Anatomy of a Really Bad Call

It is an irrefutable fact that nothing that happens at the beginning of April can cost a team an entire baseball season. That is, short of a disaster or otherwise some act of God. You know what there’s a lot left of? Regular-season baseball. There is so much regular-season baseball left to be played. Things are going to happen, and seasons are going to change course. At this point we’re practically still in extended spring training.

But it is likewise an irrefutable fact that every single game of a regular season matters. Which is why we turn our attention to a game between the Rays and Rangers in Texas on Monday night. A year ago, the Rays finished within a few games of a playoff spot. The Rangers lost the division on the season’s last day, and then they were eliminated in the one-game wild-card playoff. The Rays and Rangers both project to contend in 2013. Things are going to be tight, most likely, making everything matter more, and on Monday, the Rangers closed out the Rays thanks to what we might charitably label a controversial call.

Quick setup: it’s 5-4 Texas with two outs in the top of the ninth. Joe Nathan is pitching to Ben Zobrist with a runner on first, and Nathan gets to a full count. Evan Longoria‘s on deck. Nathan throws a curveball and locks down career save No. 300. Way to go, Joe Nathan!

NathanZobrist3

Zobrist can’t believe it, and neither can Joe Maddon, who comes rushing out of the dugout. Neither, it seems, can Joe Nathan, though he manages to play it cool. A Rays opportunity goes by the wayside, and the Rangers improve to 5-2.

It’s important to note, of course, that this call didn’t cost the Rays the game. It ended the game, but even if you give Zobrist a walk, the Rays’ win expectancy would’ve stood around 15%. It would’ve still been up to Longoria to deliver against a good and same-handed reliever, and maybe that’s where it all ends. Or maybe Longoria comes up with a big hit and the Rays complete the rally. This call cost the Rays a fraction of a win, which, in turn, costs the Rays a fraction of their playoff odds. That’s the big picture. This didn’t destroy the Rays’ season, but it dealt real damage. You can say that without overstating it.

Watching that .gif, it’s almost inexplicable. Why that call? Why that delay in making that call? Visually, it seems like one of the worst calls I’ve ever seen, in a most unfortunate spot. Now we chip away. Let’s turn first to Brooks Baseball to examine the night’s strike zones. What do we find?

foster_nathanzobrist2

That’s an exceptional strike call, to lefties. But look over to righties and you see that the Rays got a few generous calls, notably with Jose Molina behind the plate. This was not quite a tight zone, and two of those Rays strikes seem comparable to the final Rangers strike in terms of distance from the effective strike zone. It’s something, is all I’m saying.

And we can look at Marty Foster’s tendencies. From Baseball Heat Maps, here’s how Foster’s strike zone compares to the league-average strike zone with lefties in the box:

foster_nathanzobrist

Would you look at that? There’s something of a hot spot right where Nathan’s curveball wound up. Make as much or as little of this as you want, but Foster’s made this call before, it looks like. It wasn’t unprecedented.

And maybe most importantly, let’s revisit the video. The same .gif embedded again:

NathanZobrist3

That looks really bad, but you might notice that A.J. Pierzynski didn’t handle the pitch particularly well after it crossed the front of the plate. How many of you have wished that umpires wouldn’t be so easily influenced by the behavior of the catchers in front of them? Marty Foster said afterward he thought the pitch was better than it looked, because Pierzynski didn’t catch it well. He isn’t wrong, and let’s eliminate Pierzynski’s glove work from the equation:

NathanZobrist2.gif.opt

Now it isn’t godawful. Giving it the screenshot treatment, it still doesn’t seem to be godawful:

nathanzobrist

A.J. Pierzynski made this pitch look worse. A.J. Pierzynski made this pitch look like it was practically in the dirt. In truth, it was a little off the outer edge, somewhere around the level of the knees. You remember that terrible call from the World Baseball Classic, where the pitch was made to look worse because it wasn’t received well? Yeah. You can see how a catcher’s pitch-receiving can be distracting, and you almost want to applaud Foster for making his call independent of Pierzynski’s actions.

