We love to rag on umpires. They’re blind, their strike zones are simultaneously too wide and too narrow, and their ability to incorrectly interpret video replay is unparalleled.
With that said, and as much as it may sting our carefully honed armchair managing skills, they do get it right more often than not. While not every decision can be recorded, for obvious reasons, the Umpire Ejection Fantasy League (UEFL) tracks every ejection an MLB umpire makes and determines whether the call in question was correct, incorrect, or irrecusable (unable to be judged, usually referring to brawls).
MLB currently retains 93 active umpires (per MLB.com, which has not been updated since June), and while some invite more vitriol than others, ejections were fairly spread out among the men. Two umps tied for the most ejections in 2013: Chad Fairchild and Clint Fagan, each with eight ejections. Fagan tossed three players, a manager, and two coaches in one go after he was assigned a brawl between the L.A. Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks. Fairchild, by comparison, concentrated his disdain on the Detroit Tigers, tossing them on four separate occasions.
From 2008-2013, umpires got these kinds of controversial calls right about 60 percent of the time. Despite their overall success, the last time umpires made the correct call at least 50 percent of the time was in 2010, when they led with over 75 percent accuracy. In 2013, umps meted out 180 ejections and saw their accuracy plummet to 46 percent.
To get a sense of how this impacts each team, ejections are listed below and sorted by division. Division leaders are highlighted, and each table contains the sum of correct calls, blown calls, and irrecusable decisions since 2008. Any major discrepancies or spikes in performance since the mid-season break have been noted.
There’s little change to report here. Boston and Tampa Bay clung to their leads in respective categories throughout the 2013 season, not only leading their division but the whole of the American League (excepting Detroit’s 11 irrecusable calls).
The Indians, though subjected to the fewest ejections on incorrect calls in the AL Central, started an interesting trend in June. In the 9th inning of a Yankees-Indians game, Cleveland’s Mike Aviles represented the tying run. He checked his swing on a high ball from Mariano Rivera, which was ruled a strike after home plate ump Tony Randazzo decided the ball had jumped off of Aviles’ bat rather than catcher Chris Stewart’s glove. Aviles made the final out just two pitches later, then began shouting and waving his finger at Randazzo as he exited the field, inciting the first postgame ejection of the year.
In the American League, the Mariners finished first in 2013 with just one ejection. Back in May, former manager Eric Wedge was tossed after arguing a play that former Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki made on a line drive. The ball appeared to graze the field, trapped under Ichiro’s glove rather than caught, but first base umpire Hunter Wendelstedt correctly (and impressively) ruled it a fair catch. Though the score was tied when the ruling was made, Wedge could’ve spared himself a purple face — the Mariners won both the game and the series.
The Cincinnati Reds were the only major league team without a single ejection in 2013. In the last two seasons, they’ve only received five ejections – less than half of the Dodgers’ and Braves’ totals in 2013 alone (both led the league with 13 apiece). Whether this was due to the zen managerial style of Dusty Baker or a lack of controversial calls has not yet been determined.
Remember Mike Aviles’ postgame ejection? A month later, Cardinals’ manager Mike Matheny found himself on the wrong end of a disagreement with home plate umpire Dan Bellino. Unlike Aviles, Matheny wasn’t angry about the way the game ended, but about the unsportsmanlike conduct Bellinno had shown by ripping his mask off to exaggerate a called strike earlier in the inning.
I’m not sure if the data exists to support it, but this may have been the first time a manager was ejected for accusing an umpire of poor sportsmanship.
The Dodgers consistently led their division in total ejections and irrecusable calls in 2013. They were the only team to participate in multiple brawls, incurring six ejections just for fighting. Surprisingly, no player in the league received more than two ejections all season.
It might seem alarming that umps’ accuracy fell below 50 percent this year, but the fraction of calls that result in ejections is negligible, and ejections aren’t just handed out for disputes between players, managers, and umpires, but for the way those disputes are handled. What matters more is the lack of repercussions for umpires who blow important calls or ignore crucial evidence that may lead to an overturned ruling.