During the postseason, umpires are scrutinized even more heavily because everyone — fans, players, coaches, front office personnel — are more heavily invested in the outcomes of games. It’s not a great time to be an umpire if you’re in the habit of name-searching yourself on social media.
Arguably the most controversial call came in the top of the fifth inning in Game 5 of the World Series at Wrigley Field. Cubs starter Jon Lester had a runner on third base with one out in a game his team was leading 3-1. He was in a full count against Indians outfielder Brandon Guyer and threw a fastball that appeared to be a few inches off the plate, but home plate umpire Tony Randazzo thought it was a strike, so Guyer made the second out of the inning. Roberto Perez would ground out to shortstop to end the inning.
As Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs pointed out, the missed call had huge implications. During the at-bat, the Indians’ odds of winning were at 29 percent. If the pitch had been called a ball and Guyer drew a walk, his team’s odds go up to 32 percent. Instead, the strikeout dropped their odds to 22 percent. As a result, the missed call was a 10 percent swing in win expectancy.
Needless to say, Indians fans were outraged and all kinds of Jose Bautista-esque conspiracy theories were bandied about. Sullivan, though, decided to dig into the numbers and found that missed calls have been distributed evenly. He found 73 total missed calls for a 91 percent accuracy rate for the umpires. Of those 73, 37 favored the Indians (50.7%) and 36 favored the Cubs (49.3%). Sullivan also found that the missed calls that favored the Cubs had an average Leverage Index of 1.05 with a median of 0.92; the Indians’ missed calls had an average LI of 1.01 with a median of 0.88. The differences are negligible.
(In case you’re not familiar: Leverage Index aims to measure the importance of a particular situation in a baseball game. Average is set at 1.00. A high-leverage, or important, situation is considered anything with an LI above 2.0. Low-leverage, or unimportant, situations are typically below 0.85.)
While there have been some non-strikezone-related calls that have been controversial, at least when it comes to calling balls and strikes, the umpires have done a pretty good job and neither side has benefited more than the other. Great research by Sullivan. Make sure to click through to the articles for a more in-depth explanation.