The Mockingbird

Strikeouts are Fascist. (Walks, too)

with 10 comments

Like many of you, my first foray into pitch f/x was born of eternal frustration with MLB umpires. After a series of ludicrous game ending calls, I spent a frankly embarrassing amount of time assembling a database and thinking about how to get a handle on the strike zone, dreaming of finding that one guy who is in love with the Red Sox, or takes Derek Jeter’s word that any pitches he doesn’t swing at are balls, or just loves punching guys out so he can do his wicked fist pump and scream combo.

It didn’t work. Sample sizes were way too small, umps are nowhere near as bad as they look on TV, and even what a “bad” strike zone is up for debate (is inconsistent or inexact the bigger problem?). Even worse, it seemed to indicate that the Jays got some of the best calls in the league that year so I dutifully lost interest and failed to publish the results. Some interesting tidbits leaked out onto the interwebs though:

There were a couple more that I found fascinating but never made it into an article before the umpires union pulled the plug on me, and I will stop trying to puff this into a full post and just spill the beans now:

It’s pretty obvious sometimes that on a 3 and 0 count if the catcher can stop the ball from going to the backstop it will be called a strike. That’s true, but there’s more. Using the stat SAA (strikes about average over a full game of pitches – there’s a full explanation in the first Hardball Times article above), here’s a breakdown of extra strikes by count for every umpire over an entire year:

Count SAA
3-0 9.3
2-0 5.3
1-0 2.8
3-1 2.2
0-0 2.0
2-1 -1.3
1-1 -1.6
3-2 -2.1
2-2 -3.3
0-1 -4.1
1-2 -4.2
0-2 -5.1

That’s in order by SAA, but also goes from most favourable to least favourable hitters’ counts (with one or two that should be flipped). Translation: not only does the zone get really big on 3-0 and really small on 0-2, but along the way it gets smaller and larger depending on whether the pitcher or batter is ahead in the count. Umps alter their strike zone to even up the count, and thus extend at-bats.

Now I have to ask the same question about the circular zone and the two extra inches off the plate that on average umpires give: if every player knows this and/or has gotten used to it over the years, is it still a bad thing?

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Written by halejon

January 3, 2009 at 11:15 pm

Posted in Seriousness

Tagged with , , ,

10 Responses

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  1. Here’s what I’m wondering – if an Ump’s personal strike zone is highly consistent, would it be possible to anticipate something about a given upcoming game based on the home plate ump and the starting pitchers?

    and would such an effect be noticeable enough to be worth the effort?

    if so, and if the ump rotation were published far enough in advance, it would be neat to be able to see a rundown to the Effect of “On Tuesday Listch is pitching and we know he….and with Mr. X behind the plate, we can guess we’ll see…”

    Anyway, three cheers for debunking assumptions.

    BTW, do you mind updating the hotlink in your blogroll? I’ve risked it after all.

    Thanks.

    Will

    January 4, 2009 at 10:32 pm

  2. Sure…Download the spreadsheet from THT and watch who’s umping a game. If an ump is heavily skewed in one direction you can see it in the calls. I think I mention in that article when Victor Martinez lost it on the ump but it was predictable because he never called the low strike. Happens all the time.

    I wonder if Vegas knows.

    halejon

    January 5, 2009 at 1:31 am

  3. Nice, Jon. Thank you, umps, for making the games longer by altering the strike zone. How many people can even watch entire games? These unionized players pacing themselves…

    brent in Korea

    January 6, 2009 at 12:58 am

  4. Those numbers are interesting, but what’s to say the difference can’t be attributed to the fact that the further behind in a count a pitcher is, the more he needs to throw a strike, and vice-versa?

    Simon

    January 7, 2009 at 1:45 am

  5. [...] and batter’s swing rates, John Walsh that pitch type frequency and Jonathan Hale that the size of the called strike zone all vary by pitch count. In this post I build on, combine, and present in a visual manner some of [...]

  6. [...] and batter’s swing rates, John Walsh that pitch type frequency and Jonathan Hale that the size of the called strike zone all vary by pitch count. In this post I build on, combine, and present in a visual manner some of [...]

  7. [...] location and batter’s swing rates, John Walsh that pitch type frequency and Jonathan Hale that the size of the called strike zone all vary by pitch count. In this post I build on, combine, and present in a visual manner some of [...]

  8. [...] batters; the outside edge is extended out a couple inches to lefties. In addition, its size is count-dependent, expanding in hitter's counts and shrinking in pitcher's counts. These two facts make an assessment [...]

  9. [...] and making me blush. As to reasons for why the zone seems to get bigger in hitters’ counts (among other situations) and vice-versa, I have a couple of [...]


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