FOXSports.com’s Tracy Ringolsby offers a potential explanation for why the postseason umpiring has been so abysmal:
The quality of the umpiring has taken a hit because at least a dozen umpires, including seven crew chiefs, were left out of postseason assignments this year due to injuries.
Sidelined umpires include crew chiefs John Hirschbeck (testicular cancer), Charlie Reliford (back), Jerry Crawford (back), Tim Welke (concussion), Ed Montague (concussion and neck), Gary Darling (ankle and foot) and Rick Reed (stroke).
Other umpires who are sidelined by injuries include Kerwin Danley (concussion), Alfonso Marquez (back), Brian Runge (details unknown), Bill Hohn (back) and Ed Hickok (concussion). Several of them did return from the injuries in September, but given their limited time on the field this year they were not included in the list of postseason candidates.
Ringolsby compares it to the Yankees being “without Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Mariano Rivera and a couple other regulars.” While that may be a stretch, the fact that eight of the 19 umpires with 20-plus years of experience were unavailable for the postseason does help explain some of the odd assignments and less-than-stellar performances. MLB also has workload restrictions that have further limited the pool.
Of course, there’s a big difference between assigning lesser umpires to playoff games and watching as those lesser umpires perform horribly while flat-out blowing obvious calls. In theory even MLB’s non-elite umpires should be capable of doing their job at an acceptable level, so regardless of injuries and workload restrictions Bud Selig and company still need to address the issues that we’ve seen so far.
In 2016, Red Sox starter Rick Porcello narrowly and controversially eked ahead of then-Tigers starter Justin Verlander in Cy Young Award balloting, winning on points 137 to 132. Verlander was not included at all in the top-five of two ballots, both coincidentally belonging to writers from the Tampa Bay chapter, MLB.com’s Bill Chastain and Fred Goodall of the Associated Press. Verlander had more first-place votes than Porcello, but being left out of the top-five on two ballots was the difference maker.
In the aftermath, Verlander’s then-fiancée Kate Upton fired off some angry tweets, as did Justin’s brother Ben.
Verlander was again in the running for the 2018 AL Cy Young Award. He again finished in second place, this time behind Blake Snell of the Rays. Snell had 17 first-place votes and 169 total points to Verlander’s 13 and 154. There weren’t any ballots that made a big difference like in 2016, but there were two odd ballots from the Tampa Bay chapter again.
If a chapter doesn’t have enough eligible voters, a voter from another chapter is chosen to represent that city. This year, Bill Madden of the New York Daily News was a replacement voter along with Mark Didtler, a freelancer for the Associated Press. Both writers voted for Snell in first place, reasonably. But neither writer put Verlander second, less reasonably, putting Corey Kluber there instead. Madden actually had Verlander fourth behind Athletics reliever Blake Treinen. Didtler had Treinen in fifth place. Two other writers had Verlander in third place: George A. King III of the New York Post and Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune. The other 26 had Verlander in first or second place.
Voting Kluber ahead of Verlander doesn’t make any sense, especially we finally live in a world where a pitcher’s win-loss record isn’t valued highly. Kluber had 20 wins to Verlander’s 16 and pitched one more inning. In every other area, Verlander was better. ERA? Verlander led 2.52 to 2.89. Strikeouts? Verlander led 290 to 222. Strikeout rate? Verlander led 34.8% to 26.4%. Opponent batting average? Verlander led .198 to .222. FIP and xFIP? Verlander led both 2.78 and 3.03 to 3.12 and 3.08, respectively. And while Treinen had an excellent year, Verlander pitched 134 more innings, which is significant.
Upton had another tweet for the occasion: