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. There’s just something about the way an umpire is able to look another grown man in the eye, hat brim to hat brim, and not move a muscle while the other guy chews him out, probably getting dip spit all over his face in the process — that I really admire.
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.
And of course there are the umps who are particularly proud of their third-strike call — umps who might be more likely to ring batters up on borderline pitches.
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.
Right away, Lance Barksdale (pictured above, not the dancing guy) jumps out as a hometown hero. He’s accrued 407 games behind the dish since 2005, giving him one of the higher sample sizes around the league, and stacked 53.2 units for home teams in his games.
Though he doesn’t have the track record of Barksdale, John Tumpane‘s return on investment for home teams is actually a bit higher, making him another one to keep an eye on.
On the other side we’ve got Ryan Blakney, who apparently lives to make enemies out of the home crowd. Like Tumpane, his sample size is still growing, but that 23.4% ROI for road teams is outstandingly high.
A true champion of justice, Mike DiMuro is out here just making sure the better team comes out on top. Good teams win; bad teams lose. Simple as that. Don’t try any funny stuff when DiMuro’s behind the plate. His 31.2 units won and 10.9% ROI for favorites are both tops in the league.
Onto the best in the biz. Joe West couldn’t care less about the names on the jerseys. He’s here for a good baseball game, betting lines be damned. Cowboy Joe (pictured below in all his beauty) has won a league-best 53.2 units for underdogs since 2005.
As much as we all love Joe, I’m of the belief that umpires have a greater impact on totals than sides. The strike zone is the most subjective of the calls that umps will make throughout a game, and with the exception of checked swings, they don’t get to consult their crew to review a call.
For overs, Sam Holbrook and Manny Gonzalez have been the two best in the Majors, and they each have a pretty substantial sample size of games to go by. Both of their strike zones are unsurprisingly on the smaller side compared to the league average.
And as logic would have it, four of the top five “under umps” have larger-than-average strike zones, led by Ron Kulpa who has stacked 38.9 units for under bettors since 2005.
As I mentioned earlier, sportsbooks aren’t oblivious to these trends. They’ll often slightly adjust the juice 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 2017. If only someone had that information …
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.
Top Photo: Umpire Lance Barksdale and Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant
Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports