pitch #6; what should been a strikeout was another walk, moving Tucker to second; both runners scored on Kendrick's grand slam)

Correa, Top of 7th (Pitch #3; count should have been 1-2 instead of 2-1; Correa walked)

Eaton, Bottom of 8th (Pitch #2)

Chirinos, Top of 9th (Pitch #1)

Dozier, Bottom of 9th (Pitch #1)

October 27

#WorldSeries Game 5 Umpire Report
Name: Lance Barksdale
Correct Call Rate: 93.5%
Calls helping #Nationals: 4
Calls helping #Astros: 5
Largest miss: 3.23 inches
The rate doesn't tell the whole story. Barksdale gifted Correa a ball on an 0-2 count. A K turned into a 2 run HR.

Umpire Lance Barksdale is keeping me busy...

Victor Robles was just the victim of another blown call by Lance Barksdale
Springer, Top of 1st (Pitch #8; Springer walked when he should have been called out to start the game; he was erased on a double play on the next pitch)

Rendon, Bottom of 1st (Pitch #1)

Robles, Bottom of 2nd (Pitch #1)

Turner, Bottom of 3rd (Pitch #3; Turner should have struck out for the third out; he lined out to left on the next pitch)

Bregman, Top of 4th (Pitch #4; count should have been 3-1 instead of 2-2; would #5 still have been ball 4?; Bregman grounded out to shortstop; Correa homered later in the inning)

Correa, Top of 4th (Pitch #3; called strike three should have ended the inning for Ross and the Nats; instead, Correa homered on #7, increasing the Astros' lead from 2-0 to 4-0)

Rendon, Bottom of 4th (Pitch #2)

Soto, Bottom of 4th (Pitch #3)

Brantley, Top of 6th (Pitch #5; should have been strike three for the first out; Brantley flied out to left on the next pitch)

Alvarez, Top of 7th (Pitch #2)

Zimmerman, Bottom of 7th (Pitch #6; strike three should have ended the inning; Zimmerman walked)

Robles, Bottom of 7th (Pitch #6; should have been ball 4, putting two on (Zimmerman on second) with two outs and bringing the potential tying run (Gomes) to the plate against Cole; instead, Robles ended up being Cole's last batter of the night)

Springer, Top of 8th (Pitch #1)

Soto, Bottom of 9th (Pitch #1)

All Pitches

October 29

#WorldSeries Game 6 Umpire Report
Name: Sam Holbrook
Correct Call Rate: 92.4%
Calls helping #Nationals: 6
Calls helping #Astros: 5
Largest miss: 3.47 inches
Ump Gary Cederstrom stole the spotlight in this one, escalating an argument with Dave Martinez until Holbrook ejected him

Another 3+ inch miss and strikeout. This can't happen in the #WorldSeries. @Victor__Robles was the victim of this blown call.

We have a new worst call of the #WorldSeries! Umpire Sam Holbrook rang up Michael Brantley on a pitch that missed outside by 3.47 inches!
Eaton, Top of 1st (Pitch #1)

Brantley, Bottom of 1st (Pitch #5; called strike three for the second out instead of a 3-2 count; the next batter (Bregman) would homer)

Chirinos, Bottom of 2nd (Pitch #1)

Reddick, Bottom of 3rd (Pitch #2)

Alvarez, Bottom of 4th (Pitch #1)

Soto, Top of 5th (Pitch #4; count should have been 2-2 instead of 3-1; different count could have affected what Verlander threw next; Soto hit #5 for a home run, snapping a 2-2 tie; Nats went on to win 7-2, setting up Game 7)

Springer, Bottom of 5th (Pitch #1 and #3)

Cabrera, Top of 6th (Pitches #2 and #3)

Robles, Top of 6th (Pitch #6; blown call ends inning)

Reddick, Bottom of 7th (Pitch #1)

Cabrera, Top of 8th (Pitch #1)

Chirinos, Bottom of 9th (Pitch #3)

All Pitches

October 30

#WorldSeries Game 7 Umpire Report
Name: Jim Wolf
Correct Call Rate: 88.9%
Calls helping #Nationals: 7
Calls helping #Astros: 12
Largest miss: 4.43 inches
Worst rate and the largest miss.
Springer, Bottom of 1st (Pitch #4; produced a 2-2 count instead of 3-1)

Cabrera, Top of 2nd (Pitch #4)

Zimmerman, Top of 3rd (Pitch #3)

Altuve, Bottom of 3rd (Pitches #1 and #3; count should have been 3-0 and not 1-2; Altuve hit a leadoff single anyway)

Bregman, Bottom of 3rd (Pitch #2)

