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Bring on the robots!

August 10, 2009

I Love Tradition! – DRaysBay

Jonah Keri forwards me a good example of the strike zone problem. Observe:


As stated, either they’re both balls, or they’re both strikes. And yet, not. This was a key moment in a 4-3 game against a team that the Rays need to beat. This sort of thing happens all the time. Occasionally, it gets really bad, and you have an umpire who takes over the game with his strike zone. Most of the time, it’s a relative few mistakes. But if an umpire gets ninety-five percent of strike calls right, you’re still talking about ten or fifteen bad calls a game. That can easily be a deciding factor if they come at the wrong time.

The answer, presumably, is a machine. Assuming we can get one that reacts fast enough and can think in three dimensions, anyway. The umpires and their supporters would answer, presumably, (a) that we’re taking the human element out of the game, and (b) that they tried that before and it didn’t work. As for (a), I personally have never been one who thought that the “human element” was necessarily worth preserving when it meant making mistakes; the “human element” is supposed to be the pitcher and the batter; nobody goes to the ballpark to watch an umpire make mistakes. As for (b), they tried it thirty years ago with essentially the same technology as automatic door openers. I think we’ve come a ways since then.

As for tradition, tennis is if anything even more tradition-bound than baseball, and yet they’ve adopted replay and sensor technology for baseline calls. Traditions change.


What is a strike, anyway?

August 10, 2009

Neyer wants Pitch F/X data. Well, I aim to please. If anyone’s got an example of really awful balls and strikes calling — other than Rapuano’s, since I think we’ve been over him enough — I’m all ears. Or write it up yourself. I’m still looking for contributors.

At any rate, I noticed that the Pitch F/X data represents the strike zone as a plane. The plate, of course, has depth; the “area over the plate” is a prism, about a foot and a half deep. Here’s what the rulebook says:

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, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap. The Strike Zone shall be determined from the batter’s stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball.

It doesn’t say the front of home plate, or the back of home plate, or the middle of home plate. This indicates that the strike zone is a prism, and that going through any of that prism is a strike. If a breaking pitch clips one corner, that’s a strike. And that’s how I’ve always understood the strike zone.

Ah, but there’s a catch. The rulebook also has the following diagram to illustrate the strike zone:


In this, there is no indication that the strike zone is anything but a plane. Of course, it still doesn’t say that it’s the front of the plate or the back of the plate or the middle of the plate or wherever. Anyway, does anyone know where Pitch F/X draws its plane?

And don’t get me started on umpires who call balls and strikes based upon where the ball was caught.

“Who’s he throwing out?” “You’ve got to be kidding.”

August 9, 2009

Video of the Victorino ejection. I don’t blame him for being furious. He very well might get suspended for this, while Rapuano will get, at most, a Stern Talking To.

UPDATED: Baseball Digest Daily Blog » Blog Archive » Ed Rapuano: Johnny “Drama”?

Hamrahi on Rapuano. Apparently, the Awful Umpiring also included legitimately terrible ball-strike calls, though I can’t tell if they were consistently terrible. He called a lot of outside strikes. I kind of like a large zone — I did say that Harry Wendelstedt was a great umpire, after all — but my rule is that if a batter can’t reach a ball with his arms fully extended, the umpire’s strike zone has gone too far.

Well, that’s certainly unusual

August 9, 2009

Florida Marlins vs. Philadelphia Phillies – Box Score – August 09, 2009 – ESPN


Okay, it doesn’t sound that unusual. But if you look more closely, you’ll notice that this is a Philadelphia home game and that it was the top of the inning, so Victorino was being a centerfielder, and not a hitter. Rapuano ejected Victorino when he was standing 300 feet away. With an umpire between them. A commenter at BTF says that Victorino was thrown out for raising his arms. I have to see footage of this, but that sure sounds like an overreaction to me.

Arguing from Centerfield :

David Pinto says that’s just what happened. Sheesh. Also, it in effect put the game out of reach, as Jayson Werth screwed up in Victorino’s place.

When you have only one tool

August 9, 2009

In comparison to baseball, the other major sports have relatively few ejections. They’re common enough in basketball, though they are mostly automatically triggered by drawing multiple technical fouls or leaving the bench. They’re extremely rare in football, and normally limited to players who get into fights or otherwise exceed that sport’s very wide tolerance for violence. I don’t recall ever seeing a football coach ejected, though I’m sure someone will remind me of an instance. In baseball, however, ejections are so common that they hardly require comment unless the player or manager goes way overboard arguing (ala Phillip Wellman) or the umpire is way too quick on the trigger.

At first, I thought that the difference might be the relative importance of the individual game: lots of ejections in baseball, where there are lots of games and no one is too important (and ejections are much rarer in postseason), few ejections in football, where there are few games and every one is important, unless the Raiders are playing. Basketball, as usual, is in the middle.

There may be something to that, but on reflection I think that the main reason for the difference is that unlike officials in other sports, umpires really only have one weapon in their arsenal, the ejection. If a basketball coach starts complaining or cursing out an official, that official can call a technical foul. If a football player gets in an official’s face and challenging a call, he will get called for a personal foul. These can be big deals, with the other team getting points, or your team giving up yardage. Umpires can’t do that. All they can do is run a player or manager.

