I realized I was in the deep end of both baseball fandom and analytics when the first thing I did when I saw the umpire crew for the Rays vs Rangers series was to check out how good this crew was by their expected metrics.
Thankfully, our friends at UmpireScorecards has a tremendous amount of data to query and look through. Their daily scorecards throughout the season are a ton of fun, but their website has so much more, and I was able to use their resources to research the crew for this Wild Card series.
The good news is: Rays and Rangers got a well above average crew and should be able to decide this series on the field and rather than the whims of whoever is behind the catcher at home plate.
The metric I was most interested in was Accuracy Above Expected (or AAx). The key to a good umpire is not perfection. Perfection is not possible in this mortal world. However, being better than average is a sure sign of success no matter your field.
“Our expectation model starts by calculating the likelihood that any given pitch is called correctly (correct in this case refers to the @UmpScorecards methodology for determining correctness). We estimate correct call likelihood as a baseline likelihood plus a dynamic adjustment term to account for time-based changes in umpiring accuracy. The baseline likelihood comes from a multilayered perceptron neural network trained on a representative sample (so as to not give extra weight to certain umpires) of pitches thrown between 2015 and 2021. Inputs into this model include the pitch’s horizontal and vertical location, the pitch’s type (fastball, slider, etc.), the size and height of the strike zone, and other contextual factors such as the count and the handedness of the batter”
For more info about all of their metrics, I highly encourage you to go check out https://umpscorecards.com/explainers/accuracy
For baselines, let’s check out two of the most well known umpires for polar opposite reasons.
Pat Hoberg has become a sort of cult icon for baseball fans for his near perfect scorecards. An exceptionally good umpire, he’s one of the few known by name for reasons other than expletives. His AAx is a whopping +1.75.
Angel Hernandez is a punchline of awfulness. His AAx is a grotesque -1.84.
Accuracy Above Expected
Alex Tosi +1.57
Tripp Gibson +1.2
Adam Beck +0.89
Lance Barksdale +0.86
Carlos Torres +0.65
Adrian Johnson -0.23
The Rays and Rangers have been gifted a crew of umpires who all rate well above average, a few into the elite level. The only one into the negatives is just slightly so and more towards the average than a true negative impact ump. Calling balls and strikes though it’s all positives:
Game 1 will have Carlos Torres behind home plate
Game 2 the elite Tripp Gibson calling balls and strikes
And Game 3 (if necessary) will be the crew chief Lance Barksdale at home (as seen getting yelled at by Kevin Cash in the heading photo)
Umpiring is a very difficult job, and when it comes to postseason baseball every single call becomes amplified. It’s refreshing to see a crew of regular season standouts also getting into the postseason to go with the players on both the Rays and Rangers who earned their spots to keep on performing into October.