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Sixty Feet, Six Inches

Don't discount the umpire's effect on your pitcher

Posted: Friday July 21, 2006 9:41PM; Updated: Friday July 21, 2006 9:41PM
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If Jeff Kellogg (left) is behind the plate, you might see big strikeout day for your starter.
If Jeff Kellogg (left) is behind the plate, you might see big strikeout day for your starter.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
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By Sean Allen, Special to SI.com, TalentedMrRoto.com

Who has an effect on a pitcher's performance?

Obviously the pitcher himself and the catcher calling the game do. The hitters he faces and skill of the opposing manager in filling out the lineup card have an effect. The defense behind him will definitely matter to the outcome of the game. But you know who else does that we never seem to consider in fantasy?

The Umpire.

It's well known that, for whatever reason, some umps have a bigger strike zone than others. Knowledge of which umps are lenient can be advantageous if you are spot starting and know the umpire calling the game has a tendency to call more punch-outs. Conversely, if the man behind the plate usually allows more walks or fewer K's, you might want to sit your marginal pitcher.

Yep ... I managed to dig up umpire stats for the 2006 season. The numbers are as of Wednesday morning. For '06, the average umpire will call 12.78 strikeouts per game and will send 6.54 batters walking to first. That doesn't really have any meaning, but I will refer back to the league average through our journey ... so that's what I am talking about. Also, when I am talking about the umpires, I will only refer to the guys who have called more than 15 games this season. K/G refers to strikeouts per game while BB/G is walks per game and R/G is runs per game. Please also remember that the umpire is calling the game for both teams, so if the numbers look a bit high at first glance, that's why.

As with all stats in fantasy baseball, you can use these as an indicator, but not a steadfast rule. For example, John Lackey's two recent complete-game shutouts both came with 10 strikeouts. The first game against Oakland was called by Brian Gorman, who is the fourth most lenient ump this year, almost two full K/G over the average. The second game against Tampa Bay was called by Tim McClelland, who is the fifth strictest ump this year, a full K/G below the average. So, you see, this isn't written in stone.

On the other hand, could we have had insight into Lackey's most recent start, where he gave up five runs and had a 7/5 K/BB rate? Maybe ... Ed Montague called the game and he is even stricter with the strike zone than McClelland and allows a full BB/G more than the average.

But please realize that some pitchers, you start regardless of circumstance. Would you really sit Johan Santana against the league's strictest ump?

Let's look at the numbers for the top 15 most strikeout-friendly umpires:

Top 15 Most Strikeout-Friendly Umpires
Umpire Games R/G BB/G K/G
Jeff Kellogg 20 10.2 6.8 15.3
Bruce Drekman 19 11.2 6.9 15.1
John Hirschbeck 17 8.5 5.5 14.9
Brian Gorman 19 8 5 14.4
Jim Reynolds 18 8.8 7.9 14.2
Mike Everitt 19 11.2 7.7 14.1
Charlie Reliford 18 8.4 4.9 14.1
Mike Winters 19 8.4 6.6 14.1
Tony Randazzo 19 9.4 6.9 13.9
Gary Darling 20 9.7 6.2 13.8
Doug Eddings 21 8.4 5.1 13.8
Marvin Hudson 17 9.1 6.4 13.8
Ted Barrett 21 10.4 5.9 13.6
Laz Diaz 18 8.8 5.8 13.6
Brian Runge 19 10.2 6.9 13.5

Among these umps, you have to consider Hirschbeck, Gorman, Reliford and Eddings to be pitchers' favourites because they also have a BB/G well below average.

The 15 strictest umpires are as follows:

The 15 Strictest Umpires
Umpire Games R/G BB/G K/G
Lance Barksdale 15 10.7 6.5 10.7
Tim Welke 20 10.8 6.8 11.1
Gerry Davis 19 11.5 7.6 11.3
Tim McClelland 21 10.1 7.4 11.4
Ed Montague 19 11.3 7.3 11.4
Rob Drake 15 11.3 7.2 11.5
Gary Cederstrom 18 11.2 6.8 11.6
Jerry Meals 20 9.6 6.2 11.7
Wally Bell 20 10.5 5.4 11.8
C.B. Bucknor 20 10.2 6 12.1
Eric Cooper 18 9.6 5.7 12.1
Mark Wegner 18 9.2 6.9 12.1
Bruce Froemming 19 8.9 7.7 12.2
Jerry Layne 19 11.1 6.9 12.2
Ed Rapuano 20 8.8 6.5 12.3

So who is a pitchers nightmare? Well, Davis, McClelland, Montague and Froemming not only limit the K's, but hand out the walks too.

What To Do With All This Data?

I think it is most useful for when you are sitting on the fence when considering starting a pitcher that relies on his pitching more than his defense. It's really not that useful for a pitcher who induces ground balls. This is for the guys who use their control and pitch arsenal to try and sit batters down.

When you have a borderline pitcher that has a good K/BB ratio and he is facing one of the lenient umps, you should be more inclined to start him. He'll get those pitches on the outside corner called for strikes, when otherwise they might be a ball.

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