December 9, 2013

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## Ichiro strike three

Posted by Mike Fast
Ichiro Suzuki was ejected in the fifth inning of today's game against the Toronto Blue Jays after demonstratively arguing a called strike three. In addition to comments to the umpire, Suzuki drew a line on the ground with his bat to show Brian Runge where he thought the pitch had gone.

I grabbed some still shots of the pitch crossing the plate, but with camera angles, it's impossible to tell whether a pitch so close to the edge of the plate was a strike or not. So what did the PITCHf/x tracking system say?

The path of the baseball as tracked by PITCHf/x is shown by the red lines. (The baseball is 2.9 inches in diameter.) PITCHf/x has been shown to be accurate within half an inch, so the gray lines outside the red lines indicate the possible location of the baseball given the margin of error inherent in PITCHf/x measurements near home plate.

It's close enough that Ichiro Suzuki probably shouldn't have taken the pitch. The umpire's going to call that pitch a strike to a left-handed batter at least half the time. The cost of a strike in that situation was the second out of the inning with a runner on third base, costing the Mariners something like 0.6 runs on average. The gain from taking a ball, moving the count from 0-2 to 1-2, is miniscule by comparison, something like 0.025 runs on average.

In this case, he was bailed out by a wild pitch that scored Adam Moore from third during the next at bat, but it wasn't a good bet on Ichiro's part, nor did he have a particularly good case with the ump.

Mike Fast is a Royals fan who enjoys investigating baseball questions using data of many sorts. He is a member of Complete Game Consulting. He welcomes comments via e-mail.

Ron said...

It might not have been a particularly good bet on Ichiro’s part but how can you say “nor did he have a particularly good case with the ump.”? PITCHf/x shows it clearly was a ball (oh error margin shows that maybe 2 mm of the ball MIGHT have caught the plate) Hitters as good as Ichiro (how many are better?) like good pitchers usually get the benefit of close pitches (remember how tiny Bonds’s strike zone was?).The pitch wasn’t even coming back towards the plate but was heading away from it.
95 out of 100 umps call that a ball (which it almost certainly was.)

The Ump blew it.

Posted 09/26  at  05:18 PM
Mike Fast said...

If the edge of the ball catches the corner of the plate, that’s a strike by the rulebook.

I’d estimate from PITCHf/x data that umpires call that pitch a strike about 60-80% of the time.  Definitely too often for Ichiro to take it.

I say he didn’t have a good case because it was RIGHT on the corner and he was arguing that it was three or four inches off the plate.  The umpire might have erred by a quarter or half inch, but Ichiro’s judgment was off by three inches.

Posted 09/26  at  05:36 PM
High Ping Bastard said...

Incredible streak broken. Nice graphic.

ps. Do you recall when Sammy Sosa got ejected because he dragged his bat across the plate… he wasn’t indicating where the pitch was

Posted 09/26  at  05:40 PM
Ron said...

If the edge of the ball doesn’t catch the plate then that’s a ball by the rulebook. Looking at the chart I’d say the odds are pretty good it’s a ball.

But regardless of if it did or didn’t the question is how often is that pitch called a strike on Ichiro? Great hitters get the doubt (like great pitchers) more often than an average hitter does.

There is now way of proving it of course (though I would love to dig into the PITCHf/x data)but I would say it was entirely reasonable from Ichiro’s point of view that the ump wouldn’t give the pitcher a pitch that was outside even if it was close.

Posted 09/26  at  05:50 PM
Mike Fast said...

Every pitch that Ichiro has taken this year located within two inches of today’s strike three has been called a strike.

Thanks to Trip Somers of TexasLeaguers.com for the PITCHf/x strike zone information.

Posted 09/26  at  06:17 PM
welshman dan said...

i think claiming “the ump blew it” is a bit ridiculous.

that pitch could have been called either way.

if i’m an umpire and the pitch that close, there’s no way i’m going to put up with a batter standing there holding up the game to draw a line where he thought the pitch was.  that’s garbage.  a veteran like ichiro should know better.

Posted 09/27  at  12:10 AM
Nick Steiner said...

Wow, Trip Somers’ pitch f/x website is like Dan Brooks’ on speed.

Posted 09/27  at  01:20 AM
Dan Novick said...

nick,i was having the same exact thought.

Posted 09/27  at  04:14 AM
Jesse said...

“The gain from taking a ball, moving the count from 0-2 to 1-2, is miniscule by comparison, something like 0.025 runs on average.”

What’s neglected here is the fact that on a 0-2 count the umpire is far more likely to call that pitch a ball than in any other count.

Posted 09/28  at  05:47 PM
Mike Fast said...

Jesse, you are correct that I neglected that effect.

However, according Jonathan Hale’s study that you linked, the typical ump only calls 3% more balls than average at the 0-2 count.  So that’s a relatively small effect.

Posted 09/28  at  06:00 PM
Jim Casey said...

What irritates me about this is that it is generally accepted that the umpire ejected Ichiro because he “showed him up.” The umpire’s own bad calls show him up, and everyone sees them, not just the players involved. What needs to change is the quick triggers and tempers of many umpires. Too often I see umpires start arguments, or keep them going, just to get more face time on TV. These umpires need to be disciplined, or fired. They need to learn to be more like football referees in this regard. We know football players complain about calls at least as much as baseball players, but football players are almost never ejected for arguing.
Just one example of bad umpiring for you. I was watching an Orioles game on tv in ‘96 or ‘97, runners on 1st and 3rd, none out. Ground ball to 3rd; 3B catches ball, checks runner, throws to 2nd. 2B catches ball, runner called out, 2B throws to 1st, batter called out. Runner from 3rd tries to score, called out at home, triple play, 5-4-3-2. TV replay showed that not one, not two, but all three calls were wrong.

Posted 09/28  at  06:44 PM
Nick Steiner said...

Mike, 3% extra balls is actually a pretty big deal.  Awhile back Dan Turkenkopf found that the RV of switching a ball to a strike was .133 runs.

Posted 09/28  at  10:50 PM
Mike Fast said...

Nick, for a typical batter-pitcher matchup and game situation in 2007-2009, I have the run value of the 0-2 count at -.105 runs.  I have the 1-2 count at -.081 runs, and a strikeout at -.292 runs.  So a ball in that situation is worth +.025 runs and a strike is worth -.187 runs.  That means, on average, you should take only if you think the pitch will be called a strike less than 12% of the time.

Now in this specific case, the cost of the strikeout is higher (by about 3x) because of the runner at third with one out, but I’m not sure the value of the ball increases by the same amount.

Even if it does, and a pitch in this location gets called a strike 70% of the time, changing that by 3% to 67% strikes (to account for the slightly smaller zone at 0-2) comes nowhere close to the 12% strikes needed to make it a breakeven bet for Ichiro.

Posted 09/28  at  11:27 PM
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