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Umpires against the Pirates: Who ya got?

A cool Twitter feed pumps the data

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh Pirates
“I do NOT have a wavering strike zone! Well, maybe not today.”
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

As long as baseball has existed, complaints about umpire calls have existed. One of my strongest memories about my father is him moaning about missed calls during seemingly every single game I watched with him. It didn’t matter who was playing, the umpire was inevitably a bum who should have been run out of the game.

During Sunday’s game thread, there was a discussion about the, um, fluidity of the strike zone against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Bucs Dugout Commentariat member Bishop1973 mentioned that he did a Statcast search for the first half of the 2019 season. I’ll let him share his findings:

I reviewed the Statcast data for almost every game from April through the end of July to see how often the Pirates’ batter and hitters got “screwed” by the umps on calls (balls called strikes for the batters, strikes called balls for the pitchers). The sheer number of calls that went against the Pirates was staggering, to the tune of 202 calls to the negative in the first 100 or so games.

I calculated that the umpires blew somewhere around 9.5% of the total calls they made every game.

Fellow BDC member ElRocco337 brought up a really fascinating Twitter feed called Umpire Scorecards. If this had been around while my dad was alive, he would have gone insane for it (and the arguments would have never ended, but I digress). The guy who created the feed, Ethan Singer, set up a program that runs the pitch data released by MLB and uses five values to determine how accurate the home plate umpire was in calling balls and strikes in every game played that day.

I compared the accuracy in this past weekend’s series against the Cubs against last weekend’s sweep by the Reds. It’s important to note that the same umpiring crew called both series, which gives us a control group of sorts. Because I don’t want to clog things up, I’ll show the US post for April 5th’s Bucs/Reds game, which the Reds won 5-3, and the post from Saturday’s game, which the Bucs won 8-2. The home plate umpire in both games was Will Little.

As you can see, Little’s accuracy leaves something to be desired. In the Reds game, all three of what US deemed his worst calls went against the Pirates. In the Cubs game, two went against the Pirates, one against the Cubs. In the Reds game, Cincinnati pitcher Cionel Perez threw a ball that was called a strike against Erik Gonzalez, who ended up striking out with a runner on first. On Sunday, the Cubs’ Brandon Workman did the same thing with Colin Moran, except there were two Bucs runners on base. It should be noted that both Gonzalez and Moran struck out swinging, so that opens the door for argument whether the missed calls changed the game course a bit. However, the US data and Bishop1973’s observations tend to fall in line with each other.

Humans are fallible, no two ways about it. Video replays and other tracking forms have exposed umpires’ weaknesses, and Robo Umps are coming sooner rather than later. It should be noted though, that a truth in every sport is that good teams get the calls while the bad teams don’t. Derek Shelton challenged two calls on Sunday and won both challenges.

Boding well for the future? I like to think so.