By Brandon Cohen, Senior Analyst and the UmpScores Staff
Welcome to the latest edition of The Monthly Call, where we provide a rundown of umpire performances and trends over the past month. This month’s report will cover all games played from May 7 to June 6.
Overall Umpire Performance
This past month, umpire BCR was 7.27% and accuracy was 92.73%, a big improvement in performance compared to last month’s 8.03% BCR and 91.97% accuracy rating respectively. Those figures are also better than performance throughout all of 2021. Umpires had a much worse inside zone BCR at 10.25% this month compared to an outside zone BCR of 5.80%, suggesting that umpires continue to be much more pitcher friendly and generous with the size of their strike zones.
Top Performing Umpires
This month we would like to highlight the strong performances of Pat Hoberg, Sean Barber, and Jeff Nelson, our top three umpires who called at least 3 games in May. Hoberg was the top ump last year and produced another stellar BCR of 4.49% over 7 games. Barber had the second best BCR at 5.33% while Nelson was just behind at 5.34%.
Nelson’s performance over his 3 games marked one of the biggest turnarounds in the season, as he had been one of the three worst umpires in our May edition. It’s always good to see massive improvement and hopefully Nelson can continue to deliver.
Overall on the season, Hoberg has been the best at calling balls and strikes with a BCR of 4.45% in 11 games. Hoberg has been setting himself apart from the rest of his colleagues as his BCR is the only one below 5%. The next best umpires all year have been Jeremie Rehak and John Libka with BCRs of 5.00% and 5.54% respectively.
Worst Performing Umpires
Although Nelson made massive strides this month, not every umpire showed major improvement. The worst performing umpire in May was Bruce Dreckman with a BCR of 10.09% in 6 games. Second on the list was Andy Fletcher, our worst performing umpire of the previous month, whose BCR of 10.00% may have been better than the previous month, but not enough to pull him out of the bottom of the pack. The third worst umpire during the stretch was Ramon De Jesus with a BCR of 9.50%.
Fletcher’s two appearances on the list are a big reason why he remains the worst performing umpire this year in calling balls and strikes. His 10.55% BCR is the only one above 10%, and is over a full percentage point above CB Bucknor and Rob Drake, whose BCR of 9.17% ties them for second worst in the league.
Best Game Performance
This month The Monthly Call would like to welcome Doug Eddings to the Single Error club. Last month, only two umps managed this feat, and Eddings joined them with a gem of a game called on May 26 in a game between Cleveland and Detroit. The veteran of 22 years’ lone missed call came in the first inning on a pitch outside the zone that he called a strike. The error had no effect, as Spencer Torkelson earned a walk on the next pitch anyway. Eddings then became locked in, missing no more calls the rest of the night in what would turn out to be a close game ending with a 4-3 victory for the Tigers.
Worst Game Performances
The worst performance of this month belonged to Bruce Dreckman on May 7. Dreckman missed a total of 20 calls that day, and overall the performance was very inconsistent. Several pitches outside the zone on the right side were called strikes, yet a couple of pitches on the same side of the plate that nipped the zone were called balls. Dreckman would also call a James Kaprielian pitch in the 5th inning that was 4.7 inches above the strike zone a strike. Overall, it was a pretty ugly performance amid a series of poor games over the past month. Although Dreckman might not have the worst BCR of the year, he needs to avoid outings like this if he wants to continue to stay outside the Bottom 3.
Angel Hernandez continues to make headlines, though this month the news articles dominating the headlines are focused on legal proceedings. Hernandez has long been in litigation with MLB regarding the way that the league treats minority umpires, and for all the criticism we here at UmpScores have given him over the years over his performance, he’s fighting the good fight right now. Hernandez previously sued MLB for racial discrimination for being passed over for a World Series assignment and for being promoted to Crew Chief. The lawsuit was tossed out last year, but MLB was forced to admit that it did have a racial diversity issue.
Now, Hernandez is alleging that MLB is manipulating year-end evaluations in order to deny minorities promotions. According to Hernandez’ lawsuit, MLB’s evaluations target minorities to make their performances look worse relative to their peers. The result was through 2017, when Hernandez had first filed his discrimination lawsuit against MLB, only one minority had become crew chief. MLB has denied any wrongdoing and notes that since then, the league promoted several new minority crew chiefs, including Laz Diaz, the first African American crew chief.
UmpScores has not considered Hernandez to be a high performing umpire for quite some time. His BCR of 9.53% in 2021 was well worse than league average, so if it were up to us, Hernandez would need to improve his home plate performance before we would consider him qualified, regardless of any evaluation of the other skills that are needed by umpires (diffusing tensions, calling plays at the bases, etc.). But no matter how we feel about his performance individually, the low number of minority crew chiefs throughout the history of the sport remains a startling and troubling figure and one we cannot ignore.
Regardless of the outcome of the case, it is important to highlight the racial gap that continues to exist in the sport. Newsweek recently reported that the percentage of Black players in MLB has dropped to its lowest point in over three decades (7.2% in 2022). In 2015, only two managers in MLB were minorities (one African American, one Latin American). While those numbers have improved since then, it has been a major uphill battle for highly qualified minorities to be promoted to positions of power. No matter how you feel about Hernandez, his lawsuit highlights the struggles minorities continue to face in all areas of the sport.
In other news, RoboUmps made their debut in AAA in May. There continue to be skeptics within baseball who have concerns about their accuracy, but that’s OK! The reason they are in the minor leagues is so that they can be tested. It may take some time for the programmers to work out all the kinks, but once they do, we expect there to be plenty of buy-in. Colorado LF Kris Bryant, who played in AAA during a rehab stint, and Cleveland manager Terry Francona both voiced some support to The Athletic, though Francona noted that his experience with the ABS system during Spring Training was not all positive.
The Athletic also reported in that article that we could see ABS make its way to the majors by 2024, though several factors need to be decided on before the technology is used. How often calls are made using the ABS system as well as whether a challenge system would be put in place are important parameters that MLB and the umpires’ association need to work out. But once everyone signs off on its implementation, ABS will make its way to the majors, and we look forward to seeing it in use.
That is it for The Monthly Call. Come back next month for some half-season analysis!