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Umpires and Technology

June 20, 2010

Watching the Nats/White Sox game Saturday at Nats Park, I came to the realization that it’s time for technology to replace home plate umpires. Home Plate Umpire Sam Holbrook was a disaster. He had his own unique strike zone that made the game completely unwatchable. Two average pitching performances were turned into Cy Young auditions with Holbrook’s generous strike zone. Batters on both sides were unable to hit pitches called strikes, leaving the fans to stare at a 1-0 snoozefest.

On June 17th, the Wall Street Journal had an excellent piece (here) discussing major league umpires, Stephen Strasburg, and Pitch F/X. In it David Biderman wrote:

According to a consensus of umpires, a good umpire will make one bad call on a pitch every two innings—or about four or five per game.

Let’s look at the Pitch F/X data for the game Saturday.

There were 247 pitches thrown Saturday. Batters did not swing at 134 pitches, leaving the outcome to the discretion of the plate umpire. Out of those 134 calls, Holbrook called 29 strikes that Pitch F/X noted as outside of the zone, and called 8 pitches balls that were inside the zone.  Here’s a look at the pitches Holbrook called strikes. (I highlighted pitches called strike 3 with a diamond symbol):

Maybe if you are a pitcher’s mom, you would enjoy seeing pitches 4-5 inches off of the plate called as strikes. I’m sure Ryan Zimmerman (diamond symbol waaaaaaay outside of the strike zone) didn’t.

The umpire’s union complains that k-Zone’s and the like are unfair because batters come in all sizes. Pitch F/X actually stores the top and bottom of the strike zone with each pitch. Also last time I checked, the plate didn’t widen and shrink with each pitch. There shouldn’t be any discussion whether a ball catches part of the plate or not. Clearly Holbrook had his own rulebook yesterday.

I can almost live with Greg Gibson’s botched call at first against Nyjer Morgan. I can’t live with an umpire making up his own strike zone. With MLB attendance down this year, the league needs to do as much as they can to make the game enjoyable. Watching batters struggle with an extra wide strike zone is not my idea of enjoyment. Listening to announcers tell me that the players need to adjust to an umpire’s strike zone is nonsense. The umpire needs to call the strike zone according to the rules. If he can’t do that, get another umpire, or better yet, use Pitch F/X live to call the zone.

The league could turn Pitch F/X on tomorrow for balls and strikes if they wanted. I know the league cowers at the feet of the umpire’s union, but at this point, a change needs to be made. Even lifelong baseball fans are going to stop watching games like these.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. June 20, 2010 5:50 PM

    Well, I think this is the technology of the future.

  2. June 21, 2010 12:22 AM

    What are the dimensions of your strike zone?

    • June 21, 2010 9:27 AM

      Good Point – I cropped off the markers when I posted. For the width of the strike zone, I used 24 inches. The plate is 17 inches wide, and the diameter of the ball is a little less than 3 inches. At 24 inches, No part of the ball is touching the plate. For the diagram in this post, I used 1 foot 9 inches for the bottom of the strike zone, and 3 foot 8 inches for the top of the strike zone. For the research, I used the Pitch F/X strike zone top and strike zone bottom fields for each pitch.

      • June 21, 2010 4:36 PM

        those height numbers would work for like Adam Dunn or Richie Sexson, but the average for the bottom is 1.5 to 1.6 and the top at about 3.4. Of course it differs from player to player but those are good averages to go with regardless.

  3. John Frillman permalink
    November 6, 2010 11:51 PM

    I like what you’re saying. I used to play baseball growing up, through school and over the summer, and in college untill I blew my knee out.

    It used to bug the crap out of me when umpires would basically force you to swing at crap or get called out on strikes.

    To get used to an umpires strike zone is ridiculous, as you have stated. If I slid into home and got about four inches from touching the plate, should I be called safe? Don’t think so….

    Thanks.

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