Umpires for LCS Are Slightly Above Average in NL, Below Average in AL

Umpire Joe West

The American League Championship Series gets underway later today and the National League Championship Series sets to debut tomorrow. All eyes have turned to the release of roster information for the four teams involved. As baseball fans learn which players will be on the bench, the makeup of the starting rotations and who will pitch in relief, Major League Baseball finalized its own rosters.

As reported by ESPN, the league office has named the seven-man umpiring crew for each series. The American League crew will be led by crew chief Joe West. The National League crew chief will be Gerry Davis.

The format for the crew is a little different this year, thanks to instant replay being introduced. The crews will each have an umpire in a replay booth at the stadium with the traditional six umpires on the field.

Mark Carlson, Phil Cuzzi, Greg Gibson, Bill Miller and Bill Welke will be on the field with Davis in the National League. Paul Emmel will start the series in the replay booth for the first two games before switching places with Cuzzi.

Brian Gorman, Marvin Hudson, Ron Kulpa, Tim Timmons and Mark Wegner will be on the field with West for the first two games of the American League. Dan Iassogna will begin the series in the booth. Timmons will take his place after that.

Bloomberg Business Week tracks the effectiveness of the strike zoneas interpreted by each umpire in Major League Baseball. They track every pitch and record the total number of calls as well as every correct and incorrect call based on computer analysis of the zone. The resulting table of information provides a snapshot of the most effective, and ineffective, umpires in the league.

The first thing that jumps off the page when sorting through the data is that Joe West has more incorrect calls than any other umpire in 2014. This is the man tabbed to led the crew in the American League.

Statistics can be a bit misleading if not examined thoroughly. Examining the 14 men chosen reveals that Gorman made the fewest calls among them with 2,325 total calls. There are 64 umpires across MLB that made at least that many calls. That gives an adequate baseline for statistical analysis.

West once again tops the list of these 64 umpires with both the most incorrect calls and the lowest percentage of correct calls. According to Bloomberg’s rankings, West was responsible for 460 incorrect calls and had an 83.91% correct call percentage.

The 64-umpire sampling also yields an 86.23% correct call rate overall. The seven umpires that make up the team that will call the NLCS account for an 86.55% correct call rate, coming in slightly above average. Gibson leads all 14 postseason umpires with an 87.34% rate, placing him behind 11 other umpires in 2014 that meet the total calls criteria.

The opposite is true in the ALCS. The seven umpires on that crew combine for an 85.28% correct call rate, well below the league average. While West is the worst in the group, Kulpa joins him as the only two postseason umpires with a correct call rate below 85%. Kulpa was only correct 84.99% of the time.

Instant Replay may be a factor in the postseason but it cannot be used to help with the strike zone. Major League Baseball has appointed the umpiring crews for this year’s postseason with more regard to seniority than attention to effectively calling the game.

As the two teams left standing in the American League take the field to attempt to advance to the World Series, they will do so with an umpiring crew that is well below average. The two teams left in the National League will fight for supremacy with a simply average crew on the field.

Using the same group of 64 umpires and taking the top 14 as ranked by correct call percentage would yield drastically different crews. In fact, only Davis and Gibson would remain on the new squads.

Dividing up the top 14 umpires by this criteria would provide one crew consisting of Paul Schrieber, Eric Cooper, Dan Bellino, Chris Segal, Brian Knight, Vic Carapazza and C.B. Bucknor. The other group would feature Lance Barksdale, Adam Hamari, Manny Gonzalez, Hal Gibson III, Gerry Davis, Greg Gibson and Pat Hoberg.

The crew headed by Schrieber combine to produce an 87.67% rate of correct calls. The group led by Barksdale comes in at 87.53%. That’s good for almost 1% better than the current National League crew and an astonishing 2.5% better than the American League crew. Those percentages could have a drastic impact on playoff baseball.

The MLB League Championship Series will come down to four of the best teams in baseball. Unfortunately, they will not be judged by the two best teams of umpires.

Bill Ivie is the founder of i70baseball.
Follow him on Twitter to discuss baseball year round.

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