No Time For Overtime

There's now scientific proof that MLB umpires just want to get the hell out of there quickly

April 19, 2018
Boston Red Sox v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Sean M. Haffey

When I was in Little League there was an umpire notorious for trying to move games along briskly. He was adamant about catchers on the hitting team getting their gear on with two outs. His in-between inning warm-ups were comically short.

Late in games, the tie went to whoever would put him in his car and down the road.

This is all worth noting because according to recent analysis, the bias toward getting baseball games over with quickly extends well beyond Little League umpires paid in beer money, but even at the highest levels of the sport. According to fivethirtyeight.com, Major League umpires have shown a tendency to call balls and strikes in extra innings in favor of the team that will end the game soonest. The analysis looked at 32,000 pitches thrown between 2008 and 2016, and showed that strike zones expanded and shrunk in the bottom half of extra innings based on specific criteria.

Put simply, if the visiting team was ahead and needed to get outs to end the game, the umpires' strike zone expanded to call more strikes. But if the home team had a chance to win, they got more balls.

"Altogether, teams that are in a position to win get up to a 27 percentage point increase in the rate of called balls," authors Michael Lopez and Brian Mills write, "while teams that look like they’re about to lose see increased strike rates of up to 33 percentage points. "

Also worth noting is that according to Major League Baseball, umpires don't get paid overtime when games go into extra innings. Like my favorite Little League ump, that's not much incentive to want to hang around if you've got dinner reservations to make.

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