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Umpires and Their Effect on Totals

Tracking the over/under records of Major League Baseball umpires is certainly nothing new. The idea, which originated in the 1980s, certainly looks to have merit. Some umpires have generous strike zones, which would favor the pitchers, while other umpires are known to have relatively small strike zones, something that should favor the hitters.
There’s no doubt that in some years umpires will have definite patterns in the results of overs/unders in the games they work. For example in 2006, games in which Mike Everitt was the home plate umpire went over the posted total 22 times and went under just 12 times.

The key for us as sports bettors, is to determine whether this is a trend that bears watching or if it’s the result of random luck. The best way to do this is to look at the over/under results for umpires in consecutive seasons to see if the over/under trends continue or not.

There were 23 umpires in 2006 who saw the games in which they were the home plate umpire who saw either 60 percent or more of their games go over the total or under the total. What we’re interested in is how they fared in regards to over/unders the following season.

In the case of Mike Everitt, after seeing a high percentage of his games go over the total in 2006, it was a different story in 2007, as 13 of the games in which he worked behind the plate went over the total and 18 went under the total. Everitt’s case is not unique, as 14 of the 23 home plate umpires saw a direct reversal of what transpired the previous year, while the other nine saw their trend continue.

If a bettor would have taken the 23 umpires who had a 60 percent ratio one way or the other from 2006 and wagered on their trends to continue in 2007, you would have won 279 bets, but would have lost 283 wagers.

Using the last two baseball seasons for data, it appears that umpire trends are more random occurrences than anything else, which really isn’t surprising. Major league players will quickly learn about umpires’ tendencies and are able to make adjustments, which helps negates any particular advantage bettors may have from wagering either over or under a particular umpires’ games.

With any sizable statistical sampling that involves one outcome or the other, in this case overs or unders, there are going to be streaks or many similar consecutive outcomes.

If you want an easy simulation, take a coin and flip it 40 times and chart the results. If you do this on 50 different occasions, you can expect to have heads and tails come up close to an equal number of times over the course of the 2,000 flips. But some of the 50 samples will be titled to either heads or tails. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see some of samples resulting in 27 heads and 13 tails, or the other way around and mathematical odds say you’re likely to have at least one run of 10 consecutive heads or 10 consecutive tails.

This statistical tilting looks to be the primary cause of some umpires seeing their games go over or under an uneven number of times. Simply stated, the odds dictate that there will be some tilting to either the over or the under when such a large sampling is taken.

There is no real advantage to charting umpires and their correlation to totals. Your handicapping should concentrate on the teams and the pitchers involved, and let the men in blue take care of their own thing.

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