Power Rankings

2021 MLB Umpire Power Rankings: First Third of the Season

Welcome to the first installment of the 2021 MLB Umpire Power Rankings, covering the first third of the season’s games. You may have clicked on these rankings wondering, “Why does anyone care about who the best and worst umpires in the game are? It’s the players on the field that win or lose the game.” Well, Umpires dictate the strike zone, sometimes inconsistently, so due to human error, certain teams gain a quantifiable advantage over the course of the game. Thanks to data compiled by Ethan Singer, owner and operator of @UmpScorecards, fans can see how each home plate umpire performed over the course of every individual MLB game. The home plate umpire’s number one job is to accurately call balls and strikes, however, calls can be missed, so fans would hope that the umpire is at least consistent in their calls so that no team gets a sizeable advantage throughout the game.

To determine the best and worst umpires, I looked at umpires that have called at least 1000 pitches this season through May 31, 2021, and looked at who had the best and worst accuracy as well as which umpires favored a team the least and most. Umpires still play a big role in today’s game, so it’s important that we hold the bad ones accountable for their mistakes and acknowledge the best umpires in the majors for their excellent work.

Here are the top five and bottom five of the 80 qualifying umpires for the first third of the season.

  1. Tripp Gibson
    • Accuracy: 95.4%
    • Avg. Favor: 0.27 runs

Easily the best qualifying umpire so far this season, the 39-year-old Gibson not only boasts the highest accuracy in the majors among qualifying umpires, his average favor is third-lowest with 0.27 runs. His best outing came on May 25, 2021, with the Giants taking on the Diamondbacks in Arizona. For the game, Tripp had a 97.2 percent accuracy and his favor was a perfect 0.00, meaning that his calls didn’t benefit either team in the slightest. Give this man a raise and some more playoff assignments.

  1. Alan Porter
    • Accuracy: 95.1%
    • Avg. Favor: 0.40 runs

An 11-year veteran behind the plate, Porter, 43, is having a very good start to the 2021 season. Boasting two games with a 96.5 percent accuracy rate just shows how good his eye is behind the plate. However, his best game came on April 28, 2021, when the Nationals took on the Blue Jays. For the game, Porter had a 94.0 percent accuracy and an elite 0.05-run favor against the home team. Although he isn’t quite on Gibson’s level so far this season, he tops the next tier of great umpires.

  1. James Hoye
    • Accuracy: 95.0%
    • Avg. Favor: 0.44 runs

The last of three qualifying umpires to have an accuracy of 95 percent or higher, James Hoye is the most senior of the five umpires in the top five, with 18 years of MLB umpiring experience. At 50-years-old, Hoye has a high average accuracy of 95.0 percent this season. His best game so far came on May 25, 2021, when the Mets took on the Cardinals in St. Louis. There, Hoye had a whopping 97.4 percent accuracy and a great 0.14-run favor for the home team. Already having received nine playoff assignments, if he keeps this up, he should be returning there in 2021.

  1. Ryan Blakney
    • Accuracy: 94.7%
    • Avg. Favor: 0.40 runs

Already considered one of the best young umpires in the game, the 36-year-old Blakney starts his seventh season on a high note, tied for fifth in accuracy after 12 games umpired so far. His best game came on May 4, 2021, when the Tigers faced the Red Sox in Boston. He had a 95.0 percent accuracy and an elite 0.03-run favor against the home team. A great young umpire, he should get a playoff assignment if he keeps up his good reputation and performance so far this season.

  1. Nic Lentz
    • Accuracy: 94.6%
    • Avg. Favor: 0.31 runs

The youngest umpire in the top five, and with the least amount of experience, Lentz, 31, is entering his fifth season as a major league umpire. He is tied for eighth in both average favor and accuracy in the majors. His best game came on April 17, 2021, for the Pirates-Padres game in San Diego. There, he had a good 0.20-run favor against the home team but a great 97.8 percent accuracy. Although he has drawn the ire of some managers in the past, he is having a great start to his 2021 campaign.

  1. Larry Vanover
    • Accuracy: 91.6%
    • Avg. Favor: 0.55 runs

Leading off for the underperforming group, Larry Vanover, 65, is a long-time veteran of the sport, umpiring in the majors every year since 1991, except for 2000 and 2001. Over his long career, he has received eight postseason assignments, including the World Series in 2016. Unfortunately, his accuracy being at 91.6 percent this season is not good enough. In his worst games this season, he had an 87.4 percent accuracy in his April 16, 2021, game featuring the Diamondbacks vs. the Nationals, and on May 15, 2021, umpiring the Royals-White Sox game, he ended up favoring the away team with a favor of 1.27 runs.

  1. Brian O’Nora
    • Accuracy: 91.4%
    • Avg. Favor: 0.55 runs

The second-most experienced person on this list, O’Nora, 58, has almost 30 years under his belt. Unfortunately, all that that experience hasn’t helped him this season, as he has the second-lowest accuracy among qualifying umpires. In 10 games, he’s had seven with an accuracy percentage of less than 92.0. His worst outing was his latest on May 29, 2021, when he umpired a game between the Pirates and the Rockies in Colorado. There, he had a bad accuracy of 87.2 percent and his favor in the game was 1.86 runs based on his calls. Just a really rough outing for him.

  1. Ron Kulpa
    • Accuracy: 91.5%
    • Avg. Favor: 0.37 runs

Kulpa, 52, has umpired major league games since 1998 and has worked 14 postseason assignments in his career. Unfortunately, that hasn’t helped him this year either since in four of his 12 games this year, he has a pitch called accuracy of less than 90.0 percent. His worst outing was on May 1, 2021, featuring the Red Sox visiting the Rangers, where he had an atrocious accuracy of 84.8 percent, getting a total of 23 pitches called wrong throughout the game.

  1. Greg Gibson
    • Accuracy: 91.8%
    • Avg. Favor: 0.70 runs

Gibson, 52, actually has the highest accuracy of the bottom-five qualifying umpires (not a great accomplishment), but the reason he is the 79th qualifying umpire is because of his high average favor. He has the third-highest average favor of all qualifying umpires, behind Chad Fairchild (0.75 runs), and Jim Reynolds (0.73 runs). Coupling his favor with his poor accuracy and his 24 years of experience, he should be held to a higher standard based on how he’s performing. His worst outing so far came on May 16, 2021, in a game featuring the Cardinals and the Padres, in which he had a low accuracy of 88.2 percent and a favor for the hometown Padres of 1.23 runs for the game.

  1. Rob Drake
    • Accuracy: 91.3%
    • Avg. Favor: 0.42 runs

Not much to like about Rob Drake’s umpiring so far this season. Drake, 52, has umpired in the major leagues since 1999, and is flat-out not performing up to the level of his peers. In nine games this season, Drake hasn’t had an accuracy percentage at or above 93.5 percent. He consistently sits in the low nineties, with five of his nine performances grading out below 91 percent. He has had some games with good favor, including three games with a favor of less than 0.10 runs, but he’s also had some bad favor games, with two games above 1.00 runs; his 1.44-run away team favor on April 29, 2021, in a game where the Yankees traveled to face the Orioles in Baltimore. For an umpire that has had eight postseason assignments, he needs to be much better than how he has been performing.

Jonathan Hoffman

Jonathan Hoffman is an incomming graduate student at Northwestern University Medill School. He's a lifelong Dodgers fan from Los Angeles who grew up in a family full of Phillies fans. Follow on twitter @JHoff100 if you also obsess over Clayton Kershaw and sports uniforms.

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