The ironic outcome of this, making the figurative death penalty the only punishment for all crimes, is that umpires wind up putting up with far more abuse than officials in other sports. Because they don’t have a lesser punishment to hand out, they either have to take it, or dish out felony punishment for a misdemeanor. Meanwhile, players and managers don’t know where the line is, because it moves every day. I’m not sure there’s an answer. The only lesser punishment that comes to mind is to give the umpire the ability to start issuing balls and strikes without a pitch being thrown. I’ve heard of this happening sometimes in the minor leagues, where nobody really cares who wins, but I don’t know if Major League Baseball would be willing to take that step, or that if it’s a good idea anyway.

You always remember your first time

August 9, 2009 – Hinch earns first ejection
Animated Hinch tossed in D-backs loss (Video)

Jerry “Mass Resignations” Crawford apparently blew a call Friday night. Hey, it happens, and it was a bang-bang play. What shouldn’t happen is what happened afterwards, as Crawford very quickly tossed a rightfully upset A.J. Hinch (I still can’t believe A.J. Hinch is a manager) and then started yelling back at Hinch. Show a little professionalism, dude. Crawford turns 62 years old next week, and is one of the most senior umpires in baseball, and he was acting like a kindergardner.

Harry Wendelstedt was a great umpire

August 9, 2009

Gardenhire sounds off about ump after ejection – MLB News – FOX Sports on MSN

I’m not sure about Hunter; I haven’t been impressed with what I’ve seen of him, but there are other umpires who force themselves on the game more. I didn’t see this game, but from the description here, it sounds like he was right about the balk. Of course, I don’t know what a balk is; I don’t think Gardenhire knows either, because nobody knows what a balk is. All we know is that it’s not “an attempt to deceive the baserunner” anymore. But a quick pitch isn’t a balk from what I know.

The problem isn’t that Wendelstedt got the call wrong. The problem is that he let the bench get to him, and then did a little baiting, telling Gardenhire he’d run him if he kept complaining. Now, coming onto the field or changing position to argue balls and strikes is grounds for ejection (though everybody does it). Arguing balks from the dugout is not. In general, the only reason to eject someone from the dugout is if they’re using abusive language, which doesn’t seem to be the case here. If the manager and bench are just griping, you really have a duty to take it. Gardenhire wasn’t showing Wendelstedt up or slowing down the game. He was just being annoying; that he was being wrongfully annoying doesn’t enter into it. It doesn’t matter, under these circumstances, that the call was right. Wendelstedt should know that, running an umpire school and all.

Conventional wisdom

August 8, 2009

The conventional wisdom is that with two strikes you should protect the plate and be sure to swing at borderline pitches. I’m not sure that this isn’t completely and utterly wrong. I’m just judging from my own observations, but from what I can tell, umpires are very reluctant to call strikes on 1-2 and 0-2 counts. I mean, if the pitch is right down the middle, they’re usually going to call it, but generally in these counts the strike zone gets awfully small.

Ironically, umpires do this because they’re trying to not effect the game; they want the pitcher and hitter to decide them. The effect of this, of course, is that the umpires profoundly change the rules of the game.

Not that hitters necessarily realize it. This year, hitters have hit .279 on balls in play on 0-2 counts, .283 on 1-2 counts. On all other counts, it’s higher; the major league BABIP, in all counts, is .297. Obviously, they’re swinging at pitches they can’t hit. They might want to think about shrinking the strike zone in these counts, treating it like 3-0 or 3-1, and only swinging at pitches they really like.

Or not. I’m not really sure about this.

So it begins

August 8, 2009

I generally have avoided criticizing umpires too much. They have a tough job, and it’s impossible to get everything right. But sometimes they make it too easy!

Take Eric Cooper, please. Last night, in a Braves-Dodgers game, Cooper called a 3-1 pitch on Andre Ethier a strike. It was close, could have gone either way. Rafael Furcal, at first base, was running on the play; he was thrown out. Except that Cooper then changed his mind and said that the pitch was a ball, and let the batter walk to first, and meant that Furcal was safe. Bobby Cox, being Bobby Cox, got thrown out of the game by Cooper for arguing. After a three-run homer set up by the play, Braves pitcher Jair Jurrjens was removed from the game, but then got himself ejected by Cooper, too.

I don’t want this to be just about the Braves; I have a site for that. I want this to be a clearinghouse for all examples of bad umpiring. By this I don’t mean mistakes; mistakes happen. I mean: umpires who make themselves the center of attention by baiting players and managers; umpires who think that they’re the reason people come to the games; umpires who make obvious mistakes but refuse to ever acknowledge that they’ve done wrong; umpires who by truly egregious calls change the outcome of the game; umpires whose strike zones resemble models of fifth-dimensional space.

Oh, and umpires who change their minds about what a strike is after already calling the pitch, because, come on. Co-authors wanted.