Judging the Royals

How the home plate umpire changed the game in Royals’ 8-2 loss

Kansas City Royals pitcher Jason Hammel on Sunday.
Kansas City Royals pitcher Jason Hammel on Sunday. The Associated Press

Two pitches into Sunday’s Blue Jays-Royals game, home plate umpire John Tumpane missed a pitch. It was a borderline strike called a ball, but since the hitter — Jose Bautista — went on to make an out, it didn’t change things.

Unfortunately, Tumpane was just getting started.

According to the rulebook a pitch is a strike: “If any part of the ball passes through any part of the strike zone.”

Using MLB.com’s Gameday strike zone, over the course of nine innings Tumpane missed 12 borderline strikes; pitches where at least some part of the ball appeared to pass through some part of the strike zone.

Bad enough, but Tumpane also missed 16 no-doubt strikes; pitches where the majority of the ball, or in some cases all of the ball, passed through some part of the strike zone.

When an umpire is missing pitches, the losing team feels it costs them the game, but to be fair, Tumpane was missing pitches no matter who was at the plate or on the mound.

But two of the 28 missed pitches hurt a bit more than the other 26.

Jason Hammel went five innings and allowed two runs, but the Royals lost to the Blue Jays 8-2.

The Bautista homer

The Royals had a 2-0 lead going into the top of the fifth inning. Ryan Goins led off with a single and Royals pitcher Jason Hammel threw the next batter — Bautista — two straight balls. Hammel then threw a slider that clipped the outside corner of the zone.

Tumpane called it a ball.

So instead of the count being 2-1, it was 3-0, and that meant Hammel could not throw another borderline pitch; Hammel was aiming at a very small strike zone, so he had to throw a pitch down the middle.

Bautista jumped on the cookie he knew was coming and tied the game with a two-run homer.

The Bautista walk

Over the first five innings, Tumpane had shown the ability to miss pitches in any part of the zone, but his best work was done on pitches down; for whatever reason, Tumpane was not calling low strikes.

So when Scott Alexander — a sinkerball pitcher — came into a game tied 2-2 in the sixth, it seemed like a bad matchup; sinkerball pitchers pitch down in the zone to get ground balls and Tumpane was not calling those pitches strikes.

After the game I asked Ned Yost if he ever considers the umpire’s strike zone when he calls the bullpen and Ned said no, he shouldn’t have to; the strike zone is supposed to be consistent — but on Sunday it wasn’t.

Alexander threw 13 pitches and Tumpane missed four of them; a single and two walks loaded the bases.

That’s when Ned brought Peter Moylan in the game.

On Friday night Moylan made Bautista look silly; he struck him out with sliders away, the last one well off the plate. Moylan had faced Bautista four times and three of those at-bats ended in strikeouts.

Moylan had something similar in mind on Sunday afternoon: strike out Bautista, then go for an inning-ending double play ground ball with Russell Martin at the plate.

But Tumpane didn’t cooperate; with the count 2-1 Moylan threw a strike on the outside corner, but Tumpane called it a ball.

So instead of being in a 2-2 count, a count where Bautista might chase a slider away, Moylan was in a 3-1 count; a count where Bautista could afford to spit on any borderline pitch.

Moylan’s next pitch was a ball, Bautista walked, a run was in and the Blue Jays were up 3-2. Moylan took responsibility for throwing ball four, but said the missed call changed the at-bat and the game.

With Russell Martin at the plate, Moylan got the ground ball he was looking for, but Cheslor Cuthbert misplayed the ball, another run was in and everybody was safe.

After Josh Donaldson doubled, the score was 6-2 and Moylan was pulled from game.

But as he was leaving the field Moylan told Tumpane he’d been — let’s say “awful” — all day and Tumpane ejected Moylan from a game he was no longer in.

Moylan clapped his hands derisively; Tumpane had finally gotten something right.

Are umpires accountable?

After the game, some of the Royals talked about umpire accountability: if they do a bad job, does anything happen to them?

The answer is yes: umpires have been suspended or fined for misinterpreting rules or escalating arguments.

But bad judgment?

That’s something else.

CB Bucknor is considered one of the worst umpires in baseball and remains employed; Angel Hernandez has the same kind of reputation and has been calling big-league games since 1991.

On June 20, John Tumpane was behind the plate for the Padres-Cubs game and missed 14 pitches. And four games from now, John Tumpane will probably be in some other stadium, standing behind home plate, missing pitches.

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