Assessing the Ump Show in Arizona | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

On Friday, I profiled the Brewers & Diamondbacks series through the lens of the home plate umpires. To get the full picture, check out the piece. Here’s the Reader’s Digest version, as a quick refresher. This chart compares stats compiled from the games that each umpire is behind home plate. These stats help assess whether he may be a hitters or pitchers umpire. Stats include ERA, WHIP, and Average Total Runs, but the umpire’s biggest affect on the game are reflected in the K/BB and BB/9 rates. Umpires with a high K/BB and low BB/9 have a more forgiving strike zone that favors pitchers. Umpires with a low K/BB and high BB/9 have a tighter strike zone that favors batters.

Here’s what has been league-average amongst umpires so far this season. “Home Pct” refers to the home team’s winning percentage when that umpire is behind the plate. Also, to stay consistent with how stats are measured on the umpire chart, ERA, K/BB, and BB/9 numbers only refer to the performance of the starting pitchers  –

Home Pct Ave Tot Run WHIP ERA K/BB BB/9
55.0 8.47 1.30 4.09 2.60 2.75

I talked about Thursday night’s 5-3 Brewers’ loss in Friday’s piece. So let’s jump to Friday night’s game to see how things turned out.


Tom Gorzelanny and Patrick Corbin locked horns in a pitcher’s duel that ended in a 2-1 Brewers loss. Phil Cuzzi called the balls and strikes. Here are his numbers in relation to the league average –

Hom Pct Ave Tot Run WHIP ERA K/BB BB/9
Phil Cuzzi 55.6 9.4 1.35 4.24 2.23 3.13
League Average 55.0 8.47 1.30 4.09 2.60 2.75

Here are the numbers from Friday —

Home Team Total Runs WHIP ERA K/BB BB/9
Won 3 1.00 0.71 4.67 2.13

Cuzzi’s low K/BB and high BB/9, compared to the league average, suggests a smaller than average strike zone. That wasn’t the case Friday night, according to Brooks Baseball.

These plots track only the pitches in which the home plate umpire made a call (balls and called strikes). The “typical” strike zone is represented by the dashes. On Friday, Cuzzi’s strike zone was a little bigger than normal. He called low strikes, frequently, for both teams and even gave away the outside corner on right-handed hitters. His slightly expanded strike zone was probably more the result of the impressive pitching by both Gorzelanny and Corbin than anything else.

In my original article, I worried that Cuzzi’s smaller strike zone would affect Gorzelanny more than Corbin, but that wasn’t the case. This season, Gorzelanny had walked 10.3% of batters faced. He only walked 4.6% of his batters Friday night.

Prior to Friday’s game, here were Gorzelanny’s and Corbin’s numbers –

Gorzelanny 1.11 2.12 2.42 3.66
Corbin 0.98 2.40 3.19 2.26

And here are the numbers they put up Friday night –

Gorzelanny 0.67 0.00 4.00 1.50
Corbin 1.35 1.35 5.00 2.70

Gorzelanny’s second straight impressive start might have earned him a spot in the starting rotation following the all-star break. Patrick Corbin continued his breakout season by matching Gorzelanny pitch for pitch. The Brewers didn’t do Gorzelanny any favors by allowing two unearned runs to score. But the biggest issue was the Brewers inability to hit with runners on base, which resulted in them going 1 for 12 with RISP.

The only hint of the “Ump Show” came during the 7th inning. The Brewers had runners on second and third with no outs. Gorzelanny was pulled from the game for pinch-hitter Kris Davis. Davis worked the count to 1-2 then checked his swing on a ball in the dirt. Cuzzi rang up Davis without consulting first base ump Chris Guccione.  The FS Wisconsin broadcast picked up protests coming from the Brewers’ dugout but Cuzzi just barked back. While Cuzzi didn’t give Davis a second chance, the Brewers did get two more shots to tie the game but couldn’t bring the run home from third.


Chris Guccione oversaw the battle between Kyle Lohse and Randall Delgado on Saturday. Again, here are how his numbers have stacked up this season –

Home Pct Ave Tot Run WHIP ERA K/BB BB/9
Chris Guccione 58.8 10.1 1.41 4.92 2.93 2.51
League Average 55.0 8.47 1.30 4.09 2.60 2.75

Guccione’s season numbers didn’t make much sense when I dug into them. His Average Total Runs, ERA, and WHIP, all well above league average, indicated a hitter’s umpire. But his high K/BB and low BB/9 seemed to favor pitchers. Well, Saturday’s game is a good example of how that can happen. For the Brewers, it highlighted how one bad inning can sink a game.

