Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Umps Really Do Suck

At the start of this week the Major League Umpires’ Union refused the league’s request to perform background checks. Clearly, the commissioners office made this request due to the NBA’s recent scandal involving Tim Donaghy’s connection to organized crime. Though the league’s intentions may not be good, and they haven’t been in many decisions lately, the overall idea of background tests is necessary for the integrity of baseball.

People don’t seem to believe that there is a great threat of ‘fixing’ games in baseball, and that’s probably true. There is no need for crooked umpires to determine a game’s outcome in order to win someone a bet. The easiest way for an umpire to win someone a bet is by changing their strike zone. If they tighten their strike zone, that means players have easier balls to hit, they will draw more walks, and, therefore, score more runs... that means the game will go over the bookie's total. In contrast, umps can increase their strike zone, thus leading to more strikeouts, less walks, and fewer runs.

Bettors have caught on to the importance of umpires on an over/under bet; they are arguably the most important part of the bet. Basically, the average percentage of called strikes is anywhere between 61.5% and 63.5%, anything outside of that zone would be bet accordingly; games with umpires over 63.5% would be bet under and visa versa. This year, for example, Lance Barksdale has one of the biggest strike zones this season at 64.68%, that lead to an average of 8.71 runs/game. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there is someone like Greg Gibson who only calls strikes 60.7% of the time. This doesn’t seem like much of a difference, but his games average 10.65 runs/game... almost a two run difference.

The problem is that Major League Baseball recognizes the imprecise nature of calling balls and strikes, they also realize each umpire’s specific trends. They hide the identity of their home plate umpires before a series begins. Bettors scramble to find out this information, the umps are released about two hours before game time. Therefore, an umpire does not even have to adjust his personal strike zone to help someone win bets. All an umpire would have to do is let the highest bidder know who is behind home plate before everyone else knows. That’s it. Baseball can’t check things like that through statistics, they’d have to do background checks to find out what type of connections these umpires have. The bettor most likely wouldn’t draw suspicion from their bookie because they wouldn’t be winning 100% of the time, rather, 65-70%. Depending on how much is being bet, the difference between winning 55% of the time and 65% can be hundreds of thousands of dollars with the umpires getting a nice piece for themselves.

Umpires have very little at stake by giving this information to people, and wouldn't be affected by their conscious because the information does not directly affect the games. However, any connections these umpires might make could turn ugly, a bookie with ties to organized crime could easily pressure a umpire for better results, hence the necessity for MLB intervention.

Umpire Stats


Daris said...

very good stuff buzz. interesting how much of an effect these guys can have on a game.

Guy said...

Lots of stuff I didn't know. Good read.

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