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The Decline and Fall of the Roaming Umpires

If you think strikes and balls were an issue that last series... you’re not alone. And you were right.

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Arizona Diamondbacks Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

If you took the under on the number of games it would take Torey Lovullo to be tossed from a game, congratulations. Because it was only game #13 before our manager had had enough of Gabe Morales’s bullshit. And understandably so. All three home-plate umpires in the series against the Brewers have been criticized for their performances. In a rare show of cross-aisle support, it seems that Milwaukee fans were just as aghast at the missed calls. The numbers back this up, with an accuracy score of lower than 91% for each of the trio: Morales, Clint Vondrak and Scott Barry. Over the first ten D-backs games of the season, no other umpire had been as poor, with an average accuracy of 93.8%.

All told though, after the Milwaukee series, accuracy in Arizona’s games has been slightly lower than it was in 2022, dropping about half a percent from 93.51% to 93.05%. I did wonder if, perhaps, the additional responsibility on the home-plate umpire this year - in particularly managing and monitoring the pitch-clock - had meant less focus on their core duty of balls and strikes. However, the average accuracy across all MLB games has actually been 93.93%, so it doesn’t appear to be a broader issue. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to filter by team and see whether the D-backs have been cursed with particularly incompetent crews thus far.

Accuracy - calling the approved strike-zone - isn’t the only metric of interest. There’s also consistency. It’s fair enough to have a wide strike-zone, for example, as long as you call all pitches in relation to it. If a low pitch is a ball one time, and then a strike the next, that is perhaps even more frustrating, both to players and fans. As an example, Vondrak may have been inaccurate, but his consistency score of 94.4 was the third-HIGHEST of the season so far. But only two umpires have been below 92 in this department... and both of them worked the Milwaukee series. Barry got a 90.8 and Morales, remarkably, was all the way down at 88.2. That’s the second-worst anywhere in the majors this season. #ToreyWasRight

All told this year, blown calls have benefited the D-backs by a total of 1.37 runs. This is ninth-most in the majors this year, and was considerably higher before Tuesday and Wednesday’s games, which combined for 1.13 runs in favor of Milwaukee. Maybe they were just making up for Monday’s opener, where Barry’s apparent inability to judge Zac Gallen’s curveball - he wasn’t alone, as the Brewers’ hitters were just as flummoxed - was worth a whopping 1.49 runs for the D-backs. Fortunately, that was still less than half the margin of victory, but there have been only a handful of games in the majors this season, where calls have been more skewed towards one team or the other.

However, if you look at all of last season, an awkward fact pops out. Across the whole season, the D-backs benefited to the tune of 27.64 runs from calls - the most in the majors. If we use a vague rule of thumb that ten runs equals one WAR, that means the umpires last season were worth 2.8 WAR to Arizona. That puts them somewhere between Jake McCarthy and Josh Rojas in terms of value. My obvious first thought was, perhaps out catchers were really good at pitch framing. Not really. Carson Kelly was decent, but Jose Herrera was close to average, and Cooper Hummel couldn’t frame a photograph. It just seems to have been our turn to receive umpire largesse.

Certainly, it doesn’t appear to be consistent, with Arizona coming out below the line in 2021, umpire calls costing them 6.42 runs. If you combine all the seasons for which we have data, going back to 2015, Arizona do end up positive, coming in tenth at +32.91. But the vast bulk of that comes out of the 2022 season. Interestingly, the three most umpire-favored teams are all on the West coast: the Angels, Dodgers and Mariners. But it’s hard to see much benefit, when the overal benefit across the time in question, is only about seven-hundredths of a run per game, even for these “luckiest” teams. But it might be interesting to see if certain umpires do have any bias towards or against specific franchises.

Anyway, averaging Gabe Morales’s accuracy and consistency score, we get a season-low rating of 89.5. That’s not good. Indeed, over all 162 games played by the Diamondbacks last season, only two umpires managed worse. On April 22, Rob Drake got 88.6 and on June 29, Andy Fletcher reached 88.5 for both Acc and Con. Given Fletcher had died the previous month, I guess that’s not too bad. Although I may be confusing him with a member of Depeche Mode. We’ll see if anyone can challenge Morales for the title in the clubhouse, as we go forward. But right now those who bet the over on Lovullo ejections are on pace to cash in at the end of the year!

[All data comes from UmpScorecards.com, who also provide the Twitter scorecards, which I drop into the recaps each morning]