Study: Umpires Wrong In 20 Percent Of Plate Calls

In 2018, Cubs player Ben Zobrist was thrown out in the ninth inning of a 2018 game against the Milwaukee Brewers after telling plate umpire Phil Cuzzi  “That’s why we want an electronic strike zone.” I have long agreed with Zobrist that it is insane that we continue to rely on umpires rather than electronic strike zones. Indeed, we watched games where an electronic strike zone is used to determine if an umpire was right. Instead of using that system, however, we use the less reliable human umpire at home plate. Now  a new study  of some four millions pitches found that umpires were wrong an astonishing 20 percent of the time. That is one out of five pitches in games that often turn on a handful of calls. It is insane to use the least accurate means for calling strikes and balls when so much depends not just for these games but for the players who deserve to be measured accurately on their performance.

The authors of the study looked at four million pitches over eleven seasons.

They confirmed what many of us have said for years: “Botched calls and high error rates are rampant.” Notably, when there were two strikes, the error rate increased with the importance of the calls. Older, experienced umpires were more likely to be wrong. Frankly, I am amazed at how good a job umpires do in these circumstances. However, that does not persuade me that we should continue their use at home plate for calls when more clearly more accurate technology exists. The MLB is continuing to make buggy whips in the age of the automobile.

As many of you know, I am an ardent Cubs fan and watch every game. I love the game. However, nostalgia is preventing more accurate plate calls. Even if umpires were wrong in two percent of the calls, why preserve that human error factor in the game? We have to constantly “adjust” a strike zone to particular umpires and shrug off clearly erroneous calls. It reminds me of the years of opposition in soccer to a simple instant replay option on goals. We can still use home plate umpires to call slides and other elements, but balls and strikes need to be automated for the fairness of the players and the integrity of the game.

Come on, folks, nostalgia is one thing, but this is nuts.

What do you think?

32 thoughts on “Study: Umpires Wrong In 20 Percent Of Plate Calls”

  1. “Part of the historic beauty of baseball was the bad calls, the ensuing arguments…”

    We have always been at war with the Umpires.

  2. Baseball isn’t fair, and neither is life. All this seeking of perfection through instant replays and electronic umpires fits with the liberal/leftist/progressive/democrat futile goal of utopia. We make mistakes; others make mistakes; being mature is learning how to grow from those mistakes and move on. If baseball ever goes to e-umpires, I will move on to another sport. Oh wait. Football, Basketball, Hockey, Soccer–all BORING. I’ll have NO sport to follow.

  3. Wow, this just stupid and wrong. Umpires are human, however that is the game. This all goes with this generation of let me be held through everything. Let me always get a participation trophy. It is time to put your big boy pants on and play the game. If not go play something else where judgement is not a part of the call.

    1. I’m actually not sure of the answer on this and would appreciate an answer: 1) does the electronic strike zone adjust for the size of each batter (the strike zone is dependent on the dimensions of the batter per the rules)?, 2) can the electronic strike zone measure in three dimensions (the strike zone has “depth” so that if the ball is too high at the front [pitcher’s side] of the zone, it can still drop into the zone before reaching the back [catcher’s side] of the plate and be a strike)?

  4. Would the umpire be replaced with a female British Alexa-type recorded voice to call a ‘ball’ or a ‘strike’?


    That would mean the end of:

    And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
    And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
    Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped—
    “That ain’t my style,” said Casey. “Strike one!” the umpire said.

    From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
    Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore;
    “Kill him! Kill the umpire!” shouted someone on the stand;
    And it’s likely they’d have killed him had not Casey raised his hand.

    With a smile of Christian charity great Casey’s visage shone;
    He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
    He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the dun sphere flew;
    But Casey still ignored it and the umpire said, “Strike two!”

    “Fraud!” cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered “Fraud!”
    But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
    They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
    And they knew that Casey wouldn’t let that ball go by again.

    1. Sigh. I apparently have not figured out how to properly embed a YouTube video in a reply.

  5. Anyone who’s watched children’s baseball leagues would not be surprised by that 20% error rate. The strike zones are tiny on kids. I taught my son that bad calls are part of baseball. Sometimes it’s your team’s turn to have an ump’s consistent errors turn the game.

    One of the difficulties is that the umpire cannot see the catcher’s mitt well. The batter is obscuring part of his view. Curve balls can be difficult to track, and, frankly, the speed of MLB can contribute to human error.

    Electronic strike zones may be more fair, but it will be the end of an era when they replace umpires at home base. Hopefully the new technology won’t be plague with errors of its own. Instead of a human, we may have to deal with mechanical failure or loss of calibration. Interesting line to pursue, however.

  6. Your an idiot. Let’s see you go out there and do better than them. You wouldn’t be any batter. The electronic strike zone is flawed according to the creators. It was never intended for public view because it is flawed. It is meant to give the umpires a reference.

  7. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

    – Neil Armstrong

    America has 3-D printing, Laser Rapid Manufacturing (LRM) and America has sent men to the moon, but America can’t install Instant
    Replay in MLB???