Gurriel, Bottom of 3rd (Pitch #1; third Astros batter (out of first four) with a blown call this inning)

Turner, Top of 4th (Pitch #1)

Reddick, Bottom of 4th (Pitch #3)

Altuve, Bottom of 4th (Pitch #2)

Soto, Top of 5th (Pitch #1)

Kendrick, Top of 5th (Pitch #3)

Zimmerman, Top of 5th (Pitch #1)

Correa, Bottom of 5th (Pitch #1)

Chirinos, Bottom of 5th (Pitches #1 and #4)

Robles, Top of 6th (Pitch #1)

Turner, Top of 6th (Pitch #3; ended inning, with Nats trailing 0-2)

Springer, Bottom of 6th (Pitch #3)

Eaton, Top of 7th (Pitch #1 and #2; count was 0-2 instead of 2-0; Eaton grounded out to shortstop to lead off inning)

Soto, Top of 7th (Pitch #4; count should have been 2-2 instead of 3-1; Nats trailing 1-2; Soto walked and scored on Kendrick's go-ahead home run))

Eaton, Top of 8th (Pitch #1)

Rendon, Top of 8th (Pitch #4; count should have been 3-1 and not 2-2; Rendon flied out to center; next batter (Soto) singled)

Correa, Bottom of 8th (Pitch #1)

Zimmerman, Top of 9th (Pitch #1)

Right-Handed Hitters

In five of the seven World Series games, the most common pitch to be miscalled was #1. Since most plate appearance have at least two pitches, it stands to reason that #1 would be the most called. There were only six wrong calls on the #6 pitch of a plate appearance during the World Series because a much smaller percentage of plate appearances include six pitches.

For the sake of argument, say an umpire wanted to influence the game one way or the other. Making an incorrect call on the first or second pitch to a batter would be the way to hide the influence, since a batter does not strike out or walk on the first or second pitch of a plate appearance, so an incorrect call would not draw as much attention. And as noted, far above, a batter is at a distinct disadvantage on 0-1.

From my examination of the plotting of pitches at BrooksBaseball, this is the number of wrong calls in each World Series game, according to pitch # in the plate appearance (I note that I have 134 incorrect calls here and Umpire Auditor noted 99; some of the pitches I pointed out are on the line and could be construed as correct; I included them to show an umpire's inconsistency):
Pitch#   WS1   WS2   WS3   WS4   WS5   WS6   WS7   TOTAL 
  1        6     7     8     7     4     6    12     50
  2        7     8     3     3     2     2     3     28
  3        1     2     5     2     3     3     6     22
  4        1     4     2     3     1     1     5     17
  5        0     2     1     3     1     1     0      8
  6        0     2     0     1     2     1     0      6
  7        1     0     0     0     0     0     0      1
  8        0     0     0     1     1     0     0      2
          16    25    19    20    14    14    26    134
Note: Of course, I have no evidence of any umpire deliberately trying to aid one team over another (though you really have to wonder what was going on with Eric Gregg in 1997 NLCS Game 5). Through the years, I have definitely wondered if some over-the-top incorrect calls can be completely chalked up to incompetence or guesswork (setting aside incorrect calls that seem motivated by anger, spite, etc.). One thing we can know for sure: robot umps can't be bribed, they have no biases (subconscious or otherwise), and their egos are never bruised by being (allegedly) shown up.


johngoldfine said...

I used to be old-school, and I think I once argued here in favor of umpires calling balls and strikes, though in retrospect my arguments must have been specious. I appreciate this post, but I didn't need it to be convinced because I've been convinced for a long time. Why does MLB continue to do stupid shit so assiduously and neglect to do the obvious good shit?

the bus driver said...

Thanks for your crusade, Allan, I think that it's a very important issue. Hopefully, some people at MLB will come across this post and see the light (we can always dream).

Jim said...

A cup of tea? I went through a whole pot. Damning stuff when it's all presented like this, especially considering the stakes. Yet it goes on daily for 6 months during the regular season. I wonder who or what you could send this to where it might have an actual impact? Thanks for doing what many couldn't be bothered with.

wallythe24 said...

Superbly written piece Allan. In years passed I must admit to being a touch ambivalent on this subject but as time goes on I find myself fervently in it's favour. How anyone isn't swayed by articles such as this really needs to stand in a corner and think about what they're doing.

Many Thanks


FWIW I had some cake with my tea

allan said...

I wonder who or what you could send this to where it might have an actual impact?

An actual impact? ... Probably nowhere. Who knows? Presumably, anyone interested already knows where to find the info.

Someone likely monitors: @RobManfred

The Office of the Commissioner of Baseball
245 Park Avenue, 31st Floor
New York, NY 10167