2019 MLB Betting: Get to Know Your Umpires

Mar 28, 2019 10:15 PM EDT
Credit:

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Joe West

  • Before you bet on the upcoming MLB season, there are a few things you might want to know about the umpires around the league.
  • Using Bet Labs, we generated a list of the best umps for overs, unders, home teams, visitors, favorites and underdogs.

We made it folks. Umpire Baseball season is now a mere day away because we’re all ignoring the fact that it actually started last week (rightfully so).

Last year I wrote this same article, and I started it off saying something like:

“I like umpires a lot. They’re one of those mini pleasures of baseball season that provides us with highlights we didn’t even know we needed.”

Well, two months into the year I had my season highlight:

Now technically, this wasn’t from last season. But since it wasn’t released until last June, it still was arguably my favorite baseball clip that came from last summer. Close enough.

I could happily go on about how mic’d-up umpires would help save a sport that I don’t think needs saving, but this article is about betting, so I’ll get started.

Believe it or not, umpires can actually affect game lines. If you weren’t aware, umpiring crews remain the same for a given series, but they rotate around the diamond each game, going from second to first to home. You may know this type of rotation by the term “clockwise.”

So, when umps are announced at the start of each series, it’s certainly possible to see lines for upcoming games change slightly based on each one’s tendencies.

Umpires with smaller strike zones will generate more overs, and vice versa. There may also be umps who get pressured by home crowds into calls, or umps who subconsciously attempt to create closer games, which could help the underdog.

The point is: umpires matter … a little bit. You shouldn’t be betting games simply based on who’s wearing the black mask behind the plate, but there are some striking trends (umpire joke) you’ll want to be aware of heading into this baseball season.

If you’re a fan of runs, just hope to see Manny Gonzalez behind the the dish as much as possible. He’s won just about 30 units for over bettors in his eight seasons, and has had six straight profitable years to the over.

Ron Kulpa is the leading “under ump” in our database, winning nearly 40 units for under bettors in his games since 2005. According to Close Call Sports, Kulpa is also the most likely umpire to call strikes on the corners of the zone, which makes a lot of sense.

I mentioned that umpire tendencies can affect game lines, and Kulpa is a perfect example of that. Over the past four seasons, in games he’s worked from behind the plate, the total has dropped from its opener 31 times, and risen only 14 times.

Maybe the most eye-catching figure on the chart, though, comes under the “Home” tab.

Somehow, Lance Barksdale has won close to 20 units more for home teams than the next best home umpire. Of course, Barksdale’s game count is much higher than anyone else in that top five, but even his ROI remains the highest among any ump with at least 100 appearances in our database.

It’s worth at least noting, however, that 2018 became his third unprofitable season for home team bettors out of the 14 on file.

As for guys that don’t mind sending the fans home unhappy, Ryan Blakney tops the list. Intentionally or not, he’s quickly established himself as a road ump by leading our database in units won for visitors in just four years of work.

Mike DiMuro has seemingly spent his career ensuring that the better team comes out on top. His 31.7 units won for favorites is tops in the league, but his 10.5% ROI is bested by Quinn Wolcott. Wolcott’s figure is actually the highest in our database for umps with more than 25 appearances.

We end with a three-horse race for top underdog ump between three veteran umpires. Impressively, less than three units separate Jim Joyce, Joe West and Jeff Nelson, who are all pushing to reaching the 50-unit mark for underdog bettors.

As I mentioned earlier, sportsbooks aren’t oblivious to these trends. As we saw in the case of Kulpa, they’ll often slightly adjust the numbers when particular umpires are announced. So if you’re looking to get ahead of some trends before the books catch on, you might be curious who the most notable umps were in 2018.

Want to be able to look up these umpiring trends on your own? Try a Bet Labs membership. And be sure to check out the Action Network officials page to know who’s behind the dish before you make your bets on Opening Day.

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