MLB Umpire Stats For Betting
One overlooked aspect in handicapping MLB baseball games is the MLB umpire’s stats.
There are many advanced statistics for hitters and pitchers, ballpark factors, and weather. But skipping baseball umpires’ track records is a mistake.
Of course, baseball umpires don’t play the field or hit. They are there to call balls and strikes, fair or foul, or throw a player or manager out of the game when things get heated.
However, their impact behind the plate is often an afterthought for many bettors though they play a significant role in determining the odds on MLB games.
Read on to learn how to leverage umpire statistics to place smarter bets on MLB games.
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Why MLB Umpire Stats Matter For Baseball Betting?
More than officials in any other sport, umpires can have a drastic impact on a game.
While baseball has uniform rules for the strike zone, each referee has its parameters when calling balls and strikes. An umpire’s strike zone can significantly influence the number of runs scored in a game.
Starting pitchers can also be affected by the 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 for pitching.
MLB Umpire Tendencies To Consider
Now that you understand the influence of the umpire on a game’s outcome. Let’s talk about what you should consider when handicapping baseball.
MLB Baseball Umpires And Home Bias
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 a prominent 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.
Backing Up The Home Bias Hypothesis
In March 2014, the New York Times published a fascinating article on MLB umpires’ accuracy and potential biases. The report is a great read for anyone who bets baseball or is merely a fan of the game.
Data accrued during the 2018 season showed that umpires favored 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 for visiting pitchers.
It doesn’t seem like much, but remember that this adds up over thousands of games, and affects odds and game outcomes.
MLB Umpires Favor All-Stars Pitchers
The NY 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 upcoming or below-average ones.
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 known as “control experts” may benefit from crucial calls on full counts.
Tracking MLB Umpires’ Data
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 called strikes by umpires and pitches in the zone called by umpires. There is no better statistics for umpire tendencies going back several years.
For in-season data, several sites will keep track of umpires’ home and away records, strikeouts per game, and their ERA when calling games.
Without a proper sample size (at least a few months), these numbers are highly speculative. That’s why it’s better to rely on advanced baseball statistics like the ones at Baseball Savant.
How Valuable Are MLB Umpire Trends In Baseball Betting?
Umpire trends are 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 priced into the line. The guys that have a reputation as “under” or “over” umpires aren’t going to sneak past the oddsmakers.
The best way to value umpire data is 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.