Strikeouts are Fascist. (Walks, too)
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:
- Umpires have very individual and consistent strike zones.
- Cy Young winners do get better calls.
- Control pitchers seem to get better calls.
- Rookies don’t get the shaft.
- The zone is larger at the belt and disappears at the corners.
- The TV zone was blatantly wrong (and still is).
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:
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?