I have to pull my punches slightly when being critical of Angel Hernandez. This is the cross I bear. Angel Hernandez was behind home plate the night Spencer Turnbull threw his no-hitter, which helped land me a gig here. If not for Angel expanding the zone, I might not be writing this blog. But that’s not going to prevent me from doing my job.
There is no other profession in the world where someone could be as bad as they are at their job and continue to do it at the highest level, except for Major League umpire. The fact that Angel Hernandez is still doing his thing is a miracle. I mean look at this call.
That pitch may very well be the most egregious miss of the 2023 season, and it’s only fitting that it comes from Angel Hernandez. That was Hector Neris throwing his splitter, which has been a putaway pitch for him his entire career. That pitch typically has tumbling action on it. It started in the zone and then dived toward the bottom of the zone. You could argue it was over the middle of the plate. Angel Hernandez called it a ball. That batter would end up walking, Harrison Bader would add a single, but that would be the end of it. The Astros would go on to win 9-7. Ultimately, it was no harm, no foul, and as much as I’m being playful about it, it’s another chapter in the storybook career of nonsense that is Angel Hernandez’s career.
I was going back and forth between the Yankees and Astros broadcasts, and the Yankees broadcast said that Hernandez was consistent with not calling that pitch a strike all day. I couldn't watch every pitch, so I'm not sure how truthful they're being, but even if that was the case, I don't like that argument. Being consistently shitty is not an excuse. You shouldn't be a major league umpire if you're missing pitches over the heart of the plate. And while the Astros went on to win this game, the principle of the stuff annoys me.
What if the Yankees would've gone on to come back and win, and the Astros would've lost the game in the standings? I understand that most people in baseball will not weep for the Houston Astros and their fans, but they are in the midst of a very close divisional race with the Texas Rangers. One demoralizing loss because an umpire who isn't good at his job could potentially be the difference between having a bye in the first round and having to play the best of three wildcard series.
You can dunk on Angel Hernandez all you want, but you can't deny that the man is influential. He may be single-handedly responsible for the robot-umps or challenge system that will likely be instituted in Major League Baseball in the coming years. I understand that there are controversial umpires out there. They've existed since the beginning of time. But if you remove Angel Hernandez from the equation, would the idea of an automated strike zone be something that we discuss with this much frequency? I honestly don't know. He has accelerated that process, and while I probably shouldn't give him credit for that, part of me feels like I have to. When umpires with artificial intelligence inevitably take us all over, we'll have Angel Hernandez to blame.