Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Ballad of Angel Hernandez - An Umpire's Controversy

As Angel Hernandez, an accomplished MLB umpire who happens to court controversy, especially after three overturned Replay Review calls in Monday's Red Sox-Yankees ALDS Game 3 in New York, who sued the Commissioner's Office over racial discrimination charges, takes the plate for Tuesday's Game 4, we explore why is this 25-year big league veteran such an explosive figure.

Ump Hernandez is in baseball's hot-seat again.
The following article was meant to be simple and factual, and to an extent, simple facts will pepper the piece. The original story here was that Judge Michael R Barrett of the Ohio Southern District Court granted the MLB Commissioner Office's motion to transfer venue of the Hernandez v. The Office of the Commissioner of Baseball et al lawsuit to the Southern District of New York.

The original story was that Hernandez's lawsuit alleging employment discrimination took another step this month, but things changed once AH started trending up the Twitter charts.

The fact of the matter is, at this point, some people simply want Hernandez to fail. Whether it's their blanket dismissal of Hernandez's lawsuit and racial charges therein, bandwagon animosity devoid of facts, stubborn clinging to incidents from the 20th century, or otherwise, a swath of the baseball community simply doesn't like what it perceives Hernandez to stand for, and wants him, as the embodiment of these issues, to lose. These are the people who won't acknowledge them when they're up (such as Angel's second-highest plate scores during the 2016 AL and NL Championship Series games and 2015 AL and NL Division Series round), but can't wait to kick 'em when they're down.

And in a blowout ballgame, when there's nothing left to root for other than the final score, it's that much easier to turn the attention to an umpire.

Perhaps the easiest prediction any one of us can make is that when Hernandez takes the plate for Game 4, his first borderline ball or strike call, regardless of Quality of Correctness (which, statistically speaking, will most likely show as Correct), will generate an entirely disproportionate level of charged criticism from all angles, as if baseball's latest dam of hate has been opened.

Hernandez' suit against MLB remains pending.
Pedro Martinez took a disliking to Hernandez from the get-go, on Monday imploring MLB "to do something about Angel...he's as bad as there is," and Jeff Passan similarly concluded, "the culprit is far likelier the fact that he's not particularly good at his job."

Yet...individuals critical of Hernandez fail to supply any factual evidence to support such claims, other than the three-overturns-in-a-game evidence that we saw Monday night, which any statistician can quickly tell you is an incredibly small and insufficient sample size with which to make a generalization.

Frankly, it's surprising in a sport valued so highly for its statistical data analysis and which invented the term, "sabermetrics," that we haven't so much as heard a hint of numerical caution as to the Hernandez ranting.

Then again, other than us, who really pays objective, fair and balanced attention to the umpires anyway?

We'll get to all of that in a minute (three overturns in a game is rare, unique for a postseason game, but not unheard of overall), but suffice it to say, Hernandez has become a target for troubled tongues: a true embodiment of what it is to scapegoat a sports official, whether or not his on-field performance supports the criticism (and, frankly, it generally refutes as much).
Related PostGil's Call: The Blame Game (Umpire Scapegoating) (8/8/14).

If you haven't yet read our analysis of Angel Hernandez's lawsuit against MLB alleging racial discrimination, and discussing baseball's historical trend toward a nearly-universal umpiring underrepresentation of protected classes, you might want to consult the following links:
Related PostAngel Hernandez, MLB, and Discrimination (Part 1) (7/12/17).
Related PostAngel Hernandez, MLB, and Discrimination (Part 2) (7/13/17).

Larry Vanover also had 3 overturns in a game.
Replay Reviews: What spurred the Hernandez-hating hashtag to begin with on Monday was his being overturned via Replay Review on three occasions. That dropped Angel from a league-wide rank of 52nd with a .471 Review Affirmation Percentage (RAP) prior to the playoffs to 66th with a .409 RAP. All that really needs to be said about overall RAP numbers is that a handful of Division Series umpires ranked even with or less than Hernandez's 52nd and nonetheless got the assignment—Jerry Layne (T-52), Andy Fletcher (T-52), Chris Conroy (55), Mike Winters (62), Gary Cederstrom (T-65), Tom Hallion (T-65), Doug Eddings (T-65), Todd Tichenor (77).

