The Tuesday Discussion – What To Do About The Umpiring?
This week we asked our writers:
What can be done to improve the umpiring in baseball?
This year there have been some amazingly bad calls. Patrick Gunn created a quick list with examples:
Michael Conforto’s walk-off “hit by pitch” (when he leaned in on a strike)
Alec Bohm getting called safe at home when he appeared to have not touched home plate
This call saying McCutchen was out of the baseline: https://twitter.com/MLBONFOX/status/1388653535089340421?s=20)
The Judge out on the bases from last week, then no replay on whether or not LeMahieu touched home before Judge was out
Godley was called for interference and the batter was safe on a routine play
Here are the responses from the SSTN writers:
Derek McAdam – Fixing umpiring is not an easy task, and no the solution is not robotic umpires. Challenges were created to reverse an incorrect call that an umpire may have made. Mistakes happen all the time, but it’s always the big mistakes that will make the baseball community crazy, rightfully so. I have only one solution as to how the umpiring situation can be fixed, which is already active. The umpires should be reminded that if another umpire sees credible evidence that a runner was out or if a player was not outside of the baseline, etc., then the call should be reversed without the call having to be challenged. The umpires all have one goal in common, which is to call the best possible game they can every day.
Paul Semendinger – I have long advocated for a fifth umpire who reviews each play in real time. This umpire would communicate with the home plate umpire and would hold off play if any play needed to be reviewed. Delays would not happen often as most calls can be seen, judged, and corrected (if necessary) in moments. There would be no challenges (a gimmick), instead, the focus would be on getting all calls correct. I wrote about this in greater detail here: A Simple Way to Get Calls Right and Speed Up the Game.
Also, umpires who continually do a poor job must be held accountable.
When umpires make controversial decisions, they, like the players and managers, would have to explain their thought process in the post-game interviews.
Ed Botti – The solution seems pretty obvious to me. If they have their instant replay up and running, they should use it on all controversial calls involving plays in the field and at the plate. Regardless of the number of challenges a manager has left. All they need is one analyst per game in front of a monitor in Secaucus, NJ, and when that analysts sees a bad call, it’s a quick 2 way radio call to the crew chief on the field. Those analysts should have a grading system and have their calls reviewed by MLB each month. If they incorrectly overturn or miss calls, they get replaced.
If the purpose is to get the call right, use your technology to do so in an efficient and quick manner.
Balls and strikes wise, MLB already has an umpire grading system in place. Instead of using it solely for the purpose of determining which umps get the post season assignments, use it as a grading system to determine which umpires get released or sent to MiLB. If that was the case today, the Laz Diaz’s and Angel Hernandez’s of the league would be umpiring games in Coney Island. Instead, they are front and center in the middle of ridiculous and terrible calls in important MLB games.
Of course to do any of this, you would need a commissioner that has the courage to do so.
Patrick Gunn – The umpiring situation will not be resolved with a single declaration, this is going to take a series of moves. At the very least, MLB has to hold its umpires accountable for slow and incorrect calls. Referees across other leagues are charged more for their mistakes across games, whereas Major League Baseball has done little to curb its umpiring crisis. Rob Manfred and co. need to appropriately discuss with umpires and that union ways to better enforce the game and emphasis getting the call right over protecting an individual’s pride over a call. Also, expand what can or cannot be replayed to ensure that calls are made right and review them. Situations like the LeMahieu play at home simply should not happen. Bottom line, accountability is not the answer to fixing the umpiring issue but it is a start.
Andy Singer – For me, fixing bad umpiring starts with accountability. Publicly, at least, there is no accountability for umpires. In truth, I think there are more good umpires than bad, but by constantly protecting terrible umpires, good umpires are getting dragged through the mud as well.
Let’s get real for a minute. The diehard fans who watch enough baseball to really know umpires know how a game is going to be called just by which crew is working a given game. I know that when I see that Angel Hernandez or Marty Foster’s crew are working a game, I know that it could easily be a long night. Conversely, if it’s Jeff Nelson or Chris Guccione, I feel pretty good that the game will be called fairly. We know this to be true about certain umpires, yet MLB doesn’t acknowledge any of this publicly.
The way to change this is to really be transparent. MLB should do the following:
Acknowledge when umpires are fined, suspended, or fired for poor performance.
Require that umpires answer media questions regarding controversial calls following a game.
Promote and reward good umpires with public congratulations, recognition in the form of more premium games, and more importantly, salary bonuses for consistently good performance.
Improve the pay scale. It takes a long and winding road to make it to the Show as an umpire, and the salaries for minor league umps is almost as brutal as it is for minor league players. If salaries on the way up the ladder were more livable, more talented people would umpire for a living.
Mike Whiteman – The way to improve umpiring is how we improve other parts of our lives: define success, devise how to measure the skills, and put in place a plan to improve the numbers. The advances in fielding analytics indicates that similar work could be done with umpiring and creating objective ways to measure their performances.
Chris O’Connor – I think that umpires and major league baseball need to be more accountable in regards to the controversial calls on the field and the replay system. I am not a big fan of expanding replay, as the games are slow enough and replay has been shown to have its faults, but if replay is going to be a big part of the game moving forward, it has to be better than this. Players and coaches have to be accountable and speak to the media when they make mistakes. Why should it be any different with the league office and the umpires? Mistakes are inevitable when you are relying on humans to make snap judgements on the movements of the best athletes in the world; while I am sure that replay has corrected its fair share of these mistakes, when it involves itself in a controversial manner (like the Bohm play), the league office and umpires have to at least explain themselves when they make these difficult decisions. More transparency would increase the credibility of an increasingly fragile system.
Michael Saffer – I’m not convinced that the current state of umpiring is any worse than before. Was Jackie Robinson really safe? Was the last pitch of Larson’s perfect game really a strike? Shouldn’t Reggie have been called out for interference when he stuck his “backside” out to block a play? We have no way of knowing because of the lack of camera angles, replay, and review that we are privileged to in the modern era.
I think baseball is at a pivotal crossroad regarding officiating. Do we go digital or accept the human error that comes with umpires?
Lincoln Mitchell – Umpires have always made mistakes, but it today’s technological environment these mistakes are now much more difficult to conceal or defend. Video replay is a good start, but it efforts to limit reviews undermine this progress. Because managers have limited reviews, they rely on video first which slows down the game. One solution would be to have teams of umpires in a video room somewhere charged with reviewing all close plays. This would eliminate the delays while coaches, or somebody else, reviews the video for the manager while also removing a bizarre and artificial new strategy from the game. The problem is that this could be used on balls and strikes because there are so many of these calls and reviewing every, or even some, of these would be cumbersome and destroy the pace of the game.