There has long been an umpire problem in baseball. For years fans have been watching as umpires miss calls, shrink the strike zone, and throw people out. Things only got worse when networks began to show a virtual strike zone to their viewers. Now fans know exactly when the umpires were wrong and it seems as though they were wrong more than they were right.
This was strike 3 to end the Yankees Blue Jay game. A brutal week for MLB umpires. pic.twitter.com/ND0RSuBQ0D
— Molly Knight (@molly_knight) April 13, 2021
Hernandez and Bucknor
Umpires like Angel Hernandez and CB Bucknor are well known for their terrible calls and ever-changing strike zones. Already this year Hernandez, a 21-year MLB veteran, has had one of his worst games of all time missing 24 calls in the April 7 game between the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Angels.
Yesterday, Umpire Angel Hernandez was responsible for the worst called game of the season so far. He missed 24 calls with a correct call percentage of only 83.2%.
These called strikeouts to @ABREG_1 and @Machete1224 were two of his worst.@Astros v @Angels pic.twitter.com/n194czS0Bk
— Umpire Auditor (@UmpireAuditor) April 7, 2021
Hernandez is known as one of MLB’s worst umpires. In 1999 he was ranked 31st out of 36 umpires by the players association. In 2oo6 and 2011 Hernandez was listed as the third-worst umpire by Sports Illustrated and in 2016, 2017, and 2018 Hernandez had a 78% overturn rate at first base. Despite all this MLB thought it appropriate for him to work the 2017 All-star game, the 2017 ALDS, and the 2018 ALDS.
Bucknor has an equally bad reputation throughout the league. In 2003 and 2006 Sports Illustrated voted him the worst umpire in the league. In 2010 he was voted the worst umpire in an ESPN survey of 100 active players. Even still Bucknor was an umpire in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2013, and 2020 ALDS where he called strikes that didn’t even come near the strike zone.
— Jared Diamond (@jareddiamond) October 7, 2020
2021 starts off rough
The beginning of the 2021 season has only continued to highlight MLB’s worsening umpire problem. The season started off with not one but two game-changing calls that everyone, including MLB, knew were wrong.
The April 8 Citi Field home opener between the New York Mets and Miami Marlins ended in truly unbelievable fashion when umpire Ron Kulpa awarded Michael Conforto first base for leaning into a pitch that was in the strike zone.
The Marlins lost to the Mets in what might be the strangest ending you'll ever see
Michael Conforto seemingly leans into what would have been strike 3, and the Marlins lose on the walk-off hit-by-pitch#JuntosMiami #MLB #MIAvsNYM pic.twitter.com/ExU5bcTBeQ
— Bally Sports Florida & Bally Sports Sun (@BallySportsFL) April 8, 2021
I’m not sure if what I’m about to say makes it worse or better but only hours late Kulpa admitted that he made the wrong call.
I just spoke to umpire Ron Kulpa as a pool reporter. He admitted he didn't call it correctly: “The guy was hit by the pitch in the strike zone. I should have called him out.”
— Anthony Rieber (@AnthonyRieber) April 8, 2021
It doesn’t really matter who thinks that call is wrong because even with all the replay in the world a hit-by-pitch call isn’t reviewable.
Three days later another game-changing home plate call happened. On April 11 the Philadelphia Phillies were tied with the Atlanta Braves in the top of the ninth when Gregorius hit a sac fly that sent Alec Bohm heading for home. Umpire Lance Barrett called Bohm safe on a relatively close play at the plate. The only problem was Bohm never actually touched the plate.
Bohm's foot definitely didn't touch the plate. pic.twitter.com/crm6q98ZVS
— Baseball GIFs (@gifs_baseball) April 12, 2021
Despite everyone in the world seeing how wrong the call at home plate was the Braves challenge resulted in the call on the field standing and the Phillies ultimately winning the game.
Top 9th – Braves challenge call that Alec Bohm is safe at home plate; call stands, runner is safe. Powered by @Mitel. pic.twitter.com/ajtHRDMyQF
— MLB Replays (@MLBReplays) April 12, 2021
Only 13 days into the season and it’s clear that MLB’s umpire problem is worse than ever. I could do an entire series on bad calls per umpire and have enough content to write at least an article a day. The problem is getting worse, not better and replay is only highlighting the problem rather than helping bring a solution.
The solution to the problem
The clear solution to at least part of this problem is to replace the seemingly blind umpires with technology. Over the past few days, fans across the league have been calling for robotic umpires to take over and fix the ongoing balls and strikes problem.
robot umpires pic.twitter.com/ANCWMYTdlJ
— Ryan Zimmerman 2021 MVP Train🔥🔥 (@ryzimmsbat11) April 13, 2021
Although robot umpires are certainly part of the solution they don’t fix every problem. The two biggest calls of the season so far would still have been made by human umpires. Calls on the base path would all be made by umpires just like Angel Hernandez and Joe West meaning they are still equally susceptible to human error.
Robot umpires are a much-needed addition to Major League Baseball but consequences for the human umpires that remain are also a must. Mistakes happen but it’s clear that there are a group of umpires who simply can’t get it right.
Umpires this season has been so bad that for the last 14 days of the season #umpire has been trending on twitter at least once a day. Just today West one of the league’s worst is trending after so seriously bad strike calls.
Yesterday, umpire Joe West was responsible for the three largest misses of the day.
3.71 inches outside to @McCannon33
3.95 inches outside to @mconforto8
5.51 inches outside to @bryceharper3 @Phillies v @Mets pic.twitter.com/PkIDnBdiYz
— Umpire Auditor (@UmpireAuditor) April 14, 2021
The problem continues to get worse every day and Twitter only helps put fuel on the flames.
I don’t know exactly what MLB’s plan to fix the problem is despite the league experimenting with robot umpires in the minors there seems to be no talk of bringing it to the majors. With baseball’s CBA expiring in 2022 I would expect some talk about new umpiring to be brought up in contract agreements. All I really know is that baseball has an umpire problem and if they want to “fix” the game the runner on second rule isn’t the way to do it, bringing in robo umps is.