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  1. Those are all fabulous points.

    And maybe a way that Billy Hamilton might actually be able to get on base more than we would normally expect. I still dont think he has the sufficient talent to make it, but at least food for thought.

    Comment by Doug Gray — October 19, 2012 @ 6:35 pm

  2. Did Billy Hamilton take your girlfriend or something?

    Comment by Desertfox — October 19, 2012 @ 7:24 pm

  3. Where was Matt Holliday? Through the first month of the season when his numbers were awful, it seemed he’d get 2-3 bad strikes called against him per game.

    Comment by cpebbles — October 19, 2012 @ 7:43 pm

  4. Oh, I could never get a girlfriend.

    Comment by Doug Gray — October 19, 2012 @ 8:25 pm

  5. How do pitchers do in this statistic when they appear as hitters? I could see umpires being less likely to give the pitcher who is hitting the benefit of the doubt on a close pitch. It would also help explain the NL teams appearing at the top of the list. Because of their 4-man rotation, low pitch allotments and high offense park the Rockies probably saw fewer at bats by pitchers than other NL teams, so if this were part of the explanation their location on the lists would make sense as well.

    Comment by Evan — October 19, 2012 @ 9:00 pm

  6. Off the top of my head… my guesses would be:

    which batters get screwed?
    -less established players
    -players that seem to be hackers anyway
    -players with a “bad attitude”
    -“lackadasical” appearing players
    -taller players

    which batters get the benefit of the doubt
    -established players
    -players that don’t seem to be hackers
    -players with “good attitudes”
    -“gritty” players
    -shorter players
    -white guys

    someone smarter than me should be able to define some parameters for my hunches, and risk adjust it.

    Just saying

    Comment by Dave S — October 19, 2012 @ 9:10 pm

  7. its great to have the data for pitchers and batters. but to really close the loop, I think you’d need the data for umpires… that’s the key.

    in fact, that’s where we really need to nail down the data. because once you can start doing that… you’ll begin to find the outlier umps. and you keep the good ones, and get rid of the bad ones. at that point, I bet the umps become MUCH more willing to accept video/computer identification of all ball and strike calls.

    then, we get some real democratization of our national pastime.

    long past time if you ask me.

    Comment by Dave S — October 19, 2012 @ 9:21 pm

  8. Are umpires attached to each league? That could explain the difference.

    Comment by kiss my GO NATS — October 19, 2012 @ 10:05 pm

  9. OK… risk stratification categories:

    “established” player… use an AB cutoff (IP for pitchers), or age. age seems less useful to me though. sometimes you have older rookies, or younger veterans. or simply if player has ever played in MLB previous to the observed season.

    “hacker” use a plate discipline stat for batter. Use a “control” stat for pitchers.

    “attitude” and “gritty”… not sure how you’d qualify those.

    “height” seems straightforward. Use average MLB height for your cutoff.

    “race” seems straightforward also.

    I think “pitcher batting” would be a good category too. Interesting at any rate.

    You could do all sorts of other things too… location (ballpark)… ambient temp at start of game… other weather conditions…. local start time of game… time of each individual pitch? (do they have that data?)… just about anything you care to define and have data to support.

    Create a risk adjusted model, and start finding some outliers!

    Comment by Dave S — October 19, 2012 @ 10:13 pm

  10. Do infielders get more calls than outfielders?
    Do middle infielders get more calls than corner infielders?
    Do CFs get more calls than corner OFs?
    Do catchers get more calls than anyone?

    How does batting order play into getting calls? Do leadoff batters get more or less calls?

    Does the #8 batter in NL games get more or less calls?

    Do guys with batting streaks get more or less calls?

    Do guys whose name ends in a vowel get more or less calls?

    There are SOOOOO many ways to look at the data.

    Comment by Dave S — October 19, 2012 @ 10:39 pm

  11. How do I look at the data?

    The umps are F*CKING UP calls!!!!

    Its a f*cking ball, or its a f*cking strike.

    It should have NOTHING to do with who threw it, or who caught it, or who was batting, or who was calling it, or if it’s a meaningless game in the dog days of August, or if it’s a key pitch in the deciding game of the World Series.

    Its a f*cking ball, or its a f*cking strike.

    EVERY PITCH… is war.

    It is the living, beating, heart of the game.

