Posted April 09, 2013

Juuuuuust A Bit Outside: Marty Foster robs Rays as part of awful night

Umpires
Joe Maddon and Marty Foster and Ben Zobrist

Joe Maddon and Ben Zobrist were right to be outraged by Marty Foster’s terrible call that ended Monday night’s Rays-Rangers game. (MCT/Landov)

“I saw the pitch, and, of course, I don’t have the chance to do it again, but had I had a chance to do it again, I wouldn’t call that pitch a strike.”

That was what home plate umpire Marty Foster had to say after Monday night’s Rangers-Rays game in Arlington, which Texas won 5-4 when Foster called Ben Zobrist out looking on a full count curveball that landed in the righthanded batter’s box stranding the tying run on base. The pitch, a low-80s curveball from Rangers closer Joe Nathan, didn’t appear to approach the strike zone during any part of it’s flight starting near the outside edge and tailing down and away. Foster was clearly the only observer who thought it was a strike, and, per the quote above, when he got a second look at it after the game, he changed his mind, as well. Take a look at the video below and see for yourself:

Said Nathan, who picked up his 300th career save with that call, “I thought it was ball four. I thought [Zobrist] might offer at it, and when he didn’t, I was already thinking about what we’d have to do with Longoria now.” Yes, if Foster had gotten the call right, Tampa Bay would have had its best hitter, who was 3-for-3 with a walk to that point in the game, at the plate with the tying run in scoring position and the go-ahead run on first base.

“My only thought,” said Rays manager Joe Maddon, “is that cannot happen in a major league baseball game. That kind of call cannot occur. I don’t even want to say under those circumstances, last inning, the last out of the game. I don’t even want to go there. That call cannot be made in a major league baseball game.”

And yet, it seems, that call, though egregious by the rule-book definition of the strike zone, was not that far outside of the zone that Foster regularly calls. Here, from BrooksBaseball.net, is a look at all of the pitches Foster called against left-handed batters on Monday night.

Foster LHH zone 040813

The above shows the strike zone from the umpire’s perspective. The green pitches are balls. The red pitches are called strikes.  The solid black box in the middle is the rule-book strike zone (with normalized height since the top and bottom of the zone varies from batter to batter). The final pitch of the game is that red square in the lower left. Now, you see that larger gray box that extends nearly a half  a foot out to the left of the rule-book strikezone? That’s the strike zone that Foster “generally” calls against lefthanded batters, per Brooks Baseball’s research. Even by that standard the final pitch of the game was several inches outside and low, but compared to Foster’s typical zone against lefties, it wasn’t nearly as large of a miss.

That’s not a defense of Foster, however. Quite the opposite. Not only did he blow a crucial call in the clutch on Monday that might have cost the Rays a win in a season that they are expected to be in a very tight race for a playoff spot, but Foster regularly calls pitches outside the strikezone strikes. On the above chart alone, there are four other pitches that were several inches outside to Rays lefties that were called strikes, and here’s a look at what he did against righthanded batters:

Foster RHH zone 040813

There are almost as many called strikes outside the rule-book strike zone there as there are inside of it, including a handful of pitches that were outside Foster’s usual strike zone against righties which is completely different than the strike zone he calls against lefties (something that, sadly, is not uncommon).

Now, one of the things you’ll often hear hitters say about umpires is that they can cope with an idiosyncratic strike zone as long as it’s consistent. Foster is known as an umpire with a large zone, and per the two charts above, righties should know that with Foster behind the plate, they have to cover a couple extra inches off the corners and lefties should know that they have to watch the outside corner. On Monday night, though, even a strong working knowledge of Foster’s typical zone (be it from prior experience or watching film) wasn’t going to help the hitters in this game, particularly a switch-hitter like Zobrist, who had been batting righthanded against lefty Michael Kirkman in his previous at-bat.

