Early this morning, it was announced that 29-year veteran umpire Ángel Hernández filed a grievance against his employer claiming that MLB had manipulated its internal umpiring metrics in order to make Hernandez look bad.
This is the latest chapter in Hernández’s discrimination lawsuit which started in 2017. Hernández is approaching the legal system claiming that MLB has manipulated its umpire data and altered Hernández’s season-ending reports in an effort to make him seem like a worse umpire than he actually is, therefore, preventing Hernández from being promoted to a crew chief.
Hernández claims that the league has a diversity problem when it comes to hiring and promoting umpires. That claim isn’t necessarily false. Prior to Hernández’s first legal claim in 2017, the league had only had one minority crew chief in its history, Rich Garcia. That number has since grown. There are currently two minority crew chiefs in MLB, Las Díaz and Alfonso Márquez, and in 2020, umpire Kerwin Danley became the first ever African-American crew chief. He has since retired. However, the diversity problem had been brought to attention by Hernández, and prior to tossing Hernández’s initial claim in 2021, a judge did make an official statement claiming that MLB had a “diversity issue.”
In his recent court filing, Hernández states that “The District Court failed to give appropriate weight to evidence of MLB’s disparate treatment of Mr. Hernandez, including evidence that MLB was manipulating the performance of Mr. Hernandez and other minority umpires to make their performances look worse.” Hernández explained that from 2011 to 2016, the midseason reviews he would receive — known as umpire evaluation reports (UERs) — detailed Hernández as one of the best umpires in MLB, but the end-of-year reports were much less flattering. Hernández found it odd that there could be such a discrepancy between his midseason and end-of-year reviews. But is it?
MLB isn’t the only organization that ranks umpires. In fact, there’s a site, umpscorecards.com, which has publicly available up-to-date umpire statistics. They routinely post scorecards for each umpire that detail what each of them got wrong, how they can improve, and what their biggest errors were in each game. According to the site, in 2022, Hernández has been the 10th-worst umpire in the league when it comes to ball and strike accuracy. He is also the fifth-least consistent umpire in the league. That’s not exactly where MLB would like their crew chiefs to be.
In all fairness to Hernández though, there are a few crew chiefs with worse numbers this season. Greg Gibson, Laz Díaz, and Jerry Layne are all crew chiefs with lower accuracies than Hernández this season.
In 2021, both Díaz and Gibson had worse accuracy percentages than Hernández, yet both were promoted to crew chief this past offseason. By that logic, Hernández has the right to be upset.
Is Hernández the victim of malice on MLB’s end? Possibly. The fact that there are currently two minority crew chiefs in MLB is evidence against that. However, based on umpire data available to the public, Hernández does have a claim for a crew chief position. He’s seen colleagues with worse marks get promoted, all while he gets left in the dust. At the same time though, Hernández has a reputation around MLB for not only being a subpar umpire, but also having a fragile ego that shatters easily when players and/or coaches argue his calls. Perhaps that’s why he hasn’t been promoted. While he may be better at calling balls and strikes, they feel his temperament could be improved.
Contrary to what the court of public opinion would have you believe, Hernández is not the worst umpire to ever walk the Earth. He isn’t good by any means, and is probably a worse umpire than he thinks himself to be, but he’s not as bad (at least behind home plate) as some of the umpires who’ve been granted crew chief positions. Personally, I don’t think Hernández deserves a job as a crew chief, but neither do Díaz or Gibson. If MLB really wants to convince Hernández that he isn’t cut out for the job, they need to do a better job of promoting great umpires.