By Brandon Cohen, Senior Analyst, and the UmpScores Staff
Welcome back to The Monthly Call, where we provide a rundown of umpire performances and trends over the past month. This is a double edition of the Call, covering games played from July 7 to August 6 as well as from August 7 to September 6.
Overall Umpire Performance
Over the month of July, umpire BCR was 7.16% and accuracy was 92.84%, which were the best marks so far this season over the course of a month. That is, until the next month, when the BCR dropped to 7.13%. Though a small improvement, there has been a trend of umpire improvement over the course of the season. The overall BCR for the season sits at 7.25%.
Top Performing Umpires
The top umpire for the month of July was Adam Beck, whose BCR of 4.96% in 7 games was the strongest stretch he has had all year. Beck is one of the youngest umpires in the league, starting his career in 2013 at the age of 24 and making his MLB debut at age 31 in 2020. This is the sort of performance we have come to expect from younger umps, who typically dominate this section of the Call.
One of two umpires right behind Beck is no stranger to this section: Will Little. Little’s 5.08% BCR was an improvement over last month’s stellar performance that placed him third and has cemented him as one of the best umpires behind home plate. Tying him was newcomer Alan Porter, a veteran of 12 years, has umpired in the World Series and has been a reliable umpire this year.
Finally, we would like to highlight Doug Eddings, who had been one of the worst performing umpires in June but improved his performance greatly in July. His 3.5% improvement in BCR to 5.97% was the highest in the majors that month.
But as good as Adam Beck was in July, he could not match the excellence of Adam Hamari in August, whose BCR of 4.54% topped the league over that period. Hamari started umpiring in the majors in 2013 at the age of 30 and was behind the plate for Derek Jeter’s final game, when he hit a game winning walk-off single.
Mark Wegner and Chad Fairchild round out the top performers in the month of August. Wegner’s 4.87% BCR and Fairchilds’ 4.95% would have both topped the leaderboard in the month of July, but they will instead have to settle for places in the top 3.
Worst Performing Umpires
Once again, the Monthly Call turns its attention to CB Bucknor, the second worst performing umpire behind the plate in July and a mainstay of this segment. This past month, Bucknor put up an 11.13% BCR, an even worse mark than his already dismal season average of 9.64% coming into the month. Fans have complained about Bucknor for years, and seeing him continue to miss calls behind the plate is not helping the game.
Bucknor was not the only poor performing umpire the month. Ed Hickox took the crown of infamy for July, posting an 11.26% BCR. Hickox is a veteran of 32 years and has a distinguished career, having worked the All-Star Game, several playoff games, and the World Baseball Classic. He also has been on the field for five different no-hitters over his career. However, he has notably never been behind the plate for a playoff game.
Rounding out the bottom three of July is Marty Foster, who put up a 10.12% BCR. Hickox, Bucknor, and Foster were the only umpires with a BCR over 10% that month. Joining them in the month of August was Laz Diaz with BCR or 10.02%. Diaz was the only umpire in August to crest that disappointing mark.
On the positive side, Andy Fletcher, who had been the worst umpire for the first two months of the season, has not appeared in the bottom three since then. It is always encouraging to see umpires improve their performance over the course of a season.
Best Game Performances
No umpires in the months of July and August joined the single error club. However, we would still like to highlight the best performance in each month, including a fantastic game called by Mark Ripperger on July 12 and a great game by Will Little on August 17. Ripperger only missed two calls in a tilt between the Royals and Tigers, with the farthest call off the plate only 0.62 inches below the strike zone. Overall, he had a 1.52% BCR for the game, which ended in a 7-5 Tigers win in Detroit. Little’s performance in a matchup between the Braves and Mets yielded a 1.91% BCR. He missed only 3 calls, none of which were in critical situations, in the Braves’ win that day.
Worst Game Performances
The worst umpire performance in July belongs to Marvin Hudson, whose 23 missed calls and 15.03% BCR in a game between the Astros and Royals marked one of the worst performances of the season. Worse, Hudson was extremely inconsistent in calling balls and strikes, missing 10 calls inside the zone and 13 calls outside the zone. The calls were all missed in varying parts of the plate too, providing no insight as to whether Hudson was calling a tight plate in favor of hitters or a wide plate in favor of pitchers. In many games, umpires appear to have bad zones but are at least consistent in calling certain similar pitches outside the zone strikes. But on this day, Hudson did nothing but confuse both the pitcher and the hitters.
But as bad as Hudson was, he was not nearly as bad as Malachi Moore in his game on August 22 between the Twins and Rangers. Moore missed 20 calls in route to a dismal 16.00% BCR in a very closely contested game won by the Rangers. Most of Moore’s bad calls were on pitches outside the plate, though he did miss some calls inside the zone that he should have called strikes
The saying has always been “3 strikes and you’re out!” but umpire Jim Wolf might not agree with that golden rule in baseball. In a game between the Astros and Red Sox on August 3, Wolf violated one of the sacred tenets of baseball and gave Yordan Alvarez a fourth strike against Red Sox pitcher Rich Hill. Hill pitched a ball, a called strike, and a foul ball to Alvarez in his first three pitches. His fourth pitch was a called strike and should have ended the at bat, but Wolf never called Alvarez out despite calling a strike on the pitch. Instead, Alvarez was given an extra pitch, which he fortunately grounded out on to avoid any controversy.
Although most people now laugh about it now because it was inconsequential, it is a mistake that should never have been made. How does everyone on the field lose track of the count? For Hill, it is at least a little understandable. Players lose track of vital things all the time- countless players have thrown balls into the stands after the second out, allowing baserunners to advance. Players also forget the score all the time- just ask J.R. Smith, who famously dribbled out the clock in a tie game instead of trying to score in an NBA Finals game. But how does an umpire lose track of the count? It is unacceptable for an official to make this mistake. We expect better from Wolf. The next time this mistake happens, we may not be lucky enough to have the next pitch result in an out.
The most interesting news item of the past month, however, is the announcement of new rule changes by MLB which will take effect next year. The two major changes include restrictions on the use of shifts by defensive players, and the enforcement of a pitch clock. The Ahtletic provided a nice writeup of the full rules which will go into effect. The rules regarding shifts only have 5 bullet points and are easy to understand. Umpires should be able to easily see where the defenders position themselves and can call an infraction if necessary. However, UmpScores has several concerns with the rules regarding pitch clocks mainly because of how much there is to enforce- there are a whopping 16 different bullet points related to those rules in The Athletic’s writeup.
The pitch clock rules stipulate that umpires must be set behind the plate within 9 seconds of the end of the pitch clock and that batters must be in the batter’s box within 8 seconds. Pitchers can also request new balls before 9 seconds, but afterwards are considered “disengaged” and potentially at risk of committing an infraction resulting in an automatic ball if they do it too many times during an at bat. With so many things happening in a short period of time, umpires may have trouble accurately enforcing them.
That is it for The Monthly Call. We’ll see you all next month!