From this list, Fletcher and Conroy were selected to the Division Series for the first time.

Hernandez may be in the bottom half, but with 90 total spots, he's certainly not "as bad as there is." If anything, Hernandez slots in to a fairly average MLB crew chief's performance—on the whole, crew chiefs are below average on Replay Review, so Hernandez's numbers are nothing all that unusual for someone in a quasi-but-not-really-crew chief position.

That said, three overturns in one game is an oddity, but it's happened before to names attached to a lot less infamy. In August 2017, after Larry Vanover was flipped thrice in Detroit, we ran a brief analysis finding that, to that point of that season, just two umpires (Vanover and John Libka) had experienced three overturned calls in one game; there were plenty of umpires with two overturned calls, and Angel Hernandez was not one of them. Yes, three overturns is rare, but it's not unheard of. That said, this is a first for the postseason where managers get two challenges instead of one, just like Boston scoring 16 runs to New York's one.
Related PostReplay Oddity - Vanover Overturned 3 Times Thurs (8/11/17).

It just so happened that Hernandez's rarity coincided with a postseason blowout ballgame. He had a bad day and perhaps a tough series, but it's irresponsible to blow this out of proportion.

Hernandez talks through a Craig Counsell EJ.
Ejections: The fact of the matter is that Angel Hernandez isn't remarkable in his statistical ejection tendencies—two in 2018, two in 2017, two in 2016, two in 2015, three in 2014, five in 2013, zero in 2012, and so forth—unless you take race into consideration. Dating back to 2005, Hernandez ranks ninth overall in ejections, but first amongst non-white umpires. Lightning-rod Joe West is at the top of the list, sure, but under-the-radar names like Bill Welke, Hunter Wendelstedt, and Tim Timmons all precede Hernandez.

More recently—within the past five seasons or less—Hernandez is middle-of-the-pack or even below average in ejection count. So it's not quantity of ejections that makes Angel stand out.
Related Page: Historical Data - Umpire Ejection Fantasy League Portal.

Hernandez received the UEFL's 20102012 and 2014 Noteworthy Umpire of the Year Award and was also voted the Most Improved Umpire of the Year in both 2015 and 2016. There clearly must be some disconnect for an umpire to have been voted into five awards in eight years, yet still see such a barrage of attacks from outsiders.
Related Page: UEFL Awards - Umpire Ejection Fantasy League Portal.

Ian Kinsler: Hernandez found himself the target of an Ian Kinsler personal attack following a 2017 ejection, which spurred MLB to issue a paltry $10,000 fine, representing just .09% of the player's salary. You may recall the umpires protested with a wristband, the Commissioner's Office threatened to take action against WUA if they continued to protest, and so forth.
Related PostToken Gesture - Kinsler Fined $10k, .09% of $11m Salary (8/21/17).
Related PostWUA-MLB Relations Deteriorate with New Umpire Protest (8/19/17).

Ian Kinsler confronts Angel Hernandez.
So while Kinsler is a symptom, he's surely not the cause.

Bad Attitude: We've heard the hearsay stories regarding a purported "attitude" issue with Hernandez, but from every Hernandez "mic'd up" feature we hear in the modern era, we see an umpire whose personality serves the game in a positive way. From his service as chairman of the Miracle League charity board to a Binks Forest School Helping Hand Award recipient, Hernandez's extracurriculars tend to refute the negative attitude argument.

When Hernandez rung up Cubs batter Anthony Rizzo to end an early August 2018 game, Rizzo said, "the call is unacceptable" with Manager Joe Maddon adding "egregiously bad" to the criticism. The next day, Hernandez described the pitch as "a cut fastball, three inches off the plate...Rizzo was right...I'm not perfect."

Rizzo and Hernandez go back to the 2016 NLCS (and most likely prior to that), when FS1 captured a positive conversation between the two that did anything but provide corroborating evidence for the "attitude" argument.
Related Video: Rizzo Apologizes to Umpire for Actions (Game 4 NLCS) (10/19/16).

That said, it perhaps didn't used to be that way.

When it comes to "attitude," it's not just Hernandez that shows up in the criticism column, though according to a 1999 USA Today poll, he ranked 34th of 36 NL umpires in temperament, 32nd in respect for players, 32nd in consistency, and 31st in "worst overall."
Related PostPot & Kettle - Baez Criticizes West for Confrontation (9/1/18).

