By Brandon Cohen, Senior Analyst and the UmpScores Staff
Welcome to the first edition of The Monthly Call, where we provide a rundown of umpire performances and trends over the past month. Now that umpires have called several hundred games on average this year, we know more about their overall performance and their tendencies. Let’s dive into those numbers from opening day through May 6.
Overall Umpire Performance
So far this year, umpires have a leaguewide BCR of 8.03% and, inversely, an accuracy rate of 91.97%. Their performance is a drop from last year when those figures were 7.46% and 92.54% respectively. Overall umpires missed 4521 calls all month.
Top Performing Umpires
Congratulations are in order for Pat Hoberg, Shane Livensparger, and Chris Segal, our top three umpires who called at least 3 games in the first month of the year. Hoberg, our top ump so far, registered a league leading BCR of 4.46%. Livensparger was second with a BCR of 5.52% while Segal rounded out the top three with a BCR of 5.59%. These umpires were the gold standard this month and serve as examples for the rest of the league moving forward.
Worst Performing Umpires
Unfortunately, not every umpire performs at the same level. At the bottom of the pack was Andy Fletcher with a BCR of 12.7% in 3 games. Jeff Nelson was next with a 10.81% BCR in 6 games and Tom Hallion followed him with a BCR of 10.56%. Hopefully these umps can improve their performance in the coming months.
Best Game Performances
This month we had two members of the Single Error club: Hoberg and Segal, who are also members of the top three overall BCR for the year. Hoberg called a magnificent game on April 18 between the Rockies and Phillies, missing his only pitch on a ball call that just barely clipped the edge of the plate. Segal’s near perfect game came on April 28 in a game between the Nationals and Marlins. Segal’s lone miss was a strike only 0.47 inches off the plate to Washington’s Juan Soto, one of the batters with the best plate discipline in the game. Both umpires’ misses were razor thin and neither missed call affected the game’s outcome in any way.
Worst Game Performances
Our two worst performances of the month belonged to Fletcher and Nelson.
Nelson’s performance on April 16th in a matchup between the Blue Jays and Athletics was the worst of the season so far. Fletcher missed 15.29% of his calls for a total of 24 misses. One of those misses was a called strike on a pitch far off the plate with a full count in the 8th inning, ending Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s at bat instead of handing him a crucial walk Toronto could have used in a game they ultimately lost by just two runs.
Fletcher’s BCR of 15.09% on the April 9th game between the Blue Jays and Rangers was not much better. Overall, he missed 17 of 106 calls that day. Some of his errors were crucial too, with one brutal ball call on a pitch in the middle of the plate in the 8th inning. The count was empty at the time, but a runner was in scoring position and the game was close. That performance is a big part of why his season long BCR is the worst this year.
Umpires have been in the news lately for a variety of reasons so far this year. On a more positive note, umpires have been given mics so that they can announce replay decisions to the crowd. This practice has been in place in many other sports, most notably in football, and helps provide better transparency to the fans about what is happening in the game. It’s a smart move by the league after years of fans asking for its implementation.
After media attention (and humorous memes), Bellino apologized for his behavior. It was a breath of fresh air to see an umpire take accountability for their errors. Bellino, “When I began my MLB career almost 15 years ago, I received some good advice. I was told to umpire every game as if my children were sitting in the front row. I fell short of those expectations this week. While I can't go back and change what happened, I take full accountability.
I will learn from this incident, and I sincerely apologize.”
It is a breath of fresh air to see an umpire take responsibility for their actions. It has been a common reoccurrence for many umpires to become defensive and deflect criticism directed at them after poor performances, but Bellino owned up to his mistakes. It is a lesson that all umpires should learn.
Unfortunately, not all umpires have been as self-aware as Bellino was after his mistake. Although Fletcher and Nelson may have had the worst game performances by measure of BCR, the poor performance that caught everyone’s attention was Angel Hernandez’ on April 24 in a game between the Phillies and the Brewers. Hernandez’ performance became more infamous not because of the volume of calls but because the poor calls were at crucial times. 6 of his errors were strike calls that ended the at bat in a strikeout, including one to Kyle Schwarber late in the game causing the batter to toss his bat and helmet and get ejected from the game.
Following that game, UmpScores and many other outlets criticized Hernandez’ performance, but naturally many came to his defense. The most notable defender was Joe West, Hernandez’ former colleague, who provided additional context about the way that MLB grades umpires, including how umpires are given a buffer of the length of a baseball. According to West, no umpire ever scores below a 95 in their metric, and Hernandez’ game performance that night was a 96.
At first glance, MLB’s reasoning for using a large buffer makes sense. Umpires have tough jobs, and it is exceedingly hard to determine if a 100 mph fastball at the edge of the plate clips the zone or misses it. But MLB’s buffer zone of a ball length is far too generous. In calculating BCR and accuracy, UmpScores does not provide the same buffer that MLB does to umpires. We use machine learning techniques and simulations to exclude extremely close pitches, mainly to limit any potential error from the Hawkeye measuring system, but we do not provide a buffer of nearly 1.5 inches. To us, the calls in that range are the calls we should be focusing on, not the ones we should be throwing out.
Not anyone gets to be an umpire. It takes a lot of skill and training to perform their job, and nothing is harder than calling close pitches. We should be measuring their performance based on these situations precisely because they have been trained to make those calls. Removing them leads to grade inflation and renders any analysis of their performance meaningless.
Every college now touts that their incoming freshman class has a GPA above 3.7 with many going as high as the 3.9s. If everyone is getting an A or an A- in every class, how can we distinguish who is really the best? Does an A even mean anything at that point? The same applies to MLB’s grading system. If everyone scores a 95 and we still get games like Hernandez’ where so many close calls were blown, then the evaluation metrics they are using should be reconsidered. We should be putting our best personnel out on the field, and using a metric in which everyone excels doesn’t help MLB determine who its best umpires are.
West also used his time to express skepticism toward the automated balls and strike system currently tested in the minor leagues, claiming that it scores a 93 on average according to their metrics. He also said that if it was as accurate as people claim it is, it would be in the majors already. Perhaps that might be true, but it misses the point.
MLB’s standard should not be an accuracy rating of 95%. Their goal should be to raise that as high as possible. And while the ABS system might not be at the same level as current umps, they are tweaking it to make it better. The reason it is in the minors is specifically to test and improve its performance. When it does start to eclipse human performance, we should be putting it in MLB games. Casting doubt on it because the current iteration isn’t up to standard isn’t constructive. Let’s give the technology its fair chance at helping us make balls and strikes more accurate. It’s what players, coaches, and fans all want.
Thanks for reading The Monthly Call. We’ll see you all again in a month with more updates on umpire performance in the 2022 season. In the meantime, follow us on social media to get The Daily Scorecard for every umpire performance the morning after each game is played.