[Top photo: Home-plate umpire Pat Hoberg #31 calls a strike on a Cleveland Indians batter against the San Francisco Giants in the top of the ninth inning at AT&T Park on July 19, 2017, in San Francisco. Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images]
What are sports without the ability to complain about the officiating?
It’s a sports fans’ ultimate trump card to the poor execution of their beloved team, and nowadays, it’s easier than ever to dispute how bad a referee or umpire was at his job.
Whether it’s the installment of instant replays and the quality of cameras making a bang-bang play seem easy to the viewers at home, or the “Twitter officials” who pull up the league rulebook as soon as a borderline call is made, controlling the game at the professional level is a thankless job.
Especially in baseball, where the discussions about robot umpires and automatic strike zones become louder and louder with every missed pitch. But it is for these reasons that the performance of Pat Hoberg in the current World Series deserves to be celebrated as loudly as the errors are cursed online.
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According to Umpire Scorecard on Twitter, which is an algorithm online that automatically judges an umpire’s called balls and strikes based on the “true strike zone,” on Saturday night, Oct. 29, Hoberg went a perfect 129 for 129, a feat that’s happened just one other time since this algorithm began tracking umpires.
J.T. Realmuto #10 of the Philadelphia Phillies hits a double in the fifth inning against the Houston Astros in Game One of the 2022 World Series at Minute Maid Park on Oct. 28, 2022, in Houston. Bob Levey/Getty Images
While this feat alone is one to marvel at, and the magnitude of the game being impressive in of itself, the rookie umpire was able to do it against two savvy veterans in J.T. Realmuto and Martin Maldonado.
In regard to working with a pitching staff and making borderline pitches look in the zone, Realmuto and Maldonado are some of the best.
Just in 2022, they both had a 48% strike rate, with Realmuto’s sweet spot being outside to right-handed batters (stealing a strike 66.2% of the time), and Maldonado maintaining an above-60% clip on both sides of the plate.
While Realmuto is regarded as one of the best all-around catchers in the game, which led to his 5-year, $115.5 million contract with Philadelphia, he has always been regarded as an above-average pitch framer.
Maldonado, on the other hand, who has been a steady force in this dominant run for Houston, is knowingly put behind the dish for defensive purposes, given his career 72 OPS+. And while some may dispute the fact that the 36-year-old is receiving $5 million from Houston this year, the production of the team’s pitching staff speaks for itself.
So, when an umpire is unable to be swayed by the subtle glove and body movements of these two strike thieves, Realmuto and Maldonado could both be at risk of potentially becoming less valuable.
But while the fears of these two established big-leaguers is not at the front of their minds, for the younger catchers coming up in the minors, the fear of an automatic strike zone may take away a skill set being practiced for years on end.
Most, if not all, front-office employees would agree that pitch framing is the most important trait of a catcher right now. But depending on how the league decides on this hot-button issue, the skill that so many are working to hone could be all for nought, before they know it.
However, if more umpires can take a page out of Hoberg’s book, the skill development may be rendered useless regardless.
So, hats off to you, Pat Hoberg. But just a tip, if you want every ball to be blocked in front of you, giving the catcher a pitch off the black every once in a while may pay off.
New York Yankees Manager Aaron Boone argues with home-plate umpire Pat Hoberg after he was ejected from the game against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington on May 22, 2018, in Arlington, Texas. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
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