Of course, even if Foster had been consistent with his typical zone, the fact that he regularly calls pitches a half a foot outside to lefties strikes should be considered flat-out unacceptable by Major League Baseball. Foster isn’t the worst umpire in baseball, and won’t be as long as Angel Hernandez and CB Bucknor are still working games, but he has had a number of run-ins with players — most famously when he allegedly told Derek Jeter that he was out at third base not because he was tagged but because the ball beat him to the bag – and those strike zone plots above speak for themselves.

There’s no guarantee that Foster’s blown call cost the Rays Monday night’s game because Longoria is 0-for-2 in his career against Nathan, but Maddon is right in that a call like that shouldn’t be allowed to happen in a major league game. Blown calls happen, but Monday night’s happened in part because MLB has allowed Foster to regularly call strikes well outside the rule book zone, something you wouldn’t think would still happen given that baseball has been observing and grading umpires’ strike zone’s electronically for more than a decade, first with QuesTec and, since 2009, with Zone Evaluation.

44 comments
lrsdawgs
lrsdawgs

This is terrible. But if MLB has the guts to fix it the solution is simple. Use this year and track every pitch - at the end of the year you have a baseline - the percentage of pitches missed. The umpires who are above the baseline get to continue to work MLB games. Those below the baseline, have the option of leaving professional umpiring OR reporting to Double A baseball to learn their craft. I am sick and tired of seeing at bats and games altered because an umpire refuses to concentrate.

Kortez Tk
Kortez Tk

These calls should be checked.  It was such a BAD call, and even Nathan can be seen to clearly say "WOW" out loud.  Baseball has to get past these ultra-horrible calls that make them look ridiculous!

RD
RD

It was a bad call but at least the ump had the guts to admit it.

hey_blue99
hey_blue99

With a crew led by Tim Welke that doesn't surprise me at all. Welke is the worst umpire in MLB and he obviously holds his crew to the same standard.

hey_blue99
hey_blue99

With a crew led by Tim Welke that doesn't surprise me at all. Welke is the worst umpire in MLB and he obviously holds his crew to the same standard.

Nevadafalls
Nevadafalls

Maybe Baseball wouldn't be as maddening if we let sensors, algorithms and software call balls and strikes, but would it be as beloved?  Zobrist and Nathan will both be impacted by the call the next time they take the field--Zobrist defending against a repeat, and Nathan trying to see if he can continue to "get the call".  That's hitting...that's pitching...that's Baseball.  It hurts a week into the season--it KILLS at the end of the World Series, or at the last out of what could have been a Perfect Game--but it's the Game we love.  And who knows what dynamics we would begin to lose once we start taking elements of an umpire's responsibility off his plate; would he be on his toes for a close play with a runner trying to beat a throw home if he's just been nodding off while a computer calls pitches?  Let's challenge MLB to actually USE those computer assessments and not just "grade" umpires, but evaluate which umpires should even be on the field.  Seniority and union protectionism is a bigger wet blanket in this area than flesh and blood fallibility.

StevenKeys
StevenKeys

Cry me a river.  It's gonna' be one long MLB season of bellyache if this collective hissy-fit is any indication.  Then Nathan, the beneficiary, fuels the fire: "I thought it was ball four."  Good one, Joe.

I don't know what's worse for baseball, this sort of sabermetric, analytical-overkill that politics for the elimination of human discretion (umpires) from the sport in favor of electronic-gadgetry or the PED plague.  It's becoming a close call.     

