The umpires are at it once again. No, I’m not talking about the stupid attempt of MLB to do background checks on all umpires (the right to privacy does not mean I have something to hide), I’m talking about the inconsistent ways they call the game. Tonight we saw it over and over again as the Rangers lost to Oakland. Throughout the game there were complaints about the strike zone, ending with Michael Young and Ron Washington being ejected in the 11th. To be fair to Young, he was right, the pitch he struck out on was out of the strike zone. But also to be fair, two of the pitches that were called balls were in the strike zone and should have been strikes. This just shows up the ridiculous nature of the umpires’ strike zone, in this case Bill Miller, but overall pretty much every umpire has great inconsistency.
First, let’s take a look at Michael Young’s last at-bat from Gameday:
Pitch one is a called strike, at the bottom of the zone. Pitch two, on the outside edge, is fouled off. Pitch three a ball down and away. Pitch four, well inside the top of the strike zone, is called a ball – bad call. Pitch five, on the bottom outside, catches the strike zone but is called a ball – bad call. Now it’s three and two. Pitch six, the one that gets him ejected, is called a strike. Now, Gameday shows it is not touching the strike zone, but Gameday is not necessarily perfect. What bothers me most is that pitch six has a horizontal value of 1.211 in the Gameday data, meaning it is 1.211 feet off the center of the plate. Pitch three was 1.204 and pitch five was 0.909. I’m assuming that for three, five and six the vertical is within the strike zone, because they’re above pitch one which was called a strike, and well below the top of the strike zone. Thus, horizontally, pitch six, which is further outside than three and five, is called a strike whereas the other two, closer to the plate, are called balls.
The more I dig into the Gameday data, the more I find these annoying inconsistencies. If he’d struck out on pitch four, I’d have no problem with it. If he’d struck out on pitch five I’d have no problem. But pitch six I do. The Hardball Times recently reviewed the strike zone, and showed that while pitches are overall called fairly well, there is a huge gulf around the edges of the strike zone. Yes, you’d expect that, but not to the extent that it happens, and not horizontally as much as vertically (because the horizontal strike zone is fixed, while the vertical varies with the height of the batter).
Now let’s take a look at the strike zones as called today for each team:
We’ll start with the strike zone called when Oakland was batting. The box I drew simply touches the outside edge of the outside strikes in each direction. It does not allow for anything else, such as the strike on the right edge (near the bottom) being slightly further out than the others, and compared to the balls. This strike I would say is so close to the edge it could go either way, as shown by the number of pitches called balls inside it. Either way, the Oakland strike zone as measured this way is 2.268 feet wide, and 1.529 feet tall.
The Texas strike zone, displayed and measured in the same way, is 2.421 feet wide and 1.938 feet high.
Thus, the Rangers strike zone was 0.153, or 1.836 inches, wider than the Oakland strike zone. I think that is a pretty big difference, given that this is a game of inches, as is so often stated. To be fair to the umpire, a large portion of that difference is caused by one pitch, the one upper right in the Rangers strike zone, which happens to be the one that Michael Young struck out on.
The vertical difference is much more striking, 0.409 feet or almost five inches. Now, obviously, there are differences in the heights of the players in the two teams, so we need to take that into account. The average height of the batter’s strike zone (based on their measured height in Gameday) for Oakland was 2.02 feet, for Texas it was 2.10 feet. A very small difference, equating to close to an inch. Surprisingly enough, their maximums and minimums were very similar. What you probably can’t see by looking at these two pictures is how they vary. In looking at them side by side, I see a huge difference, with the Rangers strike zone extending about three inches higher and two inches lower than the Oakland strike zone, something that is not backed up by the height of the players themselves. For whatever reason, the umpire had a larger strike zone when the Rangers were batting.
I would say that this was a large reason for the Rangers striking out twenty-one times today, but that’s not necessarily true. What I can see from these charts is that there were a total of six pitches that the Rangers took as called strikes, which would not have been strikes in the Oakland strike zone. They also got approximately three pitches called balls that would have been Oakland strikes. Is that a big deal, given that the A’s faced 237 pitches and the Rangers 225? It possibly could be. If you start not getting those calls, you may start swinging at pitches that would normally be balls, with potentially bad results. I have not yet looked at the pitches swung at in this game to see if there is any kind of difference. But I do know that twenty-one strikeouts is an excessive amount, even for a bad team.
Let’s look at some positives though. The Rangers did battle back from being down 7-0 to tie the game. Rheinecker did give up six runs in the first, but managed to get through five innings (shades of previous comments I’ve made about Rangers pitchers not being prepared to start the game). Ironically I had bought The Book a few weeks ago, but only over the weekend did I flip through a few chapters, one of them being the one about pitchers giving up a lot of runs early, and if you should pull them quickly or let them work through it. In this case we’re glad Ron let Rheinecker work through it, but on the other hand he might have almost been forced to do so, given the burn rate of the bullpen recently and the upcoming games. However, in another irony, he ended up having to use the bullpen extensively today, to get through 13 innings, and Willie Eyre ended up throwing the gasoline on the fire, like he did in his emergency start on Saturday. The only saving grace is that Oakland had to go through their bullpen too, if Rheinecker had gone in the first, we’d have been toasted for the rest of the week, but this way they took a hit too. You never want to burn the bullpen in the opening game of the series, but as long as both teams do it might balance out. We better hope for Kason Gabbard to be on tomorrow, to give them a little rest.