[Guest Post] Umpire Preview: 2019 American League Division Series

(Ed Note: We’re very excited to have Adam Seth Moss take his umpire previews from RAB to VF314. You can find his 2018 ALDS umps preview here and plenty of his other RAB guest posts here.)

The umpire previews have crossed the internet bridge from River Avenue Blues to Views From 314ft. The umpires go from four to six for the postseason series, and the best of the best, as recorded by umpire technology and umpire supervisors, get postseason assignments.

The day after the season ended the umpires for the Wild Card and Division Series were announced. There are three first-time postseason umpires and two working their first Division Series. There are also four umpires who will be working as replay umpires at the bunker in Chelsea during the Division Series. These four are Ron Kulpa (46), Gabe Morales (47), Paul Nauert (39) and Brian O’Nora (7).

The Yankees have challenged 23 calls during the 2019 season, and 15 were overturned, 8 upheld (.652 batting percentage, which is 2nd best in baseball behind the Royals).

The Yankees and umpires have been an interesting mix this season. It was Aaron Boone being tossed by rookie Brennan Miller which set into motion the “Savages in the Box” meme that has lasted throughout the 2019 season. Brett Gardner’s slamming of a bat on the dugout roof has also caused controversy. A site this writer is a member of has not had issues calling Brett Gardner names that would be rather left unsaid.

Without further ado, let’s dig into the crew who will be umpiring the American League Division Series (A).

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Manny Gonzalez (No. 79 – Home Plate Game 1)

The native of Caracas, Venezuela, and the first umpire born in Venezuela, Gonzalez is the home plate umpire in Game 1. Gonzalez is your definition of an average umpire, but the strikeouts are a little high. This season, Gonzalez has a 4.40 ERA (tied for 45th highest with Tom Hallion and D.J. Reyburn). His umpire WHIP is 1.34 WHIP (higher than average). Batters with Gonzalez behind the plate have a .242 / .317 / .394 batting line, averaging 8.4 hits per 9 innings, 3.6 walks per 9 (very high) and 9.4 strikeouts per 9 innings. Yearly trends back up Gonzalez’s 2019 season, because he had a 4.37 ERA and 1.42 WHIP in 2018. In what matches a baseball trend, the rest of the numbers also went down from his 2018 numbers. In 2018, batters had a .259 / .334 / .428 trend. The lower slugging is a little strange given the baseball, but it is not something that alarming.

Replay wise, Gonzalez has had eight calls go to the bunker in Chelsea in 2019. Of those eight, six of them were upheld and two were overturned (a .750 batting percentage).

Gonzalez made his MLB debut on May 17, 2010 between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Florida Marlins at Sun Life Stadium. This is his second Division Series assignment, having done the National League Division Series in 2016 between the Dodgers and Nationals. In what has been an oddball, going into the 2019 season, Gonzalez had not ejected a player or coach since May 30, 2016 (Terry Francona). This season, he has three (Ron Gardenhire on June 15; Keon Broxton on August 25 (when Broxton threw his gloves against the Yankees); and September 19 of Mike Montgomery). Montgomery made some post-game comments about Gonzalez, calling him unethical. The calls made by Gonzalez were still correct.

Todd Tichenor (No. 13 – HP Game 2)

Where Manny Gonzalez’s 2019 numbers were backed up mostly by his 2018 numbers, we have a problem with the Game 2 umpire. The numbers for Todd Tichenor between 2018 and 2019 are so different that there has to be some questions in what happened. Theoretically, in the juiced ball 2019, Tichenor’s numbers should go more in favor of the hitters. Not in this case. In 2018, Tichenor had a 4.48 ERA in 30 games, backed by a 1.33 WHIP, 8.4 H/9, 3.5 BB/9, and 8.6K/9. The batters had a line of .246 / .319 / .414. These numbers would support true hitter’s umpire. Switching to 2019, Tichenor had a 4.21 ERA (53rd of 89), 1.24 WHIP, 8.0H/9, 3.2BB/9, and 9.1K/9. Other than the strikeouts, every other number went down, including a .238 / .308 / .411 batting line. This reeks of juiced ball in terms of strikeouts, but um, after that, there is no answer.

In terms of replay, Tichenor has not had such a wonderful season as Gonzalez. 16 plays have gone to the Chelsea bunker and six have been overturned, resulting in a .625 batting average in the replay booth.

The native of Lincoln, Nebraska made his MLB debut in an interleague game between the Toronto Blue Jays and Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on June 8, 2007. This is his fourth Division Series and his second home plate assignment in one. Coming into the 2019 season, he had 29 ejections and this season he added 3 (including Ron Gardenhire). Now, like Gonzalez, Tichenor had gone three years since his last ejections. The last four ejections were notable because they had been four Yankees as part of the brawl with Toronto started by J.A. Happ and Luis Severino on September 26, 2016. Those are the only Yankee ejections of his career.

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Gary Cederstrom (No. 38 – CC – HP Game 3)

Stereotypically, you’d think the crew chief would work Game 1 as the best umpire of the crew. However, this is not the case. MLB tends to prefer the crew chief work the third game of the series because it is considered the most crucial and they want the best umpire working the plate in Game 3. Cederstrom is also the veteran of the group by a significant margin. Cederstrom is in his 31st season as a major league umpire, having made his MLB debut on June 2, 1989 at the original Comiskey Park. Technically we are getting a Cederstrom-chiefed crew for the second straight series as his regular season crew worked the one in Arlington.

Cederstrom umpired the Friday game of the Yankees/Rangers series. He is the definition of pitcher’s umpire. He is pretty fair, but he leans towards pitchers. He of course, has a no-hitter to his name, Johan Santana on June 1, 2012 (and yes, by definition of rules in 2012 and 2019, it is a no-hitter). Cederstrom in 2019 has a 3.89 ERA (69th of 89) and 1.36 WHIP. Batters have a 9.1 H/9, 3.2 BB/9 and 8.3K/9. That last one is bizarrely low for a pitchers ump, but it is what happened. 8.3K/9 is really low for any umpire. Batters have a .260 / .327 / .408 batting line with Cederstrom behind the plate. Kind of a signal that his zone leads to more bat on the ball. His 2018 numbers were pretty similar in comparison to 2019. Replay-wise, Cederstrom had 13 calls go back to Chelsea, with four being overturned (a .692 batting average).

Cederstrom, age 64, is working his ninth Division Series, most recently before this was just last year. Strangely, none of them involve the Yankees. Cederstrom has also mellowed out as he’s gotten older. Coming into the 2019 season, Cederstrom had only 40 ejections. He leaves the 2019 season with only 41. He had the first ejection of the season (Eric Thames) on March 29. None after. As for former Yankees, he has not tossed a Yankee in over 20 years. On August 6, 1999, he tossed Joe Girardi and Jason Grimsley in a brawl with the Mariners. The only other was Paul O’Neill on June 2, 1995 for balls and strikes.

Lance Barksdale (No. 23 – CC – HP Game 4 (if necessary))

Lance Barksdale will call game four if necessary (IN). There are a ton of similarities between Todd Tichenor and Lance Barksdale. In 2018, Lance Barksdale had a 4.57 ERA (12th) with a 1.41 WHIP, 9.2 H/9, 3.5 BB/9 and 8.4 K/9 with a .265 / .335 / .422 batting line. These are all pro-hitters numbers. Significantly pro-hitter. Every number screams hitter. You would think in 2019 his numbers would stand as incredibly pro-hitter as well. Go figure that is not the case. Save for slugging percentage, every number went down. In 2019, Barksdale had a 4.19 ERA (54th of 89) with a 1.36 WHIP. However, if you want a drastic change: 8.2 H/9, 4.0 BB/9(!), and a 9.0 K/9. Some of this comes down to the juiced ball, because go figure, the slugging rate (.431) and strikeout rates are up from 2018. That 4.0 BB/9 is extremely bizarre and very high. It is very rare you see a 4 starting the walk rate. I would continue to say he is an umpire who supports pitchers, provided they can find the zone.

In terms of trips to Chelsea, Barksdale came in 28th of umpires, with ten trips to Chelsea resulting in four overturns (.600). The native of Brookhaven, Mississippi, a stop on The City of New Orleans, made his MLB debut on May 29, 2000 at Dodger Stadium. That game was between the Dodgers and the New York Mets. This is Barksdale’s fifth Division Series assignment and first with the Yankees. Unlike the previous three members, Barksdale ejected someone in 2018, the active king of getting tossed himself, Ron Gardenhire on June 27, 2018. In his career, he also has 40 ejections, none this year. Barksdale has never tossed a Yankee in his 20-season career.

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Eric Cooper (No. 56 –  LF – HP Game 5 (if necessary))

Eric Cooper has the home plate in the deciding game for the 2019 American League Division Series (A). Cooper is a pitchers umpire by design, but much like Cederstrom, is a pretty fair umpire. Cooper’s status has gone up in recent years, particularly having worked with the MLBUA President, Joe West. During the 2018 season, Cooper had a 3.58 ERA (83rd of 89), 1.21 WHIP, 7.9 H/9, a 3.1 BB/9 and a 9.4 K/9 line. The 9.4 K/9 and low hit rate screams pitchers umpire. I would expect a fairly wide zone. Batters had a .232 / .299 / .371 rate in 2018. Switching to 2019, Cooper had a 4.08 ERA (60th of 93) and a 1.37 WHIP. Batters had a 8.7 H/9, 3.6 BB/9 and a 9.5 H/9 stat set and have an average of .256 / .331 / .438. All these changes reek of juiced ball, save for the strikeout rate, which remained stagnant. Expect some free-swinging.

