Using Umpire Stats at the Halfway Mark of 2017 Regular Season

Jason Lake

Wednesday, July 5, 2017 6:09 PM UTC

Wednesday, Jul. 5, 2017 6:09 PM UTC

Even with instant replay, MLB umpires still have an impact on the baseball odds. Here are the outliers to watch out for during the second half of the 2017 campaign.

Isn’t technology wonderful? Thanks to the information superhighway, not only can we make MLB picks from pretty much anywhere in the world, we have access to high-quality advanced statistical analysis – for free. A quick look at the computer projections, a scan of the baseball odds, and voilà.

But that only gets you most of the way there. If you want to make the sharpest picks possible, you have to do a little more digging. Those computer projections don’t take everything into account; the last we checked, home-plate umpires were not part of the Elo-based algorithm at FiveThirtyEight. These umps are not uniformly good at what they do, nor should we expect them to be. They make judgment calls. And we can take advantage of their tendencies when we hit the MLB odds board. Here are some things to watch for as we reach the halfway mark of the 2017 regular season.

We Have The Technology

Traditionally, the most direct way to deal with umpires is to see which ones tend to favor the home team and which ones tend to favor the OVER or the UNDER. The former has to do with human psychology; in theory, umpires will be reticent to make unpopular calls against the home side. The latter ties into how small or large an umpire’s strike zone is.

Of all the umpires who have posted a big “home” record this year, Paul Nauert seems to be the one most likely to continue. He’s got the home side at 11-3 this year and a plus-.500 mark every year since 2013 inclusive. The OVER/UNDER figures should be even more entrenched in an umpire’s behavior; Manny Gonzalez (OVER 11-2) has been OVER every year since 2013, and Lance Barksdale (UNDER 12-3) hasn’t posted an OVER season since 2008.

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Plate ump Lance Barksdale is known for having a sometimes, um, interesting strike zone. That will not be the first complaint by either team

— Erik Boland (@eboland11) June 17, 2017

On top of these traditional measures, we can also use modern pitch tracking to see how accurate the umpires are with their balls and strikes. According to FanGraphs, between 2012 and 2016 Tom Hallion (75.6 percent) had the lowest accuracy calling strikes of anyone currently working behind the mask. The OVER is 12-4 for Hallion this season, but buyer beware: His record against the total hasn’t been consistent from year-to-year. Make sure your signal-to-noise ratio is high before using these trends for your baseball picks.

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