Croatia is a land of many proverbs and strange expressions. I think my favorite one is that it’s easy to hit the nettles with somebody else’s dick. I use this one a lot when guys from our marketing department promise to our customers that we will develop a new laser in two weeks. The marketing people have different sense of humor, I guess, as they rarely find it amusing.
When you lend someone 20 bucks and you never get them back, Croatians will say that the borrower married you for 20 bucks. You can also get married* at a used car lot, playing poker and such.
* There are three different verbs for getting married in Croatian. One is from the point of view of the groom, one from a point of view of the bride, and one neutral one. The one that is used as a synonym for traitorous loss is getting married from a guy’s point of view.
Anyway, Pitch FX data shows that the A’s had a pretty nice wedding in Boston.
Actually, this time I didn’t create the database and develop my own analysis tool — although this is still on my to do list, also known as the garbage bin — but rather found something that might be more useful to AN, as it enables everyone, regardless of their scripting savvy, to analyze quite a few aspects of pitching performances.
Over at brooksbaseball.net, Dan Brooks has made a nice online tool some might not be aware of. You can pick a game, any game from 2007 on, and get visual analysis of pitching. As EN wants to do a piece on it, perhaps it is a good point to start.
Brooks offers two types of analysis, Pitch FX Tool and Strikezone Map Tool. Bitching about umpires is much more fun than analyzing pitching performances, so I’ll concentrate on that part. Make sure you visit his site though, and have a look at all the great graphs and summaries he offers for each and every game.
Let’s start with yesterday’s game and explain the chart. Normalized strike zone means that the height of it has been adjusted to the size of the batter that can be found in the individual FX data. So the height of the pitch is relative to every individual strike zone. It is a concept prone to some mistakes but definitely much better than using the absolute values.
All data belongs to the pitcher, but is from the batter’s point of view. So, the lowest placed green triangle on this chart was pitched by an A’s pitcher and the ball was to the left of the plate as seen by the batter.
The data shows only the pitches that were called by the umpire, obviously – only the ones where a ball or a strike call was made based on the placement of the pitch.
And, finally, as probably everyone has noticed so far already, the red ones are called strikes and the green ones are called balls.
So, one first fun thing to do is to count the the red ones outside of the zone (balls that were called strikes) and the green ones inside the zone (strikes that were called balls). These are the ones that umpires got wrong*. So. let’s count them.
* Getting the call wrong should not be taken in absolute terms. There is surely a legitimate question of how reliable the FX Data is to start with. So I will use the term “got the call wrong”, when I actually mean “seemed to get the call wrong, according to the Pitch FX Data and visual analysis of the chart”
I’ll call a strike anything that at least touches the zone. C.B. Bucknor missed 13 strikes, calling them balls instead. Some were really close calls, some weren’t (to be fair, more obvious misses were against Boston). The distribution? Five calls “against” Boston, eight “against” Oakland. How about the pitches outside the zone that were called strikes nevertheless? There were 12 of those and the distribution remains similar – eight blown calls favored Boston, only four favored the A’s.
Final tally for C.B. Bucknor yesterday – Boston 16 : Oakland 7, for a net contribution of 9 blown calls in Red Sox favor.
One day back, more of the same (click on the charts to see them bigger):
Let’s get through this quickly.
Oakland benefited from:
- Oakland pitches that were outside the strike zone, but were called strikes: 4
- Boston pitches that were in the strike zone, but were called balls: 6
On the other hand, Oakland got screwed on :
- Boston pitches that were outside the strike zone, but were called strikes: 14
- Oakland pitches that were in the strike zone, but were called balls: 10
Final tally for Kerwin Danley on Tuesday – Boston 24 : Oakland 10, for a net contribution of 14 blown calls in Red Sox favor*.
* Before we go even more gaga on our little dark swamp friend for robbing the A’s, let’s look at the distribution of the missed calls again. If you move the zone up about 3-4 inches, he would have a much, much better hit rate, so this number could seem a bit too high. Still 23 more calls in favor of one team over only two days?
By now, you have seen a pattern – I mean apart from Oakland getting married both times. No, the other one is that the zone seems to be expanded to the left. It also happens much more often with the LH batters in the box. Look at yesterday’s data again:
To understand why this happens, you have to know a little bit about umpiring. There are various schools of positioning for the home plate umpire, with the two most commonly seen being The Box and The Slot. The former is often attributed to the AL and the latter to the NL, although they often have more to do with a very trivial issue – the equipment the umpire uses. By now, The Slot has been established as the “proper” one.
The Box Stance is the one where the umpire stands centrally positioned over the catcher. You can see both corners well, but you will have trouble calling the low ones.
The Slot Stance – the one I prefer – is the one where you position yourself on the batter’s side of the box and lean over catcher’s shoulder. Your weakness is the outside corner, but you generally have a better view of the zone and are closer to the action. The problem is, you can’t work The Slot if you are wearing the outside chest protector, because you can’t get close enough to have a good view*. Have a look at how Bucknor positions himself to get an idea.
* Well, actually, you can try working The Slot with the outside chest protector. However, if you think blowing a call is embarrassing, let me tell you it is nothing compared to getting a catcher’s arm tangled in your chest protector.
This is actually beautiful, consistent slot positioning, just as from the umpire’s manual. You might say now – OK, I get it, they miss the outside corner, but why more so on lefthanders, when umpires position themselves symmetrically? As I wrote before, baseball is not a symmetrical sport and one of the positions where it is more than obvious is the catcher, as all of them are righthanders.
So, what happens? When a catcher reaches for an outside pitch on a righthander (as in the first picture), he will do so by rotating the shoulder in front of the umpire’s eyes, thus opening the view of the outside corner for him.
When he reaches for an outside ball on a lefthander, the umpire peaks over catcher’s non-glove shoulder, the one that doesn’t move, thus giving the umpire a different (and a worse) look on the exact location of the ball. That seems to be the price of The Slot, and it seems that when somewhat guessing the umpires tend to err on the side of calling a strike.
But, you didn’t come here to reason, that’s just not much fun at all. Here’s something much better. Look at the two perfect games this year and discuss in groups!
Strikes taken away: 5
Strikes added: 3
Strikes taken away: 0
Strikes added: 8