Posted May 22, 2013

Bad third-strike call ends a Rays game … AGAIN, pointing to league-wide epidemic

Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays, Umpires
Fernando Rodney gets questionable third-strike call from umpire Dale Scott

Fernando Rodney celebrates getting the save after a questionable third-strike call. (Abelimages/Getty Images)

Remember back in April when the Rays lost a game on a blown third-strike call by home plate umpire Marty Foster?

Well, the Rays got to see the other side of that coin Tuesday in Toronto night when, in the bottom of the ninth, with the tying run on first base, two outs and the Blue Jays’ Melky Caberera at the plate, home plate umpire Dale Scott called pitches 1 and 3 below strikes to give Fernando Rodney a three-pitch strikeout and the save in a 4-3 Rays win.

There’s a pattern here. It’s that both games ended on pitches that were outside to left-handed batters (the graphic above is from the umpire’s perspective). I made a mistake in my post on the April game, linked above. I wrote then, Foster had a habit of calling strikes on pitches outside to lefties, but I misunderstood BrooksBaseball.net’s graphics. It turns out this is a league-wide probem.

Here’s a map of the pitches Scott called against lefty batters in Tuesday night’s game (again, from the umpire’s perspective), with strikes in red and balls in green:

The solid black box is the rule book strikezone. I erroneously identified the grey box as Foster’s zone in April. It’s actually the league-wide zone as applied by all umpires (in BrooksBaseball’s words “the strikezones that Umpires generally call” [their emphasis]). As I wrote in April in regards to Foster, that should not be allowed to continue. Umpires should not be allowed to regularly call strikes on pitches a half-foot outside to lefties, but per the above, that’s exactly what they are doing. And we’ve already seen two games (and likely more have gone unnoticed by this blog) end prematurely because of it, never mind how many mid-game rallies have been squashed by bad strike calls within that expanded zone.

Not long after the Foster game, FanGraphs’s Dave Cameron dug into the increasing strikeout rates in baseball and found the increase is coming via called strikes, not swinging strikes per this graph:

StrikesPA

That’s evidence the expanded zone shown above (as well as the extra inches given to righties off both sides of the plate) are changing the nature of the game. Major League Baseball must act to fix this problem.

15 comments
Charlie Tilford
Charlie Tilford

And that brings me to the Supreme Court. They sometimes say they don't make the law; they're as impartial as baseball umpires calling balls and strikes. The decisions that gave GW Bush the election (Florida recount) and allowed unlimited corporate contributions (Citizens United) were at least a foot outside--to the right.

Hellzyeah
Hellzyeah

@Charlie Tilford And that has what to do with this story?  Oh that's right, absolutely nothing despite a weak attempt to tie it to umpiring.  Plenty of other discussion boards to rant about politics of all flavors elsewhere. 

Charlie Tilford
Charlie Tilford

Last season in the playoff, when the Athletics lost to Detroit, the umpire was giving Verlander strikes that were a good foot outside to LH batters. Hard to win that way.

GregAtkin
GregAtkin

The problem is the inconsistencies involved. it used to be a pitcher who threw 3 straight wild balls would never get the 4th pitch unless it was an obvious stikre. Now anything close the call goes to the pitcher. 

We need an e;electric eye.

robdejnam
robdejnam

The official description of the strike zone is "that area over home plate...the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants."

The description is very specific as to the top and the bottom, but not the sides.  The "area over home plate" is open to interpretation.  What's most important is that umpires are consistent in their calls which is clearly illustrated in the graphics that they are indeed consistent.  The "idea" of a strike is the umpire's belief that it is a hittable ball.

We complain that games go on for 3 hours, and nitpicking batters can extend games on.  I applaud the umpires for expanding the strike zone.  Who wants to pay $150 to watch a guy stand with the bat on his shoulder.  Make them swing at more pitches I say.

Great work Dale Scott!

Grady
Grady

@robdejnam Good point. Swing. The. Bat. The question is, if umpires were perfect would the game be better? The answer is NO. Just like when juiced-up hitters were cracking more home runs, artificially correcting a flaw in human performance does not improve the game. It creates a different game (which should be reflected in the record books with an asterisk). Umpires are just as much a part of baseball as the players, the last 150 years have established that. But I understand those who want a computer animated strike zone, when your only experience in a batter's box is through your XBox, you probably don't know any better.

SavageDrums
SavageDrums like.author.displayName 1 Like

@robdejnam "over home plate" is pretty specific actually.  It doesn't mean "on the chalk for the opposite batters box by any definition.

 Personally, as a baseball fan, I want to watch a game between two teams of 25.  Umpires should have absolutely no impact on the game, if they have any impact on the game, they have failed at their jobs.  

The fact that it's accepted that no umpire calls the official strike zone (when was the last time you saw a strike called at the letters?) is patently ridiculous. 

If you mess up at your job, you can't tell your boss "Yeah, but I always mess up the same way, so you can't punish me".  Umpires should not have the luxury of making mistakes, regardless of how consistent their mistakes are, and if they can't do their jobs without making mistakes, we have computers to do that now.

Grady
Grady

This sport was carefully designed to be played and regulated by humans and the human element IS the game. That's why we play it and don't just simulate it. If we use computers to call balls and strikes we might as well let pitching machines throw them. That would be safer right? Fewer hit batters, machines don't retaliate etc. The batters only have themselves to blame for not adjusting to a very consistent zone. But if you want to change the game, you'd better change the name . . . how about E-ball?

SavageDrums
SavageDrums

@Grady The "human element" is quite nicely handled by the 50 players (potentially) involved in the game.  I don't need 4 extra people to enjoy the sport.

mark.wurzbacher
mark.wurzbacher

As a ballplayer, I was always taught to look for "consistency" in how the umpire is calling balls and strikes and to spot the pattern as soon as possible in the ball game - and adjust accordingly.  The graphic would seem to indicate such consistency in the calls - and the batters should have been swinging at those pitches because the umpire was calling them as strikes.

BryanLowe
BryanLowe like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Look, the Rays have suffered from bad umpire calls all year, this is evidence that "it all evens out in the long run".  With that being said, teh "human element" of calling balls and strikes is a bad idea.  We have technology for a reason.  I'm for a computer calling balls and strikes.  

quimby
quimby like.author.displayName 1 Like

Just watched the video...is it just me or is the umpire way out of position? Kind of hard to call balls and strikes when you're looking at the plate from the side of the plate.

CommonTater
CommonTater like.author.displayName 1 Like

@quimby Yeah, he called those 3 balls as 3 strikes from a weird position partway up the first base line.

Another example of how the randomness of the human factor behind the plate affects the outcome of games. I'm all for the human factor -- but from the players, not the umps. Wherever and whenever we have the chance to replace the fallible human decision process with something less fallible, we should demand it.

Scramble
Scramble

In the last series the umps handed the Rays two games against the Orioles because they don't understand that a ball across the plate in the strike zone IS A STRIKE.

therednorth1
therednorth1

Notice the four balls inside the "typical LHH strikezone" are all to Tampa Bay hitters, not one to a Toronto hitter.

Lesson: Arencibia probably sucks at pitch framing.