May 4, 2024 - Sports

Baseball umpires aren't as bad as you think this season

A scatterplot with baseballs as the points showing the season averages of MLB umpires’ accuracy in calling balls and strikes from 2015 to 2024. The data shows an upward trend, with approximately 90% accuracy in 2015 and nearly 94% in 2024.
Data: UmpScorecards; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Despite what you may have heard — or think you've seen with your own two eyes — Major League Baseball's umpires are actually doing pretty well this season, at least when it comes to calling balls and strikes.

By the numbers: League-wide, baseball umps have a nearly 94% accuracy rating so far in 2024, per unofficial metric-keeper UmpScorecards.

  • That's down a bit from 2023 but up from a relatively miserable 90% or so in 2015.

How it works: UmpScorecards' accuracy stat tracks the percentage "of called pitches called correctly by the umpire."

  • See more about their methodology here.

Yes, but: There's no shortage of evidence that umps are struggling lately. So what's really happening?

  • It's never been easier for egregiously bad calls to go viral on social media, where they're the bread and butter of hugely popular channels like Jomboy Media.
  • The accuracy stat also treats every pitch as equal. If an ump makes a bad call at a critical moment in a game, that's obviously going to create more fan outcry.
  • Plus, with around 150 called pitches in a typical game, a handful of bad calls can make the difference between a relatively high accuracy rating and the bottom of the barrel.

There's also a decent gap between the best- and worst-performing umpires so far this year.

  • The top ump, Derek Thomas, has a 96.1% accuracy rating across six games and 1,027 called pitches.
  • His lowest-ranked counterpart, John Bacon, is at 90% — but has only overseen a single game, in which he called 201 pitches.

What of umpire Angel Hernandez, the source of many a baseball fan's ire this year?

  • He's at 93.3% across six games and 1,099 called pitches— middling, but better than you might expect.

Caveat: Calling balls and strikes is only part of an ump's job. There's plenty of other stuff they can mess up too.

The bottom line: The robo-umps are maybe coming one day, anyway.

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