Making Umpires Better

Monday night’s 3-2 loss to the Blue Jays is a tough one to swallow – not just because the Yankees lost a close one, but because some of it was out of their control.

In the 3rd inning, Eduardo Nunez threw a ball wide of first that Mark Teixeira made an amazing stretch on, and yet the umpire called the batter safe, despite replays clearly showing he was out. Naturally, the next batter hit a homerun, thus providing the difference in a 3-2 game.

This wasn’t the only bad call of the game. In the 9th inning, down a run with a runner on and 1 out, Curtis Granderson was called out on a strike 3 that was over a half a foot outside. If Granderson were a righty, the ball might have hit him; it was that egregious.

So what can be done about this? Back when Armando Galarraga had his perfect game ruined by a blown call, I assumed some changes must be coming and maybe they still are. The way I see it though, there are 2 things MLB can, and should, do:

1 – Make more use of technology

For whatever reason, baseball hates progress and it’s getting to the point where the game suffers for it. Within seconds after a pitch is thrown, we, as fans, can know exactly where it was. Why can’t then, baseball just automate, or partially automate, the process of calling balls and strikes? At least let this technology aid the umpires rather than simply aid us in 2nd guessing them.

Similarly, instant replay should be expanded to cover anything that it is capable of getting right. I’m not suggesting some challenge system like in football, which will just slow the game down. Just put another umpire in front of some screens, so they can see replays of close plays immediately. How is it that I can sit on my couch and generally know within 10 seconds if it’s a blown call and yet umpires can’t?

Again, what we have here is a problem where those enjoying the game have access to more information than those trying to officiate it. As technology continues to improve, this will only get worse. Why not just better equip the umpires? Why does it have to slow down the game, like everyone moans when instant replay is brought up? If a manager contests a call made via replay, they should automatically be ejected. Keep the game moving.

2 – Find better umpires

I know this is easier said than done, but how many of the umpires in baseball right now are truly world class at what they do? Not to be cruel, but many of them are old and out of shape. Are they really getting themselves in the best position to make a call? Much like the game itself, shouldn’t we easily be able to come up with some objective data about how well an umpire performs? And like the players, don’t umpires probably only have a limited window – their prime, if you will – when they will be able to do their job at a world class level?

MLB has the ability to make umpires better – to give them better tools and to design better ways of evaluating them – but they are so terrified of modernizing the game in any way that they may just continue to let the problem fester. That is inexcusable for a business as large as MLB is.

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8 Responses to Making Umpires Better

  1. Mike S. says:

    I don’t know about you, but I find Bautista’s numbers as out of whack as Brady Anderson’s 1996.

    • Rob Abruzzese says:

      I wouldn't pass judgment on this until we see some more seasons. If it's just one season it might get a little suspicious. But if he can back it up then maybe he's just a late bloomer.

      • Mike S. says:

        The problem with the Steroids Era is that fair or unfair, suspicions will develop with someone who was just mediocre before then suddenly blossoms. It may not be fair, but that is what the Steroids Era has produced. Suspicion.

  2. JohnnyC says:

    Do the name Dr. Anthony Galea ring a bell?

  3. Robert G. Kramer says:

    I didn't notice one ad for Booster Juice at the Rogers Centre last night. They were prominate on the Yanks first visit to Toronto. Back then the Jays had four players who were doubling their lifetime home run rate!

    I would love to see the Zone Evaluation system replace the human element in calling balls and strikes!

    Game Changers: The electronic strike zone

    By John Schlegel / MLB.com
    http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20100719&…

  4. Tom Sincavage says:

    Remember Bautista hit 10 home runs last September alone. He worked hard on turning on the inside fastball. He jokes that pitchers have been pitching him inside all year and he keeps turning on them.

  5. Brian Burkhart says:

    Crazy things happen in baseball sometimes. Shane Spencer and Kevin Maas both had insane homerun streaks. Bautista has done it almost over a full season now – and I have to be honest, he does have a quick bat on that inside pitch – so maybe he's the real deal. Power is often the last skill a player develops.

    If the implication here is steroids though, I'm not really buying it. In my mind it's more of an issue of whether he's just been getting lucky combined with the league not adjusting to him yet.

    • Robert G. Kramer says:

      To me, the whole steroids list of 2003 is a joke. How some names were leaked and most have not is ridiculous. The Clemens current situation may spark some discussion. Otherwise, we must wait until Bonds hit the Hall of Fame Ballot. There is plenty of anti-Yankee sentiment too, so A-Rod and his records may suffer the most!!!