6marK6
6marK6

Look at Nathan's reaction, he knew he got a homer call. What a joke umpire.

dwguerra
dwguerra

In an age of specialization, why do all 4 umpires call balls and strikes.  Obviously some are better at it than others and maybe MLB should take the 2 best on each crew and have them alternate between home and 3rd nightly.  Its not perfect but theoretically you remove half the bad plate umpires.

mwr5053
mwr5053

Sort of reminds me how Jerry Meals completely blew a tagged out call at homeplate in the bottom of 19th inning 2 years ago at Atlanta vs Pirates. The Brave runner was obviously out by a 2-3 ft but Meals ended the game by calling him safe. The Pirates, who maybe were primed to collapse at that point of the season, started a downward spiral after Meals stole their chance to win that game in later innings. Meals continues to work MLB games. When I hear or see his name I want to hurl.

ekplug
ekplug

please retire the font that is used in this article.

jdbolick
jdbolick

Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't the strike zone extend from the front of home plate to the rear?  So the path of the pitch only has to pass through the vertical portion of the strike zone at some point along that horizontal distance.  To my eyes it appear that Nathan's curve was still in the strike zone when it first cross the threshold at the front of home plate, so the fact that it fell deeply out of the strike zone where it was caught is irrelevant.  According to the rule book, that was correctly called.  I can't say that I'm surprised that in all the furor the media hasn't reported this, but controversy drives interest, so they sensationalize the result instead of educating people.

ChristopherKucharski
ChristopherKucharski

And why is he still an umpire if that's HIS strike zone?  Get the computers out and let the balls and strikes get called that way.  The umpire can stay behind the plate and make the same money and call foul tips and plays at the plate, but MLB umpires have proven over and over again that they can not be objective calling balls and strikes.  I know, its been that way for 125 years, but now we have the ability to change (fix) it and we don't.  More reasons Bud Selig is an idiot and baseball's demise continues.

brighat
brighat

That umpire must have been the guy Sony used for MLB '13: The Show. I seem to get rung up by pitches like that on 3 & 2 counts once in awhile.

KyleSmith
KyleSmith

That is why they give you three strikes and not just one.

Paul9
Paul9

Part of being a major league ballplayer is knowing that each umpires strike zone is different, and even the same umpire's can vary from night to night.  The top level ball players know how to adjust to this on the fly.  From the charts above, pretty obvious the Ranger pitchers saw that the ump was calling things a bit outside for lefty batters, and were consistently hitting the far edge of the "adjusted" strike zone.  I don't see any pitches from the Rays pitchers on that edge of the strike zone.  Sounds like to be that the Ranger pitchers took advantage and were able to hit their spots precisely, while the Rays pitchers were not.  Don't see a lot of inconsistency between how each team was called - both were called the same way, so "suck it up buttercup" - that's MLB.

jhalbert99
jhalbert99

You also fail to mention that he was behind the plate all night...for both teams.  So both pitchers were getting those same calls.

lrsdawgs
lrsdawgs

@RD so did the guy who ruined the perfect game. Apologies are meaningless. Accountability is the key.

SledgeHammer
SledgeHammer

@StevenKeys right and wrong,there is no discretion.strike or ball,doesnt matter who is pitching or hitting or the situation.the right call is the objective.half the atlanta pitching staff since 1991 wouldnt have even sniffed a cy young if the umpires called a correct strike zone.they lived on 28 inch wide strike zones for over a decade.

6marK6
6marK6

@dwguerra Good call, maybe some umps should specialize. But I guess you want some variety and God help you if one of the specialists has some personal problems with your team, then you will get jobbed all the time.

hey_blue99
hey_blue99

@jdbolick yeah that must be why even the umpire that called it wouldn't call it again. Come back after you've umpires a game or 2.

6marK6
6marK6

@jdbolick there is always someone like you, that confirms that black is white.

Nagurski
Nagurski

@jdbolick It really is impossible to tell without that third dimension clearly shown. A direct overhead view would have to be added to accurately map pitches.

jdbolick
jdbolick

appear(s) & cross(ed).  Ugh, sorry.

Nevadafalls
Nevadafalls

@ChristopherKucharskiFew would dispute that Selig would NOT be the Village Wise Man in another era, but how do his--or Foster's--shortcomings equate to "baseball's demise"?

