THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
With a slow day in the baseball world mixed with my new obsession with David S. Pumpkins, I figured I would take a day to examine a few statistics with the MLB umps from this season's major festivities.
Including the All-Star Game and all postseason assignments (including replay), the busiest umpires were Sam Holbrook and Bill Welke. Holbrook worked the All-Star Game, the Division Series, and will work the World Series. Welke worked the All-Star Game, the Wild Card round, and the Championship Series.
The following umpires did not receive any special assignments this year: Dale Scott, Brian O'Nora, Ed Hickox, Mike DiMuro, Jerry Layne, Fieldin Culbreth, Rob Drake, Dana DeMuth, Jerry Meals, Andy Fletcher, Greg Gibson, Dan Iassogna, Bob Davidson, Jim Joyce, D.J. Reyburn, Jordan Baker, John Tumpane, Mike Estabrook, Doug Eddings, Mark Ripperger, James Hoye, Lance Barrett, and Tim Timmons.
In trying to analyze and explain the selections, let's discuss a few things.
First and foremost, Rob Drake did not receive an assignment as he grieves from the sudden passing of his wife. I can only imagine what he must be feeling. I'm glad he is home spending time with his family in this difficult time, and we send our condolences to him.
D.J. Reyburn, Jordan Baker, John Tumpane, Mark Ripperger, and Lance Barrett are the new kids on the block, having been recently hired full-time by MLB, so it makes sense why they take a back seat to the veterans.
We also don't know which of these umpires were ineligible for assignments based on not working the minimum number of games for the season, but based on the statistics of how many plate assignments they had, it's safe to assume that Mike DiMuro, Ed Hickox, and Brian O'Nora fall into that category. Further, Jerry Lane and Dale Scott suffered multiple head injuries this year, resulting in both having to leave a few games; when head injuries come into play like that, taking an October off isn't the worst thing!
So who does that leave? These guys: Dale Scott, Fieldin Culbreth, Dana DeMuth, Jerry Meals, Andy Fletcher, Greg Gibson, Dan Iassogna, Bob Davidson, Jim Joyce, Mike Estabrook, Doug Eddings, James Hoye, and Tim Timmons.
Now, remember, we're speculating here. But if you know a little about these umpires, you might get a little surprised to see some of these names on the list. A good chunk of these guys have already officiated World Series games, so why nothing this year?
Well, it could be as simple as asking for time off. Don't forget how grueling the season is for umpires, especially with no home field. When you're essentially living out of a suitcase for six months, asking to go home to see your family is a nice respite.
But consider these facts.
Dale Scott led the league with 8 ejections, tied with Todd Tichenor, but half of Tichenor's came in the brawl between the Yankees and Blue Jays in September. Scott's crew mate Dan Iassogna led the league with 31 replays (along with 5 ejections). Right behind Iassogna? Tim Timmons with 30 replays (and 3 ejections).
If you follow the Umpire Ejection Fantasy League on Close Call Sports, you can see the scoring system that is based on ejections and replays. Umpires receive points when their ejections are justified since their call was right as well as when a challenged and replayed call was affirmed for their initial call being right. Further, crew chiefs are rewarded when their crew mates do well.
So if you happen to look at the crew chiefs and their scoring for being the leader of their crews (whether assigned or acting in the absence of the actual chief), the top five umpires with the worst scores are Iassogna, Jerry Meals, Fieldin Culbreth, Jim Joyce, and Scott.
Out of all the umpires we haven't mentioned yet, the following umpires did not receive any special assignments last year or this year: Andy Fletcher, Bob Davidson, and Doug Eddings.
So what does all this mean?
Extrapolating based solely on what we know, it seems like Major League Baseball is sticking to its guns about the best umpires getting the important games.
Prior to the 2010 season, MLB had a rubric they used to determine umpire selection for special assignments. It included:
-If an umpire worked the All-Star Game, he was ineligible to work the postseason.
-The six umpires assigned to the World Series would be the crew chiefs for the crews assigned to the Championship Series and Division Series. Those umpires had to be regular season crew chiefs themselves.
-If an umpire worked the World Series one year, he was ineligible to work the World Series the following year. (This one still stands.)
However, complaints during the 2009 postseason forced the hand of MLB to make changes to the protocol because their system spread the wealth too much. Not all umpires were created equal, so it was necessary to reward umpires who were having good years and try as best as possible to put the best umpires on the best games. Further, it was important to get some of the younger guys into the mix so they didn't feel discouraged and still had room to grow.
So, the only protocol that stayed the same was that umpires were not allowed to work two consecutive World Series. With the addition of the Wild Card games, new protocols were added, including:
-Umpires cannot work consecutive series within the same postseason. So if an umpire is going to work multiple series in the postseason, he can either work the Wild Card game and then the Championship Series, or he can work the Division Series and then the World Series.
-Umpires who the league wants to begin to get some postseason work will start with assignments down the outfield lines for the Wild Card games, followed by assignments as the sixth umpire (starting down the right field line) in the Division Series.
-It is preferable that approximately half of the World Series umpires have not worked a World Series before (when possible).
With these new protocols, it makes sense that a simple rotation of umpires is the explanation as to why certain qualified umpires did not get special assignments, even after a decent season. After all, some of the umpires who received special assignments this year were only assigned to be the replay official for some series and were not actually on the field for any games, such as Gerry Davis, who is the second longest tenured umpire behind Joe West. The third longest tenured umpire? Dana DeMuth.
But in addition to the statistics above about certain umpires just not having good years regarding a ton of ejections and replays that were overturned, some umpires just have reputations that prevent them from being considered (unofficially, of course) by MLB. Bob Davidson falls into that category based on his history. Jim Joyce unfortunately is falling into that category, especially after missing the call on the foul ball between Cleveland and Houston. Jerry Meals and Fieldin Culbreth also have had similar situations in recent history, even though Meals worked the 2014 World Series; perhaps he just had a bad year.
So the big question: are these new protocols working? Are the best umpires getting the best games, and are the games being officiated correctly?
In short, so far!
Every home plate umpire in the postseason this year has scored better than 90% accuracy thus far. Any of the questionable calls that the media has picked up as problematic were actually the right call. Replay has fixed the obvious missed calls.
What MLB has done is implement a system of capitalism for special assignments, moving away from a form of socialism. You want a big assignment? Show the league you deserve it by having a good year. After all, getting the calls right is what matters.
Baseball player, umpire, coach, fan; professional musician; founder, President & CEO of The OSIP Foundation, Inc.