Back in April, we’ve talked about how faulty umpiring is significantly affecting the outcome of games. It’s crazy that Major League Baseball allows umpires to be dramatically incorrect in calling pitches inside and outside the strike zone. In that first article, we highlighted Joe West and his calls on an April 6th game between NYY & TAM:

So that’s 27 pitches that West clearly got wrong out of the 182 points we counted on the chart. That’s 15% of total called pitches in the game. Fifteen percent of West’s calls were incorrect! That right there is enough to change the course of a game. It screws up the count, it causes hitters and pitchers to change their approach in response, and it alters the outcome of the plate appearance. How is this acceptable for a professional sports league?

The ’1986 Topps Baseball Card Crowd’ will just dismiss this as “It’s part of da game!!”, but for those who possess a sliver of independent thought, here is more proof how umpires are unfortunately influencing the standings.

Did you know that sportsbooks actually track umpires and the amount of runs scored when they are behind the plate? It’s true. You can find all types of data. It’s very eye-opening if you think about it. If umpires actually enforced the rules, would sportsbooks be keeping all this information?

Let’s take a look at 2011. Games called by Phil Cuzzi and Lance Barksdale had a total of 7.15 and 7.36 runs scored respectively last year. The great Jim Joyce oversaw contests where the run environment was a full run higher at 8.21. The aforementioned Joe West, the umpiring giant who thinks games are too long, supervised an average of 8.92 runs scored. It gets even loopier. Tim Welke’s strike zone allowed for 9.56 runs per game. Tim Tschida was at 10.19, and Dana Demuth was at a whopping 10.38.

Now, you might be asking — maybe some umps just happened to call more games with two low scoring teams, while other umps drew more potent offenses? Well, this data isn’t just an artifact of Phil Cuzzi umping a bunch of Padres-Pirates games and Tim Tschida drawing the Yankees vs Red Sox all the time. You can see their records against the over/under line varies in accordance with their tendencies. This shows that the umpires likely had a significant effect on the runs actually scored versus what the market expected. In other words, if umpire A got a bunch of high scoring teams and umpire B got a bunch of low scoring teams, the umpire A’s games would have a higher over/under line and umpire B’s games would have lower over/unders.

For example, Dana Demuth’s games only underperformed the market’s run expectation 8 times, and overperformed the line 26 times. Joe West hit the over 22 times in 2011, while hitting the under only 11 times (so much for keeping games short in time, Joe).

From these numbers alone, it’s obvious to see that an umpire’s tendencies have a significant influence on total runs scored in a game. It shouldn’t be this way, but umpires are not held accountable and create their own imaginary strike zones.

Let’s anticipate another likely counter-argument. Some people will say: “Well it’s the same for both teams in the game, so it’s fair.” Even conceding that umpires call games evenly between two teams (which they don’t), there are two problems with that argument.

1) Each year, a few teams will randomly draw a bunch of tight strike-zone umps and a few on the other end will draw a bunch of umps who are pro-pitcher. Depending on the construction of the team (wild pitchers, patient hitters, etc) it’s possible that some teams will benefit or lose out based on the umpires’ bias. It’s also likely that teams who draw a more consistent rotation of umps will benefit relative to those who are figuring out a different strike zone every day.

2) Moreover, it is decidedly not fair to change the parameters of the game from day to day just because both teams have to deal with it. Was it fair when a swarm of midges changed the course of the Yankees playoffs fate in 2007, just because relievers on both sides had to deal with them? Would it be fair if Bud Selig decided that both teams should play on a sheet of ice for one game? These are extreme examples, and we can accept marginal changes in game environments. But, the varying strike zones and incorrect calls by umpires are the equivalents of playing in the dead ball era one game and the steroid era the very next day.

What We Would Like to See

At the least, players ought to be able to challenge a certain number of ball and strike calls, like in tennis. The PitchFX system could give an immediate response, either holding up the call or overturning it. It’s ridiculous that everyone watching the game can see from FoxTrax that there was a missed call, but that the people playing the game get tossed for mentioning it.

It’s time to improve the game by phasing out this obese lot of cataract patients and replacing them with a more reliable technology.