So there are explanations. Yet here’s the big problem: they aren’t good enough. They’re enough to keep this from being literally the worst strike call ever, in a high-leverage situation. But they aren’t good enough to keep this from being a really bad call anyway. I asked for some PITCHf/x help from Matthew Carruth, and he came through for me in the clutch, just like Ben Zobrist didn’t. Maybe I shouldn’t make that joke in this article.

On the PITCHf/x axes, this final curveball was located around -1.4 horizontally, and 1.6 vertically. I asked Carruth to go to his database and spit out all pitches between -1.5 and -1.3 horizontally and 1.5 and 1.7 vertically. Selecting only for pitches thrown to left-handed batters, of course. There were nearly 3,000 such pitches taken, and 2% of them were called strikes. There were nearly 300 such curveballs taken, and 0.7% of them — two of them — were called strikes. There were 76 such full-count pitches taken, and 3.9% of them — three of them — were called strikes. This call hadn’t never happened before in the PITCHf/x era, but almost every single time, this pitch has been a ball. Which is the right judgment, because the pitch is not in the zone, and in the zone is where the strikes are, or are supposed to be.

Marty Foster didn’t make the worst call ever. He just made a bad call, bad enough to be just about unforgivable. That’s probably too strong a word, since Marty Foster is human and calling pitches on or near the border is hard work. Foster can be forgiven. But like Joe Maddon said, this can’t happen in a major-league game, and certainly not at the very end of a game between two presumed playoff contenders. Calls like this take the game partially out of the players’ hands, and it’s the players we watch to see perform.

Said Foster:


When Foster reviewed the pitch on video, he recognized his error in judgment. By that point there was no going back, and in the heat of the moment, for whatever reason or reasons, Foster signaled strike when he absolutely should’ve signaled ball. The outcome of an at-bat and the outcome of a baseball game was determined. Given that calls like this are relatively infrequent, this isn’t a problem that’s out of control. But this is a problem that, under the game’s current system, we have no choice but to accept. Sometimes it’ll work in your favor. Other times, they’ll be other times.




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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


131 Responses to “Anatomy of a Really Bad Call”

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  1. fast at last says:

    Wow, do umps often admit to mistakes the way Foster just did? Or is that a new thing?

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    • Jonathan says:

      It’s happening more often now that we’ve got all this tech to verify blatantly bad calls.

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      • Doogolas11 says:

        This kind of stuff does happen way too often. The game in which Samardzija was pitching he couldn’t buy a strike from the umpire. There were at least 6 strikes in his last two innings that were called balls. Including one on, I believe, a 1-1 pitch to Hudson, who would ultimately walk. And then crap fell apart.

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        • TKDC says:

          Samardzija didn’t help himself by becoming a maniacal blithering idiot when the calls weren’t going his way.

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        • hoober27 says:

          The comments regarding anything happening more often were in reference to umps fessing up to making mistakes, not umps making more mistakes. When I’m watching a game with beer in hand, I get just as upset as the next fella, especially when each broadcast shows their own little FoxTrax (tm?) that always seems to be about 8″ off laterally — but every time I hop on brooksbaseball I’m amazed how consistent and accurate these guys are on calling 250+ plus pitches a night.

          With HD, blown calls seem like a much bigger deal nowadays, and the fact that we’ve got the technology to start fixing these issues but haven’t used it yet hurts, but the umps do a generally great job. I’d take the current state of MLB umpires over any other professional or high level referees in sports today.

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        • MLB Rainmaker says:

          hoober27 has a great point — human error happens, but in general I think MLB Umpires are among the best in sports.

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        • yosoyfiesta says:

          They should be the best officials in sports. Every other sport requires referees to make calls while both they and the players are moving, that’s not an easy thing. In baseball, you stand still and the ball comes right at you, or you’re dialed in to watching one bag/the line. Now that’s not to say that those baseballs don’t move fast, sure they do, but there is a crew of guys there to get it right. The fact that MLB games are still affected by human error is pathetic. Gallaraga’s perfect game is a good example and Jim Joyce is one of the best umps in the majors. In this game, it’s likely that the Rangers still win and Nathan gets Longo out, but for the game to end on a garbage call is really lame.