    How about we get it right?
    EVERY time. For EVERY player.

    It’s inevitable anyway. So what are we waiting for????

    Comment by Dave S — October 19, 2012 @ 10:41 pm

  12. /end rant

    Comment by Dave S — October 19, 2012 @ 10:42 pm

  13. Games are also called differently in the final month or two of the season, when a contending team is playing. The strike zone gets even weirder when two contending teams are playing each other head-to-head, with the playoffs on the line. Games that “count” late in the year have a zone much closer to what is called in the playoffs than normal.

    Now watch a meaningless game in September, say between the Royals and Indians. The strike zone gets as big as it will ever get and the umpires do everything possible to speed the games up.

    Comment by Phantom Stranger — October 19, 2012 @ 10:55 pm

  14. you’re really still doing this? this is lamer than fake everdiso

    Comment by jim — October 20, 2012 @ 12:14 am

  15. not anymore, they changed to MLB umpires from specific league umpires sometime in the 90s.

    In fact the last documented case of specific league umpires came in the Oscar nominated Angels in the Outfield.

    Comment by AL — October 20, 2012 @ 12:43 am

  16. Dont playa hate… participate.

    Comment by Doug Gray — October 20, 2012 @ 1:47 am

  17. just wondering, will MLB ever get that Gameday or Pitch FX thing to be able to adjust for a batter’s actual height and stance?

    Comment by dimbulb — October 20, 2012 @ 3:25 am

  18. I think it has already been documented that the strike zone is noticeably bigger in 3-0 counts than other counts and noticeably smaller in 0-2 counts. I think it is also bigger in 3-1 counts. This is an endemic problem to human umpires, it seems – too much empathy for the guy who is down.

    As for how to explain the NL/AL discrepancy, I think this is obviously due to pitchers hitting. The zone gets expanded big time against pitchers, IMO, and maybe it also gets expanded against pinch hitters.

    Comment by Kris — October 20, 2012 @ 8:26 am

  19. The stats know better than your eyes.

    Comment by Baltar — October 20, 2012 @ 2:05 pm

  20. Interesting possibility.

    Comment by Baltar — October 20, 2012 @ 2:06 pm

  21. Excellent point!

    Comment by Baltar — October 20, 2012 @ 2:08 pm

  22. Thanks for the info. That fact completely escaped me.

    Comment by Baltar — October 20, 2012 @ 2:09 pm

  23. I’m no statistician, but strict randomness might be enough to explain most or all of this. The team differences, in particular, which should have less variation than that of individual players due to having much more data, strike me as very small.
    Kudos to Jeff for presenting this data here and in the prior post (and not offering explanations without proof). This is interesting and thought-provoking.

    Comment by Baltar — October 20, 2012 @ 2:13 pm

  24. Do you have any evidence for this?

    Comment by Baltar — October 20, 2012 @ 2:14 pm

  25. That would be nice to have but very difficult to produce.

    Comment by Baltar — October 20, 2012 @ 2:15 pm

  26. The data set is way to small to parse so fine.

    Comment by joser — October 20, 2012 @ 2:29 pm

  27. It does right now, depending on your source of data. However, it’s complicated because — surprise, surprise — batters aren’t 100% consistent in their stance, and adjustments for them aren’t 100% consistent from park to park and PitchFX operator to pitchFX operator. Humans! Clearly, in addition to robot umpires and robot pitchFX operators, we need robot batters.

    Comment by joser — October 20, 2012 @ 2:35 pm

  28. Average height of MLB players is 6 feet, 1 inches. Most umpires generally the “high strike” at about the same rate as each other, but there seems to be more variation between when an umpire calls a low strike on a batter.

    Umpires can “cheat” on balls just off the corners, because the dugouts do not have a definitive angle on inside or outside pitches. However, when an umpire calls a low or a high strike, he is opening himself to infinitely more criticism from both dugouts (as a high school umpire who enforces a vertical strike zone rather than the typical horizontal one, I certainly know the how the two strike zones generate different reactions from the teams). Umpires are more likely to call a pitch just at the knee (or just below), even when the catcher’s mitt receives the ball lower to the ground than when it crossed the strike zone, if the player is a tall player such as Jayson Werth.

    The reason for this is because the catcher’s mitt is farther away from the ground on taller players when the ball is caught than when a shorter player (such as Nick Punto) is at the plate.

