Philadelphia Phillies slugger Kyle Schwarber was ejected in Sunday night’s 1-0 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers after protesting a botched called-third strike.
The umpire behind the decision— and preceding call— was Angel Hernandez, one of the officials who has faced the most fire in recent years. The 60-year-old Cuban-born ump has been around since 1991 and is quickly becoming the face behind the case for automated strike-callers.
Schwarber’s irate reaction to the strikeout led to his ejection but was a moral victory for fans and other players in Major League Baseball— perhaps change will come of it.
Kyle Schwarber ejected for being right
Angel Hernandez has missed over 2,600 balls and strikes calls in the past seven seasons, by far the highest mark of any decision-maker in the league. He also missed 19 calls (14.7%) in Sunday’s affair between the Phillies and Brewers, making him the main culprit for the day.
Even worse, Hernandez rang up six batters on called third strikes that were outside of the zone; for a team that only five hits in the entire game, they could have certainly used several of, if not all six of the incorrectly called-out batters on base.
On top of all that, working with bases loaded and only one out, Hernandez gave a strike to Jean Segura on a pitch that missed the plate by 6.47 inches, making it the worst call of the entire year. So, Kyle Schwarber getting tossed for furiously protesting his innocence and condemning the gaff-friendly ump had been brewing for quite some time, and it was just a question of when would a player hit back.
Angel Hernandez (and Umps’) place in the game
The MLB has been experimenting with robot umpires, most recently rolling out automated strike callers in Triple-A, the highest level of Minor League Baseball. The league’s website posted hiring notices at the time, looking for people capable of operating the systems.
The integration of technology into sports has been becoming more prominent, but notably, baseball has been left behind.
Many soccer leagues have been using video assistant referee (VAR), which is essentially an additional judge in a box with access to various camera angles and, ultimately, a final say in the manner. VAR can decide that an on-field referee has missed a decision or should take a look at a potential error, ultimately leaving the final say in their hands.
There have been obvious blunders, but the progression has been well-received by fans around the world. Baseball’s new system would not only audit decisions but also give assuredness that the correct calls are being made.
Another reason why missed calls are becoming so problematic is the expansion and integration of gambling in baseball. Bettors can wager on pitch-by-pitch outcomes, and these errors are costing players their money and interest in the sport.
League commissioner Rob Manfred even admitted the importance of gambling in a recent SportsCenter interview.
“I do think in-game betting is going to be a significant component,” Manfred said on SportsCenter. “I think if you talk to people who are experts in the field that they don’t see outcome betting as a major growth area. It is in fact in-game betting, so-called prop betting, that is going to be the growth area. And most of that betting is going to take place on mobile devices.”
So, the next time that an umpire misses an obvious call, keep two things in mind: one, changes are coming, and two, Kyle Schwarber has your back. Take solace in the visual image of a thunderous athlete freeing his emotions on a man who has caused restless nights for too many players and fans alike.