From Buster Posey to David Price, we have seen some big names announce that they will not be playing in the 2020 season. However, the most powerful opt-outs aren’t usually in the batter’s box or on the pitcher’s mound. Instead, the most impactful names are those usually standing behind the catcher.
Source: MLB umps wishing to opt out for 2020: Tom Hallion, Mike Winters, Fieldin Culbreth, Phil Cuzzi, Brian Gorman, Jerry Layne, Scott Barry, Kerwin Danley, Sam Holbrook & Gerry Davis. @JonHeyman first to report some umps were opting out.
To truly understand the impact of these umpires, lets look at each individually to see how they usually call a game:
At 63, Hallion is one of the oldest umpires in MLB. He first started umpiring in the National League in 1985 and served as the crew chief for the first game at the new Yankee Stadium. Behind the plate he is seen as slightly favoring the pitcher and calls 10% more strikeouts than the average umpire. In 2019, when calling balls and strikes he missed just under 16 calls per game which was slightly below average. Despite the missed calls, Hallion was very consistent and has one of the best strikeout calls in the game.
Winters first started as an umpire in 1988 and is one of the longest tenured umpires in the game. His most famous moment came in back in 2007 when his argument with Milton Bradley led to Bradley tearing his ACL. At the time, Winters was suspended for cursing at the Padres outfielder. Winters’ calls slightly favor the pitchers and like Hallion he is responsible for about 16 missed calls per game. Winters does have a tendency to miss more calls in high pressure situations. Last year, Fangraphs found him responsible for the most umpire runs created in 2o19.
Culbreth has been an umpire since 1993 and has mainly flown under the radar. Unfortunately, his most notable moment came in 2013 which saw him suspended for a couple games. During a game between the Angels and Houston, he allowed the Astros to make two consecutive pitching changes without the first pitcher facing a batter. In 2019, he missed about 14.5 calls per game while just slightly favoring pitchers.
Cuzzi has been in MLB since 1991 and serves on Tom Hallion’s crew. In 2019 he averaged under 13 missed calls per game and was one of the better umpires when it comes to consistency. However, his most notable moment of the season came in the Bronx when he tossed Brett Gardner and C.C. Sabathia.
Gorman has served as an umpire in MLB since 1991 and has had a fairly quiet career. Like the others, he ever so slightly favors the pitcher and is seen as very consistent. His only really notable moment came in a benches clearing brawl between Canada and Mexico in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. In 2019 he missed about 13.5 calls per game behind the plate.
When looking at Jerry Layne’s Wikipedia page you will see two main sections. One is a good amount of controversies surrounding the 2011 World Series between Texas and St. Louis. Layne notably was behind the plate for Game 7 and missed 17 balls and strikes; 14 of which went against the Rangers who would lose the game. Unfortunately for Layne, the other section is for injuries. Layne appears to get hit by baseballs….a lot. In 2019 he averaged about 16.5 missed calls per game and was seen again as slightly favoring pitchers.
Cliff Politte with an RBI single. I repeat—an RBI single.
At 43 years of age, Barry is one of the younger umpires on the list and currently serves on Brian Gorman’s staff. In 2019 he also missed about 16.5 calls behind the plate but slightly favored batters. For the most part, Barry has stayed out of the public’s eye outside of not cleaning home plate after Joe Girardi covered it with dirt in 2017.
Danley started as an umpire in MLB in 1992 and was supposed to be the first African American crew chief in MLB in 2020. While Danley will have to wait for 2021 to make history, hopefully he is able to work on his craft. Advanced metrics show that Danley is considered one of the most inconsistent umpires in baseball. He averages about 16.5 missed calls per game and misses over 11% of pitches. Out of 76 full time umpires, he ranked 74th in 2019.
Umpire Jeff Nelson was forced to leave the game with a concussion, which meant Kerwin Danley (ranked 86th of 93) took over. Danley then called a strike to Brett Gardner on a pitch that missed high by 6.46 inches — the largest miss of the playoffs. #Astros v #Yankeespic.twitter.com/AEhRB8W1oV
Holbrook has been an MLB umpire since 1997 and most recently was the crew chief for the 2019 World Series. Advanced metrics show Holbrook missing about 14.5 pitches per game while consistently favoring pitchers. He called 11% more strikeouts last year than the average ump. While Holbrook is a pretty average umpire, he is absolutely hated in Atlanta. During the 2012 NL Wild Card Game, Holbrook called for an infield fly on a ball that landed in the outfield, costing Atlanta the chance to have the bases loaded with one out.
Why is it that when you know an umpire by name it's never because they're great at, you know, umpiring?
Advanced metrics aren’t kind to the 67 year old Davis. He averages just under 16 missed pitches per game and ranked 67th of the 76 full time umpires last year. Unlike most on the list, his calls strongly favor the hitters but his dreadful consistency still sees him call 13% more strikeouts than his peers. Davis has also been a part of some more memorable ejections in recent history. In 2014 he tossed Michael Pineda for using pine tar and in 2017 he sent Adrian Beltre packing.
O’Nora and Dreckman are rumored to be opting out this season but are not as confirmed as the others on the list. O’Nora ranked 62nd in 2019 and missed on 15.5 calls per game. Despite the missed calls he is seen as highly consistent. Dreckman will be a blow to MLB. Last year he ranked 27th while missing 12.5 calls per game.
The biggest concern for MLB is that while most of the umpires were considered below average, the list does include 8 of the 19 MLB crew chiefs. In the NFL we experienced the issues with the replacement refs and just last year, we saw rookie umpire Brennan Miller struggle to call a game, eventually leading to the “Savages in the Box” moment.
The replacement umpires will have a lot of attention on their calls this year and MLB better make sure they are ready.