by Robert Ferringo - 05/31/2006
One of the first things you learn in Little League - before you know to tag up on a fly ball or hit the cut-off man - is that the Umpire's are Pure Evil. They suck. They are blind and they need your glasses. They don't know the rules and they cheat. They are getting paid by the other team.
Here I am, 20 years later, and my opinion of umpires hasn't changed all that much.
There is certainly money to be made betting on Major League Baseball. But to rake the dough you have to be a quality player, not a guesser. And what separates a quality player from a reckless, I-bet-the-Mariners-everyday-because-they-are-My-Team bettor is the ability to consider and correctly assess the intangibles.
The weather. The ballpark. The starting pitcher. Whether or not the right fielder is involved in a paternity suit or whether the rookie catcher speaks English. These all get filed under "Intangibles". But one of the most oft-overlooked aspects of a baseball game is also one of the most basic: who is calling balls and strikes?
Umpires are an influential aspect of any baseball game. The roots of the sport are pre-industrial and agrarian, so it exists without any technological regulation. There is no shot clock. There is no instant replay. The game is monitored and supervised at the whim of bald, overweight, overpaid, sociopathic, dog-kicking, gay-bashing, white men who are afraid of the dark.
But while I stereotype umpires, there are actually many different kinds. There are Over umpires, Under umpires, Home Team umpires, Birthday umpires, Bar Mitzvah umpires, etc. No one can be certain if their tendencies are rooted in some psychological, subconscious bias, but the results speak for themselves (see below).
The umpire who is behind the plate has the most direct influence. Determining who wears the pads in the opener of a series is usually a Mission Impossible scenario. The home plate ump isn't posted until less than an hour before the first pitch, which begets nail-biting and last-minute wagering.
However, after the initial game the rotation is set. Barring something unnatural, the first base umpire in the previous game becomes the home plate ump for the next. The rest of the rotation moves like so: home to third, third to second, second to first and first to home. This means that whoever starts a three-game set at second base will close the series behind the dish.
The oddsmakers generally don't consider the umpire for the opening game. They can't wait that long to post the lines. But if you wait and check MLB.com about an hour before start time, you could gain a sizeable advantage against the total.
Below is a list of some of the top Over and Under umpires. I'm not advocating blindly betting depending on the umpire, but it should be one of the things you factor in to a total wager. This list is primarily based on this year's numbers. The sample size is a dozen games or less for each. But much like starting pitchers or a blind date you can usually tell pretty quickly what type of night you're going to have.
John Hirschbeck: Johnny Boy is notorious for his acre-wide strike zone. One website has him posted as hitting the Under on more than 60 percent throughout his career. Those are numbers to take to the bank, and so far this year he's gone Under 7 out of 10 times. He also punches out more chumps than Little Mac, ringing up 16 batters a night (second in the Majors). Just ask Roberto Alomar how good Hirschbeck is behind the dish.
Adam Dowdy: He's not behind the plate on too many occasions - only four times so far in 2006. But teams are averaging a combined 5.25 runs per game when he is calling balls and strikes. That miniscule number is a large reason why he is 4-0 on the Under.
Bruce Froemming: By far, bar none, Froemming is my most hated umpire in baseball. This fat fuck has a strike zone larger than Frank Drebin's (or Enrico Palazzo's) from "The Naked Gun". Most of the time Froemming just closes his eyes and guesses. He's primarily a National League ump and is usually not too far away from controversy. He is 8-3 on the Under and teams combine for just 7.3 runs in games he calls. Also, he was voted Most Likely To Choke On A Polish Sausage And Die On The Field by his peers.
Tim Tschida: Other umps have better percentages on the Under (Jeff Nelson and Chuck Merriwether are both above 70 percent) but I like Tschida. This Boy in Blue is 7-4 against the number, but punches out nearly 14 batters per game while watching only 8.55 runners score per outing. He's worth keeping an eye on.
Bill Welke: After Hirschbeck, Welke has seen the fewest average runs scored for any ump who has called more than four games. He has seen just over seven runners cross the dish on his watch, yields a 2.1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and has paid on an Under in 8 of 10 contests. He is the younger brother of 22-year veteran Tim Welke, who incidentally is an Over ump that sees a robust 10.9 runs per game.
Jerry Crawford: It isn't a fluke that his 12.75 runs per game are the most in the Majors. He is 8-3 on the Over so far in 2006. He doesn't necessarily have a small zone (only 6.9 walks per game) but in his nearly 30 years of service he's been the oasis in the desert for slumping hitters.
Randy Marsh: Marsh gets the nod here because he sets the tone as crew chief of the Bomb Squad. Angel Hernandez (11.09 runs per game) and Sam Holbrook (11.86 rpg) are in the same foursome as Marsh, who is more run-friendly than the Rally Monkey. These three umpires are a combined 21-7 on the Over. All three have less than a 2-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, while they all surrender an absurd average of eight walks per game. I'm telling you; wherever this crew is headed some offensive fireworks are right behind them.
Paul Emmel: I would say that going Over at a 90 percent clip is a sure way to find your way onto this list. Emmel is 9-1 on the high side of the total this season. He sees over 11 runs per night, and issues 8.5 free passes per game. Maybe he just likes squatting closely behind all of those manly catchers. Who am I to judge?
Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out his Insider Page here.
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Doc's MLB picks service.