MLB Baseball Umpires
Handicapping MLB baseball games isn’t easy, as we discussed in several other articles, there are a bevy of advanced statistics for hitters and pitchers, ballpark factors and weather. Putting all these factors together, along with looking for value in the odds gives players a lot to consider when placing a bet.
One overlooked aspect that further complicates things is the MLB umpires. Of course, umpires don’t play the field or hit. They are there to call balls and strikes, fair or foul or when things get heated, throw a player or manager out of the game. However, their impact behind the plate is often an afterthought for many bettors thou it plays a significant role in determining the odds on a particular MLB game.
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Taking Advantage Of MLB Umpires When Betting On MLB Baseball
More than officials in any other sport, umpires have can have a drastic impact on a game. While baseball has uniformed rules for the strike zone, each umpire has his own parameters when calling balls and strikes. An umpire’s strike zone can have a massive influence on the number of runs scored in a game. Starting pitchers can also be affected by umpire’s strike zone.
Pitchers that work on the edges of the zone may have a hard time getting calls if an ump has a small strike zone. Likewise, umpires with larger strike zones may make it tough on hitters. They will also provide pitchers with a larger zone, which may increase strikeouts and decrease the number of runs scored in the game.
The man behind the plate isn’t likely a game changer if you’re considering a side or total bet, but it’s still something to consider, especially when it comes to pitching.
MLB Umpire’s Home Bias – Statistics
It’s no secret that home teams perform better than road teams. This is factored into the lines by the oddsmakers for just about every sport on the planet. The home-away factor is an obvious aspect of formulating the odds for sides and totals, but it’s not something many bettors consider in the form of officiating.
Home teams in baseball win more games than road teams, but that’s not exactly a shocking development. However, there does seem to be some bias with umpires favoring the home clubs, at least to some degree. In March 2014, the New York Times published a fascinating article on the accuracy and potential biases of MLB umpires. The article is a great read for anyone who bets baseball or is merely a fan of the game.
Based on data accrued during the 2013 season, it showed that umpires tended to favor the home team by expanding the strike zone. They called a strike 13.3 percent of the time for home team pitchers compared to 12.7 percent of the time visitors. This doesn’t seem like much, but bear in mind, over thousands of games, this adds up and does affect the baseball odds.
Favoring All-Stars Pitchers By MLB Umpires
The New York Times piece also uncovered something hugely significant for All-Star pitchers. Umpires were 16% more likely to call a pitch outside the strike zone for five-time All-Stars compared to a pitcher that has never appeared in the Midsummer Classic. Those are specific parameters, but the point can be made pretty simple.
Umpires tend to widen the strike zone for pitchers with a proven track record versus ones that are upcoming or below-average. All-Star caliber pitchers will “get a lot more calls” than the average pitcher.
Pitchers who are the highest in the pecking order will not only get the benefit of the doubt on close calls, but they will often receive favoritism from the umpires. Those who have historically low walk rates and are known as “control experts” may benefit from crucial calls on full counts.
MLB Umpire Data – Tracking Umpires
One of the best databases online for tracking umpires is Baseball Savant. Their data goes back several years. Statistics are available going back to the 2008 MLB Season.
They have data for pitches out of the zone that were called strikes by umpires and pitches in the zone that were called by empires. For umpire tendencies going back several years, there is no better for statistics. For tracking in-season data, there are several sites online that will keep track of umpires home and away record, strikeouts per game and their ERA when calling games.
Without a fair sample size, (at least a few months) these numbers are highly speculative. This is why it’s better to rely on statistics like the ones at Baseball Savant.
How Valuable Are MLB Umpire Trends In Baseball Betting
They’re certainly an aspect that many other bettors don’t consider, but it’s not something that flies over the head of the sportsbooks. The umpire who is doing the game is going to be priced into the line. The guys that have a reputation as “under” or “over” umpires aren’t going sneak passed the oddsmakers.
The best way to value umpire data is just to make it another aspect of your game evaluation. Bettors shouldn’t be targeting games solely based on who is behind the plate, but they can upgrade the matchup if the umpire working the game fits the side of the side or total that they’re looking at betting.