Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Strike zone sillinessPosted by Mike Fast
Joe Posnanski says the umpire saved Jon Lester a walk. Did he really?
Let me say up front that the silliness in this post is all mine. I'm not accusing Joe Posnanski of silliness. He's a great writer who wrote a good article about Jon Lester's no-hitter against the Royals, and I'm lifting things out of context when I quote him:
The seventh was a key inning with Grud (the league’s leading hitter coming into the game), Alex Gordon and Guillen coming up. Grud bounced back to the pitcher — it wasn’t his night. Gordon had a feisty at-bat. He worked the count to 3-1, then watched an obvious ball four go by — way up and way in — only the umpire Brian Knight, now getting in the spirit of things, called it a strike. After a foul ball, Lester threw a fastball up, and Gordon just couldn’t get around on it, he lofted a fly ball to left. Guillen went down swinging.
Posnanski's not really even complaining about the umpiring that much, and he's certainly not saying that call changed anything about the outcome of the game. However, I'm using Posnanski as a scapegoat to address an issue I see raised a lot: obviously blown strike calls by the umpires. I see fans and writers raise the issue fairly often; it's no question that the call was wrong, but how wrong was it?
And then I go look at the data for that pitch from the PITCHf/x system, the accuracy of which has been demonstrated to be consistently within an inch around home plate, and the vast majority of the time I find that the umpire was either correct or the pitch was right on the borderline where the call could have gone either way. That's not to say that umpires don't make mistakes. I'm sure they do, but I don't think fans and sportswriters make very good judges of when those mistakes happened.
So was the 3-1 pitch to Alex Gordon really "way up and way in"?
Those are all the ball-strike calls on pitches from Lester to left-handed hitters on Monday night. The pitch to Gordon is identified with the arrow. What do you think?
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.