The Most Pitcher & Hitter Friendly Umpires

January 17, 2015

As a quantifiable skill, pitch framing has been garnering a lot of attention in the past few years. While most research on that front has focused on a catcher's ability to get extra strikes called, at Baseball Info Solutions we have developed a methodology for dividing the credit among the catcher, the pitcher, the batter, and the umpire. We call our system Strike Zone Plus/Minus, and the details of the methodology will be explained in The Fielding Bible—Volume IV coming out this spring.

While a catcher's receiving skills are obviously very important on borderline pitches, we have found that everyone else involved in the pitch also has a discernible impact on whether that pitch is called a ball or a strike, not least of which is the umpire. He is the one that actually makes the call, and, as one might imagine, each umpire has his own personal tendencies. Some umpires are more likely to give the pitcher the call on questionable pitches, while others are more likely to favor the hitter. With Strike Zone Plus/Minus, we can look at which umpires fall into which category.

Let's start with the pitcher-friendly umpires. Below is a table showing the five umpires that the men on the mound most enjoyed having behind the plate in 2014.

Most Pitcher-Friendly Umpires, 2014
Umpire Extra Strikes
Ron Kulpa 104
Bill Miller 102
Doug Eddings 97
Angel Hernandez 92
Brian O'Nora 82

These five umpires called the most strikes over and above what would have been expected based on the pitch location, the count the pitch was thrown in, how far the pitch was from hitting the catcher's target (an item that makes our methodology unique), and several other variables that we have accounted for.

Now let's look at the most hitter-friendly umpires in 2014, the men that called the fewest strikes (or the most balls) relative to what would have been expected based on the pitches they saw.

Most Hitter-Friendly Umpires, 2014
Umpire Extra Strikes
Paul Schrieber -131
Tom Hallion -78
Seth Buckminster -75
Greg Gibson -70
Alfonso Marquez -64

Strike Zone Plus/Minus is just part of all the new and improved defensive analysis that will be available in The Fielding Bible—Volume IV, which will be released on March 1, 2015 and is available for pre-order now.


COMMENTS (2 Comments, most recent shown first)

The thought I had after reading this was the origination and reason of an umpire's pitch-calling philosophy. As to context, an answer might be "read the book", perhaps.
6:40 AM Jan 18th
Where to start? I think for each umpire, we need the total number of pitches "missed" (ought to be called balls, are called strikes; ought o be strikes, are called balls). as well as the number in each category. Say an umpire has to call 4,000 pitches a year [(260 per game)*(40 games at the plate -pitches swung at]. (Best I can tell, 65% of pitches are swung at.) Now, a lot of these are not close. What percentage of this 4,000 is close? 10%? 25%? 50%? It matters. Suppose it's 50%, so there are 2,000 pitches that "matter." Suppose you have two pitchers who rank as "pitcher friendly," with a net of 100 pitches called strikes that were really balls (that's balls called strikes minus strikes called balls, right?). How many pitches overall does the guy miss? 200? 400? We don't know.

The gross error rate probably matters. As a hitter, or as a pitcher, it makes a difference if the guy calling the pitches seems to have *no clue*, but is on average wrong in each direction with equal frequency, or if there are certain pitches that he consistently misses.

Numbers like these, without context, have next to no value, as far as I can tell. The 100 net misses (roughly the worst) works out to 1-1.5 pitches per team per game. But if the gross misses are 3-4 per team per game, well, that's something quite different.
6:27 PM Jan 17th
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