So I’m sitting here working on the Hardball Times Annual 2013 (which is, alas, not yet ready for order) and editing a great article by Chris Jaffe on the history of major league umpires and their balls/strikes calling. Meanwhile, over at Bill James Online, Bill posts an article (for subscribers only) that compares the strikeouts and walks issued by umps working behind the plate when Ted Williams was at bat. And that creates instant sabermetric synergy.
Here is a list of the umpires who umped the most games when Ted Williams batted (courtesy of Bill) and the number of at-bats and walks given out by those umps (also courtesy of Bill). I’ve divided walks by (walks plus at-bats) as a crude measure of each ump’s walk rate. Next to that is the umpire’s career walk rate, regardless of who was batting:
Ump AB BB % Career Bill Summers 605 172 22% 9.9% Eddie Rommel 581 127 18% 9.9% Bill Grieve 475 120 20% 9.5% Joe Paparella 400 112 22% 9.4% Bill McGowan 409 113 22% 9.3% Charlie Berry 406 98 19% 9.1% Cal Hubbard 359 100 22% 9.5% Bill McKinley 339 89 21% 9.7% Eddie Hurley 328 110 25% 11.1% Johnny Stevens 337 80 19% 9.5%
See anything in the data? Yeah, I don’t either. Eddie Hurley posted the highest walk rate, but he also deserves a special resting place in hitter heaven (or pitcher hell, depending on your perspective) for his small strike zone. Hurley was friendly to all batters, not just Williams.
Every umpire basically doubled his walk rate when Williams was at the bat. You can find some minor differences between the specific umpire rates, but you’ll have a hard time proving the differences are anything other than random variances. The idea that Williams received preferential treatment from umpires doesn’t appear to hold up—if that were true, you’d expect that some umpires wouldn’t treat him as well. That is Bill’s conclusion, too.
Keep an eye out for the Hardball Times Annual in late October. We’ll be self-publishing it this year, and it will be available as an e-book too.