    Looking at the list, Nick Punto is 69 inches, Lou Marson 6-1 (73 inches), Coghlan 72, Figgins 68, Santana 71, Roberts 70, Kelly is 76 (the only outlier above avg height), Murphy is 70, DeRosa 73, and Conrad is 70, for an average of 71.2 inches per player.

    Of the players seeing the most strikes, Marte is 6-0, Middlebrooks is 6-4, Gimenez is 6-2, Turner is 6-0, Hafner is 6-3, Sogard is 5-10, the outlier, Duda is 6-4, Rosales is 6-1, Baxter 6-0, and Maybin 6-3, for an average of 73.5 inches per player, and average of 6 feet, 1.5 inches tall, well above the average height of a hitter (because the MLB avg of 6.1 includes pitchers, who are the tallest position by far.

    There is certainly an umpire effect on tall/short players, and my guess is the low strike.

    Comment by jauer — October 20, 2012 @ 6:05 pm

  29. Pardon the typos; I have been drinking for too long.

    Comment by jauer — October 20, 2012 @ 6:07 pm

  30. Nice effort. I want some of you’re drinking.

    Comment by Tomrigid — October 20, 2012 @ 8:13 pm

  31. Yeah, which is why I’m asking what the stats showed…

    Comment by cpebbles — October 20, 2012 @ 10:28 pm

  32. Am I the only one left who wants baseball to keep looking like baseball? If we go to an electronic strike zone, having umpires is really not even needed. Use cameras to make the calls at the bases and we will just watch the scoreboard for all of the calls like a video game. I can’t imagine the game without umpires, even ones who blow calls.

    I understand that everyone should play by the same rules and we want the calls to be accurate but the quality of umpiring in the game is very good. There will always be mistakes and the ones that are made are very highly visible and publicized because of all of the replay discussion, but overall I think the umpires are doing a fantastic job.

    Comment by WhosOnPhyrst — October 20, 2012 @ 10:49 pm

  33. The umpires have to be there to call plays at the plate, tags on the bases, etc. We don’t replace the umpires with technology. We use technology to help the umpires. The ump behind the plate can have a little cruciform of LEDs in his mask that indicate high/low/outside/inside or strike, getting its information instantaneously from the PitchFX system. He can make whatever call he wants, but he’s on notice as to what PitchFX says about the pitch. Now, sometimes PitchFX may be wonky or downright broken (it happens) but most of the time it’s telling him what he should be calling. And over time, the umpires will generally conform to that. The result is more consistency across umpires and fewer completely blown strike/ball calls.

    Combine that with a fifth (or in the postseason, seventh) umpire in the booth with access to all video and a closed audio link to the crew chief on the field to whisper in his ear whenever the umps need to have a little “conference” to get a call right, and you pretty much have my ideal system. No humans eliminated (in fact, one is added) but far fewer umpiring mistakes to take the result of the game out of the hands of the players.

    Comment by joser — October 21, 2012 @ 12:31 am

  34. The team data is probably skewed by the opponent catchers. This would explain why divisions (except NL West) seem to group in the data.

    Comment by Anon — October 21, 2012 @ 12:51 am

  35. why are you censoring fuck?

    Comment by jim — October 21, 2012 @ 1:46 am

  36. What is the AL Central doing?

    Comment by Cluth — October 21, 2012 @ 9:12 am

  37. The only instant replay system that I have heard that I did not hate (and actually agree with) is the one you mentioned with adding another umpire to review the calls in the booth with some sort of direct communication to the crew chief on the field. This is a way that we can improve the quality of the calls without changing the look or feel of the game on the field so I agree with you on this point.
    I would not like to see a system like the NFL put into play with challenges. This would slow down the game a ton (and would probably lead to people pushing harder for pitch timers etc which would just be terrible, but that is a different argument). I hate even now to see umpires go into the tunnels to look at fair/foul home runs. It takes tension away from a great moment and its just crazy. I refer you to the Michael Morse grand slam complete with re-routing to bases and a phantom re-swing. Sorry, I don’t have a link… YouTube it.
    Finally, for the balls and strikes, adding technology like Pitch f/x goggles into the umpires mask is a bit much. I have never been much of a pitcher. In fact, I have been more of a Vlad Guerrero, swing at everything I can reach, kind of hitter. I do know, however, that there are pitches that are thrown that are consistently called strikes which Pitch f/x would call balls. I do not know the details, but I think this would take some weapons and deception away from the pitcher. I am sure that most people on here would agree that this is a good thing, however if we are going to whine and complain about called 3rd strikes, batters just need to go back to the little league “too close to take” philosophy.
    I understand that I am not advocating for the correct calls all of the time philosophy because I am a huge purist and I hate the thought of technology coming into a game like this. I am probably wrong, but these are my thoughts and I was just curious to know if I was the only one!