Unlike his teammates, Cooper has not had the best season for replay. 19 calls during the 2019 season went to Chelsea, and eight were overturned. This is a.579 batting average and 39th of 93 umpires. The native of Des Moines, Iowa has worked numerous recent Yankee posteason series. He worked both the 2015 and 2017 Wild Card Games the Yankees were a part of. He was the home plate umpire for the 2015 one. This is his tenth Division Series and the first in five years. He worked the 2011 American League Division Series between the Tigers and Yankees. He also worked BOTH 2003 American League Division Series, including the Yankees and Twins.

Cooper made his MLB debut on June 17, 1996 at County Stadium in Milwaukee. Hired by the American League, this is back when the Brewers were an AL team. Working under Mike Reilly’s crew, one of his colleagues that day was crew chief Gary Cederstrom. However, Cooper has a bit of hot trigger. In his 24 seasons, he has 72 ejections. None of these are of Yankees and his last of Ron Gardenhire was on September 26, 2009. Let’s hope we win 3-of-4 to avoid this.

Adrian Johnson (No. 80 –  RF – HP (if injury))

Ooooh boy. Gary Cederstrom’s No. 2 from the series in Texas joins us as the right field umpire in this series. He cannot see the plate this series unless there is an injury to one of the five on the field who do. Considering his performance on the Saturday game, that’s not a terrible thing. Johnson had a terrible game on Saturday and Levi Weaver of The Athletic had no trouble pointing that out to his Rangers followers. His 2019 numbers kind of backup that bizarre zone. Johnson had a 4.87 ERA (24th of 93) with a 1.35 WHIP. Batters have a 8.5 H/9, 3.6 BB/9 (high), 8.8 K/9 line along with .244 / .316 / .448 (average slugging) batting averages. This is actually an improvement from his 2018 season, when he had a 4.80 ERA (8th of 89) and 1.41 WHIP. Batters had a 9.0 H/9, 3.6 BB/9, 8.5 K/9, .258 / .329 / .434 batting line with Johnson behind the plate. Again, the juiced ball has caused the slugging percentage to go up. This would be a very frustrating zone for both teams in a game 6 situation, which thankfully does not exist.

In replay, Johnson has also had a very iffy season. Johnson had 22 calls go to Chelsea and nine were overturned (.591 batting average).

Johnson, a native of Houston, Texas, made his MLB debut on April 19, 2006 in an interleague series between the Milwaukee Brewers and Houston Astros as part of Derryl Cousins’ crew. Andy Pettitte started for the Astros in that game. This is his third Division Series and his third in three years. He worked in the CLE/NYY series and, like this one, did not see home plate. Johnson only has 22 ejections in his career. Only one is of a Yankee and it is a notable one. This one was on May 12, 2017 and it was a non-call on Chase Headley being hit by a pitch. Johnson, who was correct on the call, by the way, tossed him after a long argument in each other’s face. He is also the umpire of this crew to have never tossed Ron Gardenhire from a game.

Conclusion

This is a very mixed crew in terms of strike zones. Cederstrom and Cooper are very pro-pitchers, Tichenor and Barksdale are pretty average, Johnson and Gonzalez are pro-hitter. The juiced ball has definitely made some statistical changes with umpires. Almost all, if not all, slugging percentages went up. Best of luck to the Yankees, given this writer is missing the first three games due to his 10th Year High School Reunion.

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7 Comments

  1. Adam

    How is Tichenor on the low strike? That’s super important for Tanaka.

  2. ropeadope

    Excellent work Adam. Interesting and informative reading.

  3. exiled

    Good read, Adam!

  4. Brian M

    No Angel Hernandez? What a ripoff.

  5. RetroRob

    Good reading, as always, Adam.

    I do have question about this line: “the best of the best, as recorded by umpire technology and umpire supervisors, get postseason assignments.”

    Do we know if this is true? I know they say only the best get selected, but then I see what I view as some of the lower-end umpires in the postseason. For example, here is Adrian Johnson.

    Also, I wonder if the fluctuations we see with umpires is similar to the home/road splits we see with players, or how certain ballparks play. In those cases, I always try to look at three years of data to reduce randomness. I’d like to think randomness is now at play with umpires from season-to-season, but I honestly never thought about it until now.

    Last, have you ever thought about doing this for all of the postseason teams and offering it up to MLBTR or Fangraphs? They have a submissions area. Maybe you have and I missed it. I know it’s a lot of work, so be great if you got wider exposure.

    • RetroRob

      “…I’d like to think randomness is NOT at play with umpires from season-to-season…”

      Would love an edit button over here.

    • Bobby

      Agreed with the last part here. Adam’s work is fantastic and it would be great to see it amplified as much as possible.

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