In 2001, an apparently inebriated Steve McMichael said over the loudspeaker, regarding a close call at home plate Hernandez had made, "Don't worry, I'll have some speaks with that home plate umpire after the game. Boo!" Though popular lore holds that Hernandez ejected McMichael over the comments, the myth is false. It was crew chief Randy Marsh who phoned the press box to have McMichael removed.
Related VideoSteve McMichael calls out Angel Hernandez (Cubs Rockies 8.7.01).

In 2000, Joe Torre's Yankees took issue with what they perceived as a shrinking strike zone during the American League Championship Series against Seattle, while Mariners player Mike Cameron deemed the zone 'especially wide.'

AH's suit alleges Torre's personal animus.
In 1998, Devon White portrayed Hernandez as aggressive: "The first time, he went at me like he was going to kick my butt. I dont' stand for that. It hasn't been a good relationship. I think he definitely has a vendetta. (NL president) Leonard Coleman should look at the situation."

In 1996, Mike Hargrove said, "It was very obvious that he was looking to kick somebody out...[Kicking Lofton's bat after Lofton dropped and left the bat on home plate after a called third strike] was the most unprofessional thing I've ever seen an umpire do."

If that's the attitude Pedro grew up with, speaking of vendettas, it's a little easier to understand why the Hall of Fame pitcher would be so quick to criticize Hernandez in such a personal way.

As fas as attitude is concerned, Hernandez v Commissioner's complaint alleges that Joe Torre harbors a "general negative attitude toward Hernandez."

In fact, Hernandez's complaint submits several more recent evaluations, all of which praise Hernandez's attitude:
Hernandez claims that both 2011 evaluations are at odds with individual observers' reports that consistently praised Hernandez as "calm," "professional," "businesslike," and/or "composed." The suit cites several observer comments to suggest BOC's remarks were off-base, including "Amgel [sic] is a hard worker and great example for other umpires," and "[Hernandez] is a very good umpire."
Reputation: Could this be a case of a pre-2000 reputation getting in the way of objective analysis of an umpire's present body of work? Say it ain't so, level-headed fans, but Hernandez, in claiming Torre holds animus from his time with the Yankees, might support such a hypothesis.

Racism: Hernandez's lawsuit against baseball, as we previously wrote, reminds the sports world of its largely discriminatory history that the suit argues persists to this day. Angel Hernandez alleged racially motivated discrimination as to his lack of a World Series assignment since 2005 and failure to promote him to Crew Chief.

Hernandez received praise in evaluations.
Hernandez's complaint laid out the facts, his positive evaluations and stats, and an impressive postseason history dating back to 1997 (Hernandez is officiating his 10th Division Series, on top of seven League Championship Series and two World Series).

But as we wrote, if the problem is racially motivated, it doesn't especially matter just how good or not Hernandez is at his job. Where there's smoke, there's usually fire, so if we remove Hernandez from the equation, there just might be a clue to find somewhere else.

We discussed the merits of Alfonso Marquez's CV over five other (white) umpires that had been promoted to crew chief ahead of him. Fonzie has worked more recent World Series assignments (2011, 15), with similar overall postseason experience (2017 Wild Card Game, eight Division Series, five League Championship Series), has similar experience in the number-two back-up crew chief role, but like Hernandez, has not been promoted to full-time crew chief.

In the end, there is enough of a case for Hernandez's lawsuit to proceed—that much is factually clear. The only publicity problem, naturally, is that Hernandez, this purportedly terrible umpire without quantitative evidence to support the claim, reminds baseball of something the sport much rather forget.

Passan's subtle jab at AH's Cuban heritage.
Closing Time: To conclude, I'll drop one quick example of the underlying racist attribute—a sociologist might call it a racial microaggression—affiliated with some of the Hernandez criticism. Interpret it as you choose.

When Passan issued his "awful at his job" summation, he made to sure to seek out the "A" and "e" characters with accents—just to make it clear that Ángel Hérnandez is, indeed, an ethnic name.

By contrast, Hernandez's official bio in MLB's Umpire Media Guide contains no accented characters.


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