6marK6
6marK6

@ChristopherKucharski i agree. there is no need for a flawed human strike zone when computers can give us an objective and exact zone.

jdailey12
jdailey12

@brighat there's a setting in "mlb 13 the show" to fix your problem..."variable" umpire calls is the default (they call them as they see them...and vary from umpire to umpire)...you might want to change it to a more "objective" setting.


SledgeHammer
SledgeHammer

@jhalbert99 i wont fail to mention that that also makes it twice as bad.sucking for 2 teams isnt better.

SenorPlaid
SenorPlaid

@jhalbert99 Which doesn't justify a major league umpire calling the strike zone wherever he feels like it.

jdbolick
jdbolick

@hey_blue99 The ump was trying to diffuse criticism rather than attempt to explain the rule book to people like you who would never listen anyway.

jdbolick
jdbolick

@6marK6 Don't let my facts get in the way of your outrage. :p
 

Nevadafalls
Nevadafalls

@6marK6 @jdbolick And there are always others who are clueless when someone suggests the world is round, not flat....

Nevadafalls
Nevadafalls

@SenorPlaid @jhalbert99 "Wherever he feels like it"?  Maybe he needs to square up better behind the catcher...maybe he really DOES need glasses!  But do you honestly believe a major league umpire is up there winging it?  He may be third from the bottom of the list, but he has still wended his way through a tougher--and longer--minor league stint than the players have to travel, to achieve an even more exclusive roster of Major League caliber participants.  I kind of doubt ANY MLB umpire is so egotistical as to mail-in a call....

SledgeHammer
SledgeHammer

@jdbolick @hey_blue99 its impossible for a pitch to cross the front of the plate and be out of the zone within about 12 inches.study physics sometime.

Orange Crush
Orange Crush

@jdbolick @hey_blue99 Nobody is disputing what the rule book states as to where the strike zone starts and ends. What is being disputed is that at no point in time does that pitch come close to crossing that strike zone. It is your opinion that it does. It is the widely held opinion of most everybody including the pitcher and ump himself who don't think that pitch crossed the strike zone at any point in time.

jdbolick
jdbolick

@hey_blue99 T-ball umpiring doesn't really count.  Note also that you're not disputing any of the facts I stated regarding the rule book, you're simply asserting that I'm wrong without bothering to show any evidence.  And while we're on the subject of things you don't actually know about, PitchFX actually does record where the pitch is caught.  

hey_blue99
hey_blue99

@jdbolick @hey_blue99 Sure, you keep thinking that. It was a bad call and you're trying to defend a position that you took that was wrong as well. Even the umpire who made the call knows it was wrong. I'm an umpire, umpires make bad calls, hopefully not too many especially to end a game and especially not on TV. The electronic device which measures pitches shows how bad the call was and it doesn't care where the ball's caught. Do yourself a favor and quit while you're behind.

jdbolick
jdbolick

   @Orange Crush The rule book stating that the strike zone runs from the front of the plate to the back, and that a pitch only has to touch that zone at some point along its flight path.  Clearly that pitch did go through the strike zone at the front of the plate even though it was well out of the strike zone where it was caught. 

SledgeHammer
SledgeHammer

@Nevadafalls @SenorPlaid @jhalbert99 umpires are star struck and as big a homer as the players biggest fans.dont kid yourself.refs gave jordan calls in the nba,gave the braves whole staff bs calls for 15 years,gave the patriots a trip to the super bowl in 2001.mlb umpires have the smallest most focused area to watch and yet are the worst at their job.

SenorPlaid
SenorPlaid

@Nevadafalls I didn't say he mailed in a call. I said he called the strike zone wherever he feels like it. This is something that major league umpires did--the strike zone wasn't the same as what is in the rule books. This is why Questec was brought into the game: to get the umps to call the strike zone correctly according to the rule book.

And, like the players, umpires shouldn't have a job in the bigs for life. He's third from the bottom. Maybe he needs to be sent back to the minors until he learns the dang strike zone.