    There’s trouble in River City!

  8. Face it…. the 7th Inning antics of the Rally Monkey is worth the ticket price. Then it is time to be first to your and beat the rush.

    Speaking of which when will we be treated to a game featuring the St. Louis Rush vs. the 7th Inning OhReallys.

  9. Is it possibe to have an electronic gizmo that enforces number of minutes played and telecast vs gratuitous boring advertising? Or how about the number of off the left field wall statistics some of which are of less value than the blades of grass on the field.

    add to that

    Copy To: NFL and all the rest.of the interesting when it was a game to be enjoyed instead of a sentence to be endured.

  10. “We can still use home plate umpires to call slides and other elements, but balls and strikes need to be automated for the fairness of the players and the integrity of the game.”

    So JT are saying that game had no integrity in the past? How did you become such a fan of something with no integrity? Seems weird.

    Once you let instant replay into a game, it has to be all or nothing. Otherwise, you are saying that some plays are more important to the outcome of the game than others, which is a fallacy.

    1. Also, how would this work exactly? Every player has a different strike zone based on their height/stance. How would we digitize this? When does a knee become a knee? Would it truly be the same for everyone? It’s not the same discrete line like fair or foal.

      The other thing that people seem to forget is that the strike is not based on a 2D plane. It is a 3D volume that starts at the front to the plate. So a ball that end outside of the zone when caught is potentially meaningless.

      “The official strike zone is the area over home plate from the midpoint between a batter’s shoulders and the top of the uniform pants — when the batter is in his stance and prepared to swing at a pitched ball — and a point just below the kneecap. In order to get a strike call, part of the ball must cross over part of home plate while in the aforementioned area.”

      Again, there is no way to digitize this ever changing volume.

  11. Every catcher learns how to frame a pitch. They are in essence cheating the game by falsifying the location of a pitch. I have never seen one catcher argue with an umpire over a called strike that was outside the zone. Also, what is the error rate for the post-season umpiring crews? I believe umpires can have bad days just like players. Leave it alone and adjust.

    1. True enough. As a catcher, I always brought the glove inward. But there was a fine line between getting a little advantage and pissing the ump off. If you did it too much, they would usually tell you or strikes would suddenly be balls.

      1. I like that umpires aren’t perfect, but certainly more perfect than the players. Players know the tendencies of every umpire. Players also pay close attention to an umpires strike zone in a particular game. I believe umpires will widen or narrow a strike zone based depending on the player. A rookie or player hovering around the Mendoza Line is more likely to get called strikes outside the zone than a veteran batting .300+.

            1. Always liked Gwynn even though he was a Padre. He was the most honest player I’ve heard talk about performance enhancing drugs. He said something like, he was always happy to have enough talent to not need to use them, but if he didn’t, he wasn’t sure he would not have used them to make it. Also loved the interview he did when the Padres played Yankees in 98 series. This was before inter league and the wild card ruined baseball. He was in awe of the stadium and all of the world series banners. He had never played at the stadium until they made it to the world series which is how it should be.

              1. I’ve never liked the DH and inter-league play ruined the mystery of the sport. It made the All-Star Game less interesting for me.

                1. I’m an American Leaguer so I don’t mind the DH. Watching pitchers hit is about as riveting as “T” Ball. Plus it gives the two leagues a quirky rule to argue about. Inter League and removing the league presidents killed the All-Star Game.

                  The wild card ruined the end of the season races. Yanks-Sox games used to be awesome at the end of the year. now, both teams make it so much who cares? After 160+ games if you come in second, go get your clubs. But it is all about money as usual.

                  1. +1 on watching pitchers at the plate. I appreciate tradition in sports, including playing around bad calls by the ump – mostly – but not this one. As an American who also watches soccer I have several recommendations for improving that game, but the rest of the world is not interested .

  12. “Come on, folks, nostalgia is one thing, but this is nuts.”
    We could really eliminate that pesky player error, too, by letting robots play! It’s a human game fraught with human frailty and that’s why it’s a passion. Take the umps out of it and you don’t have better baseball; you have “Robot Wars.” And that’s not nostalgia but merely human psychology.

  13. Cyclops (computer system) is used in tennis so why not a similar system for baseball. The downside, however, is the continuing removal of the human element in sport.

    1. The human element is being removed all over the place. 🙁

  14. I agree. Keep umpires on the first base and third base side. Use video reviews but not every called play. On television the shows now have a rectangular frame at the plate barley plated on the screen which shows the strike zone. That has been good for watching on TV. If we have home plate umpires then they should be former players who were catchers.

  15. I love your clear headed and apolitical legal analyses but this baseball thing—-no no no. Part of the historic beauty of baseball was the bad calls, the ensuing arguments, the strike zones that varied by umpire and had to be adjusted to by batters and pitchers alike. Replay is part of the ruination of modern baseball.

  16. They should investigate whoever did the investigation — HILLARY!, Obama, Nadler, Schiff, NANCY.

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