Colorado Rockies: The umpiring bias needs to end
By Luke Mullins
Before I’m accused of putting the Colorado Rockies‘ loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers last night entirely on the umpires’ shoulders, understand that that is not what this article is about.
When a team loses a game and blames it on one particular call in the field or the umpire behind home plate it looks cheap. Especially if that team also walked nine batters and went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
This article is not about Andy Fletcher, the much-maligned home plate umpire in that game. It is not about how he very demonstratively called a head-scratching balk on Rockies’ lefty Chris Rusin and then refused to let manager Bud Black argue the call.
This article is not about Fletcher’s amorphous strike zone that walked Dodgers’ third baseman Justin Turner on a pitch right down the middle to lead off the third inning and then struck out Charlie Blackmon in the bottom of the ninth on a sequence of pitches in the right-handed batters box, during which Blackmon never took the bat off his shoulder.
This article certainly isn’t about Fletcher’s history of unhinged, irrational behavior, like the time he charged the mound to scream in the face of Cubs left-hander Jon Lester after Lester was upset about a ball four call to…yes, the Dodgers.
Okay, maybe this is a little bit about Andy Fletcher.
But despite the fact that Fletcher just made himself the most hated man in Denver even while the entire Dodgers’ squad (save Kenley Jansen) is staying in the city, he is not the problem. He is merely the manifestation of a bigger problem.
Yes, the strike zone was awful. The call on Blackmon was nauseating. His attitude toward Bud Black was unprofessional.
You can even check out Fletcher’s strike zone from Friday here (the green squares are balls called against Rockies pitchers and the red squares are strikes for Rockies pitchers and the same concept but triangles for the Dodgers).
But the worst call of the game was the “error” on Nolan Arenado when Nolan threw the ball to Ian Desmond at first, Desmond caught the ball with his foot on the bag well ahead of the runner and somehow it wasn’t ruled an out, even after review.
That should have ended the inning, but instead a run scored on the play and another Dodger crossed the plate later in the inning. Those were the Dodgers’ third and fourth runs in a 4-2 win. In September, every game counts, every run counts, every call counts. The Rockies are on the verge of capturing their first division title in franchise history if they can hold off LA. And that brings us to the real problem.
The Dodgers are supposed to win the NL West. They were NL champs last season and are loved by analysts and prognosticators across the nation. Its who the Dodgers are. They are good. With their money and brand, it looks like they always will be good. For baseball fans, common sense dictates that the Dodgers should be winning, whatever their record says. It is the natural state of things for them to be in first.
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Historically, the Rockies have not been good. The Rockies should not win the NL West. Not just because of their history, but also because of their negative run differential in 2018. That is their natural state.
Anything to the contrary appears unnatural, unusual, and difficult to comprehend. Good pitching in Colorado? That’s impossible. Rockies pitchers have a reputation, regardless of their personal stats, and therefore will have a harder time getting borderline calls than pitchers on teams with a history of pitching success. Rockies pitchers are supposed to walk people.
But for teams like the Dodgers or the St. Louis Cardinals, its the opposite. The Dodgers have a history of good pitching. They don’t walk people. They’re supposed to strike out Rockies outfielders in the bottom of the ninth.
This isn’t to suggest that there is some sort of cabal in New York making sure that certain teams win their divisions. That would be ludicrous.
But at a certain point you see what you believe. And that applies to umpires too. From all indications, Andy Fletcher believed Scott Alexander was going to strikeout Blackmon, so that was what he saw. That is the only explanation I can think of for him calling three strikes so far off the plate, especially when he had such a tight zone for Rockies’ pitchers.
I’m not saying he was rooting for the Dodgers, but sometimes perceptions can taint how we see things and if you really believe the Dodgers are going to leave Denver in first place, that has to have an effect on the calls you make, even if it is unintentional, whether you’re standing behind home plate or sitting at a computer in New York.
I don’t know how to fix this. We already have replay and that didn’t help. But one way or another, this bias needs to end. Strikes should be strikes. Balls should be balls. Outs should be outs. No matter who’s pitching. September’s too important to get it wrong.