    Comment by WhosOnPhyrst — October 21, 2012 @ 10:25 am

  38. To address how the eye-in-the-sky umpire would address Pitch F/x, have him monitor the calls and then between innings just relay down “Hey ________, you really have to start giving him that low strike, the pitch has been there.” This would correct issues and improve the zone as we go without creating bionic umpires.

    Comment by WhosOnPhyrst — October 21, 2012 @ 10:28 am

  39. Really like this stuff. One thing I noticed, for the 459 hitters in the spreadsheet there are fewer strikes than expected strikes. Why is this? If we looked at pitchers batting would there be far more strikes than expected?

    Comment by J. Cross — October 21, 2012 @ 12:10 pm

  40. Outstanding post!

    Comment by Baltar — October 21, 2012 @ 12:14 pm

  41. Closer monitoring of the umpires with actual warnings and even suspensions for consistently poor calling would also help. Some umpires’ strike zones look more like Pam Anderson than the strike zone in the rulebook.
    A lot of rules also need re-writing with clearer language and without contradictions, e.g. balk, infield fly.

    Comment by Baltar — October 21, 2012 @ 12:20 pm

  42. Interesting hypothesis. Some genius (not I0 should prove or disprove this.

    Comment by Baltar — October 21, 2012 @ 12:22 pm

  43. *(not I)

    Comment by Baltar — October 21, 2012 @ 12:23 pm

  44. If your response is a somewhat continuous variable, like strike percentage, then you don’t actually have to stratify over all those explanatory variables. Just include them all in a regression.

    Comment by Matthias — October 21, 2012 @ 4:58 pm

  45. Can Fangraphs just block this IP already?

    Comment by RationalSportsFan — October 21, 2012 @ 5:33 pm

  46. Anybody that has played 2020 Super Baseball knows that that is a great idea.

    Comment by Sivart — October 22, 2012 @ 5:01 am

  47. Mike Baxter made the list, he is undersized, white, disciplined, and most likely regarded as gritty, ditto for Turner. So much for your theory. Duda is the third met on the list, but he is a big man who hacks.

    Comment by NYMIKe — October 22, 2012 @ 8:47 am

  48. The Excel file is linked in the post. You could just look Matt Holiday up.

    But here, I’ll do it for you. Holiday’s Diff/100 was -8 on 689 PA.

    Comment by Rex Manning Day — October 22, 2012 @ 8:55 am

  49. My eyes tell me the same thing. I actually clicked on this article specifically hoping to see where Matt Holliday ended up. I’ve never seen someone get so many strikes called against them that were off the plate, both inside and out. I think he’s generally respected around the game for being a nice guy, but he gets some awful, awful strikes called on him so he must have wronged an umpire at some point.

    Comment by the hottest stove — October 22, 2012 @ 9:40 am

  50. Interesting analysis!

    One possible mitigating factor might be a larger strike zone on getaway games (usually midweek day games, where both teams and presumably the umpires have planes to catch). I don’t have any empirical evidence that an umpire’s strike zone becomes larger when everyone has a flight to catch, but consider this getaway game (a night game that was further delayed 3.5 hours by rain):

    There were a total of 23 strikeouts. Yes, it was the Cubs and Pirates, but neither Kevin Correia nor Travis Wood have ever been mistaken for Nolan Ryan.

    Comment by gonfalon — October 22, 2012 @ 10:45 am

  51. Surprised no David Murphy. He constantly gets pitches 6 inches off the outside corner called against him.

    Comment by TX Ball Scout — October 22, 2012 @ 1:46 pm

  52. Interested in regression or decision tree to see how we can segment these… Does a batter’s swinging percentage affect the borderline calls?

    Comment by abreutime — October 22, 2012 @ 5:03 pm

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