Younger MLB umpires missed fewer ball-strike calls, but umpires on the whole got an average of 14 per game, or 1.6 per inning, wrong in 2018, according to a new study from Boston University.
The study — led by professor Mark T. Williams — looked at nearly 4 million pitches from the past 11 MLB seasons, and early in the study’s report, its authors make clear the basis for the study:
“(T)hroughout its history, MLB has protected its error-prone umpires, resisted adopting strong performance measurements, and not taken advantage of available technology that could better the game. At a time of autonomous cars and machine learning, MLB needs to embrace useful change. … Given how MLB is heavily dependent on performance statistics when evaluating players, it is surprising the league has been sluggish to apply similar rigor to umpire hiring, promotion, and retention.“
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In addition to the more the 34,294 missed calls in 2018 (based on data available at MLB.com, Baseball Savant and Retrosheet), there were other intriguing findings about the so-called Bad Call Ratio (BCR) across the 11-season study:
— Umpires have a persistent “two-strike bias.” With two strikes on a batter, umpires were twice as likely to call a true ball a strike (29 percent of the time) than with a lower count (15 percent).
— There is a strike-zone blind spot in the top right and top left of the zone, where pitches were miscalled 27 percent and 26.8 percent of the time, respectively. By comparison, calls in the bottom right and bottom left were missed 18.3 and 14.3 percent of the time, respectively.
— Fifty-five games in 2018 ended with incorrect ball-strike calls.
— The top 10 performing umpires averaged 2.7 years of experience. The bottom 10 averaged 20.6 years of experience. (John Libka is 32, and with only 1.5 years of experience, has generated a BCR of 7.59 percent.)
— Umpires’ Bad Call Ratio appeared to have little effect on postseason assignments in 2018. None of the 10 best umpires worked the World Series, and 20-year veteran Ted Barrett, a bottom 10 performer in 2018, was chosen for the Red Sox-Dodgers series. Joe West, who had the second-worst Bad Call Ratio, also was selected for the World Series.
The Top 5 Umpires
The Bottom 5 Umpires
The study’s conclusion, based on its findings, pushes MLB to embrace change: “High-tech aids and greater recruitment of competent younger umpires is another important step. … It is unrealistic to assume that home-plate umpires, unassisted, can collectively achieve the accuracy rates increasingly demanded by the sports industry and deserving fans.”
To read the entire report, see the breakdown of numbers and other highlights from the 11-season study, click here.
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