Here’s what happened on Saturday night.

   Home Team Total Runs WHIP ERA K/BB BB/9
          Won 9 1.06 5.84 5.00 1.46

The low WHIP and BB/9 with the high K/BB would suggest a strong pitcher’s game but the Total Runs and ERA clearly say otherwise. The bloated ERA, again only calculated from the performances of the starting pitchers, is a result of John Axford allowing two of Lohse’s base runners to score in the bottom of the 7th. The Brewers only allowed six hits and three walks throughout the entire game.  Half of those hits and all three walks occurred in the bottom of the 7th. So, by chance, Guccione may be behind the plate for a lot of blow up innings this year.

Before the game, Lohse and Delgado had numbers like this –

Lohse 1.18 3.47 3.67 1.49
Delgado 1.45 3.82 7.00 1.09

Here are their numbers from Saturday’s game —

Lohse 0.79 7.11 5.00 1.42
Delgado 1.50 4.50 5.00 1.50

Again, Lohse was credited with all five earned runs, though Axford allowed two of those runs to score.

Here’s how his strike zone looked Saturday, courtesy of Brooks Baseball.

During the game, Rock said that there was a “nice strike zone for the pitchers tonight”. The plots do show a handful of pitcher friendly calls from Guccione but not nearly as many as Phil Cuzzi called Friday night. On the whole, Guccione’s strike zone was closer to the norms but I sensed more frustration from hitters on Saturday night than Friday. Cuzzi might have called more strikes that were technically out of the zone, but he was more consistent on his strike calls on pitches low, for all batters, and pitches away from right-hand hitters. Guccione was slightly more unpredictable in calling strikes on pitches that were low or inside on the hitter.

I predicted that this game looked like a favorable match up for the Brewers and Kyle Lohse. It was going the way I hoped until that fateful 7th inning. In the end, it wasn’t the ump show that did the Brewers in on Saturday. The loss of John Axford’s command, as illustrated below, is what sealed their fate –


Willy Peralta continued his extremely strong July on Sunday when he faced off against a struggling Ian Kennedy. Here are their season numbers before Sunday’s match up —

Peralta 1.50 4.82 1.44 3.64
Kennedy 1.38 5.31 2.29 3.36

Sunday’s performances highlighted how differently these two have pitched recently –

Peralta 1.29 1.29 4.00 2.57
Kennedy 1.74 7.11 2.00 2.84

Both Peralta and Kennedy have struggled with their command this year but were able to keep it in check. This surprised me because home plate umpire Ron Kulpa issues more free passes than most. Here’s how Kulpa’s numbers look –

Home Pct Ave Tot Run WHIP ERA K/BB BB/9
Ron Kulpa 62.5 6.6 1.26 3.71 2.33 3.22
League Average 55.0 8.47 1.30 4.09 2.60 2.75

And here are Sunday’s numbers  –

  Home Team Total Runs WHIP ERA K/BB BB/9
           Loss 6 1.17 4.05 3.00 2.70

In Friday’s article, I wondered how Kulpa could issue more walks and strike out fewer than league average but still have a consistently low Average Total Runs. Over the weekend, I looked at a few plots from games that he recently called and noticed that he calls a lot of low strikes. This trend continued on Sunday.

Kulpa also opened up the zone by calling strikes on pitches low and away from left-hand hitters and, more often than not, gave away both the inner and outer edges against right-handed hitters.

Kulpa’s low strike zone could account for his Average Total Runs being below the league average. If hitters know that Kulpa calls the low strike, they will offer at pitches that are less likely to be lifted for home runs, etc. If only this umpire’s table also accounted for ground ball rates and other batted ball data.

Overall, I found digging into the umpire’s numbers a fascinating exercise. For me, umpires have been nothing more than unknown overseers of the game I love. Studying how their subjective views affect each game has been an eye-opener. While I believe that expanded replay has a place in this game, the slight variances in each umpire’s strike zone only makes baseball more interesting for me. Sometimes, the calls may not end up the way I want but, whether in baseball or in life, nothing always does. And for me there’s something captivating about all those small imperfections.

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