Looking at the Dodgers/Braves series outside the box brings up the interesting observation that the umpiring crew assigned to this series may have a significant impact on the way the games are played. More specifically, the men in blue that will be working behind the plate calling balls and strikes. The six man umpiring team selected for this division series is a mixture of men that have tendencies that favor pitchers on some days and hitters on others. This should play a role in decisions by managers as to which starting pitcher takes the mound, though it’s doubtful that such an impact is often analyzed at length by field managers.
The umpiring crew for the Dodgers/Braves NLDS Game # One is as follows:
Home plate: Hunter Wendelstedt
1st base: Marvin Hudson
2nd base: John Hirschbeck
3rd base: Bill Miller
Left Field: Tim Welke
Right Field: Laz Diaz
Hunter Wendelstedt is a mixed bag when it comes to calling pitches. He ranks tenth (out of 70) in calling the most pitches for strikes. He also ranks in the bottom tier (56th) on the number of balls he calls. What makes all that awkward is that his “runs scored per game” (RS/G) ranking is rather high (8.8, ranked 19th highest), which is very unusual for an umpire that calls a lot of strikes. Wendelstedt’s high RS/G ranking seems to be more of coincidence than anything else. Not factored into those numbers are games he has called in such places as Coors Field, Yankee Stadium or Chase Field, which could raise his RS/G.
|Hunter Wendelstedt listens to Bryce Haper's protest shortly after he ejected the young star for arguing balls and strikes, July 13, 2013.(Photo by Wilfredo Lee/AP)|
For a strikeout pitcher like Kershaw, there are few better choices of umpires to have behind the plate than Wendelstedt. Look for the Dodger southpaw to have double digit Ks in game one. This may be the perfect storm for a record setting post-season performance in the strikeout category. Those factors being: 1) The league leader in strikeouts, 2) Facing the team that leads the league in striking out and 3) an umpire that calls a lot of strikes. Chris Medlin should be helped too, but his K/9 rating of 7.2 compared to Kershaw’s 8.8 is notable.
Marvin Hudson will be behind the plate in this matchup between Zack Greinke and Braves lefty Mike Minor. Both pitchers will have their hands full as Marvin Hudson is a guy known to have one of the smallest strike zones in the game.
|This will be the 4th Division Series that Marvin Hudson has officiated in his career.|
Hudson’s RS/G is second in the league at 10.0 runs per game. This leads to longs games with lots of walks. Ranking 10th out of 70 in the number of balls called and 56th in number of strikes called should have the most patient hitters in anticipation of a great offensive evening. Both Minor and Greinke have pinpoint control as each walked less than 50 batters this season. Both will need to keep balls in the yard, and the Dodgers seem to have the advantage here ass Minor did give up 22 homers to Greinke’s 13 this season.
It’ll be interesting to see how each starter adjusts to Hudson’s zone and if they can keep from getting rattled on a national stage to a lot of border line pitches that won’t go their way. The veteran poise of a guy like Greinke might be the difference over a younger guy like Minor (who is 25), but both players have stellar seasons under their belt, so that might not make too much of a difference. The winner in the end may come down to someone out of the bullpen, because if a lot of runs are scored, (as they often are when Hudson is behind the plate), the starters may be long gone before this one is settled.
With John Hirshbeck calling pitches in game three, the pendulum swings back to the pitchers side. This is a guy that calls a lot of strikes and gets pitchers in favorable counts. Additionally, his RS/G ranks in the lower range at 7.8. This will be a Dodger Stadium Sunday game and if it is at night, it could be a low scoring affair.
|Hirshbeck is often remembered as the umpire that Roberto Alomar spit upon during a 1996 game against the Blue Jays. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Baltimore Sun)|
Hyun-Jin Ryu is to face Julio Teheran. Pitch tracking of games called by Hirshbeck show him to have a liberal strike zone. He likes to make batters swing the bat. Get that thing near the black and it’ll be a strike. That fact may favor Ryu, who is unlike other rookies with years of seasoning behind him. It’ll help 22-year old Teheran too, who walked only 45 batters over 185 innings, while striking out 170.
Each team will need to adjust their hitting approaches and be ready to swing early in counts or when behind. This could be another pitcher’s dual.
Umpire Bill Miller may call the biggest strike zone in the game. At least that is what extensive tracking of his games in 2010 and 2011 said. He called more strikes tracked outside the strike zone than any other umpire. He also called fewer balls on pitches tracked within the strike zone than anyone else. Miller has a strike zone that would have made Eric Gregg’s WS 1997 game six zone look the size of a postage stamp.
|Bill Miller (photo by Orlin Wagner/AP)|
That being the case, both Fredi Gonzalez and Don Mattingly might want to give serious thought to their game four starter. A number four guy such as Nolasco may do well with Miller behind the plate. Then again, a number one guy can throw a lot of unhittable pitches that might be called strikes. It’ll be a tough call.
Tim Welke will be behind the plate in game five if the series goes that far. He's probably best remembered by Dodger fans as the umpire that called Jerry Hairston out on a play at first base in Colorado last year where Todd Helton fielded the throw about three feet off the bag. That incident was an anomaly though as Welke is recognized as a very decent and consistent umpire.
|Baseball Prospectus chart of pitches called by Tim Welke|
He makes pitchers earn their strikes though. He ranks 69th out of 70 as the guy that calls the fewest strikes in the majors. He is what he is though. A 29 year veteran who is consistent with the way he calls the zone. By game five it'll probably be the staff aces again, so they should be able to adjust to Welke's small zone as their talent should be able to overcome his propensity to call a lot of balls. One thing for sure though, you have to earn your Ks with this guy.
|Tim Welke tosses Joe Girardi in 2012 action (photo by Rick Ossentoski/US Presswire)|
*Note: for an interesting view of umpires and the way they call games behind the plate, check out this link (at baseball prospectus.com), which served valuably in the preparation of this article.
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