Handicapping MLB Umpires

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The concept of tracking umpires for betting purposes has been around for a number of years now. The majority of baseball bettors probably don’t pay much attention to them. That’s not the case for everybody, however, as some people are quick to follow along with the latest umpire trend.

You can safely count me in the group who could really care less who the umpire is. That not only goes for sides, but totals as well. Sure, some umpires might be a little more generous with the strike zone than others, but the pitchers and hitters get to know each umpire’s quirks and tendencies and can make the proper adjustments.

There were 87 umpires who called at least 10 games behind home plate in the 2015 season. With any group that size and what is basically a 50-50 proposition, you’re going to have some umpires with a high percentage of overs and others with a large number of unders. That’s basic math. If the same umpires continued their trends year in and year out, you would be on to something. But the fact is umpires are just as likely to have a reversal as they are to continue with their trend.

I tracked all of the umpires who saw 62.5% of their games go over or under the total in 2015 and looked how a bettor would have fared betting on those trends to continue in 2016. Bettors would have had a 165-163-13 record, which is about as close to a random occurrence as one could get. I’ve tracked other seasons in the past and have found the same thing, so you can safely discount the umpires from your totals handicapping.

The differences between home and away umpires were even more pronounced than they were for totals. In 2015 home teams lost $1,274 when Ted Barrett was behind home plate, but won $410 in 2016. Then there is somebody like Jim Reynolds, who saw away teams finish $2,005 in the hole with him behind home plate in 2015. In 2016, visiting teams were +$1,344 with Reynolds calling balls and strikes. Jerry Meals went from road teams losing $1,506 in 2015 to winning $989 in 2016 and Sam Holbrook saw road teams go from -$931 to +$826 the following year.

There were 16 umpires in 2015 who saw either the home team or the away team show a flat bet loss of $800 or more. In 2015, only five of them saw a continuation of their 2015 trends, with one of them retiring.

Umpires are one part of the game that can be safely ignored.