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        • Jaker says:

          @TKDC

          But that’s exactly the problem. Umpires should be impartial. And yet, they’re human. It’s inevitable that their calls will be biased by emotion and by their feelings of a player. Doesn’t seem good for the game.

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        • David says:

          Their job may be more difficult in some ways, the speed and precision required is certainly the highest, it’s easier in others, namely that there are very few judgement calls that make up the majority of calls for many contact sports. The difficulty is irrelevant anyway, the majority of an umpires calls (balls and strikes, safe and out, fair and foul) are more easily performed using technology than other sports. Just as I’m not watching to see the umpire call the game, I’m not there to marvel at how difficult their job is or how proud they should be of themselves that they get 85% of the balls and strikes right.

          I’d take NFL or NHL refs over MLB umps anyday but that’s also a function of the leagues’ (and the officials’) willingness to get calls right rather than uphold tradition and stroke the officials. Soccer has a big problem in that refs need to make very difficult judgement calls (like most contact sports) that can of course be aided by replay, but the flow of the game is much more prohibitive than the major sports in NA. With an extra umpire or even extra umpiring crew reviewing video in a booth and relaying information to the home plate umpire using a phone behind the plate, or even via headset, (having all of them gather and run off the field is a stupid waste of time) would have little effect on the flow of the game, and shouldn’t increase game length if they make an effort to reduce wasteful delays that are currently tolerated (too many timeouts at the plate, excessive time between pitches for the hitter or pitcher to set, manager confrontations with the umpire).

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        • David says:

          Their job may be more difficult in some ways, the speed and precision required is certainly the highest, it’s easier in others, namely that there are very few judgement calls that make up the majority of calls for many contact sports. The difficulty is irrelevant anyway, the majority of an umpires calls (balls and strikes, safe and out, fair and foul) are more easily performed using technology than other sports. Just as I’m not watching to see the umpire call the game, I’m not there to marvel at how difficult their job is or how proud they should be of themselves that they get 85% of the balls and strikes right.

          I’d take NFL or NHL refs over MLB umps any day but that’s also a function of the leagues’ (and the officials’) willingness to get calls right rather than uphold tradition and stroke the officials. Soccer has a big problem in that refs need to make very difficult judgement calls (like most contact sports) that can of course be aided by replay, but the flow of the game is much more prohibitive than the major sports in NA. With an extra umpire or even extra umpiring crew reviewing video in a booth and relaying information to the home plate umpire using a phone behind the plate, or even via headset, (having all of them gather and run off the field is a stupid waste of time) would have little effect on the flow of the game, and shouldn’t increase game length if they make an effort to reduce wasteful delays that are currently tolerated (too many timeouts at the plate, excessive time between pitches for the hitter or pitcher to set, manager confrontations with the umpire).

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        • Charlie says:

          I also think there’s something to umpire consistency. No question this was a bad call, but in life, and baseball, there will be mistakes. Some umps have historically wider strike zones than others–captured in this year’s Bill James book–but I digress: do we really want to have technology take-over the flow of the game? I’m worried that video playbacks will slow the game down and change the strategy of how players approach pitchers.

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        • Chris says:

          A box, with a light. That’s all it would take to do this right.

          If this were anything but recreational past time the umpire standing behind the catcher to judge where the ball crosses the plate would have been automated decades ago. We can know the actual fact without must effort or cost. Why still guess?

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        • Careless says:

          It’s an extremely cushy job with great pay and tons of time off, and yet not a single umpire has been fired in the last 25 years.

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    • Forrest Gumption says:

      Did you not see Galarraga’s perfect game?

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      • Timb says:

        My thoughts exactly. Did Joyce set an odd precedent that it’s ok to admit your mistake as long as you realize you were wrong??

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    • chuckb says:

      Still, major props to him for actually having the stones to do it. Most umpires would’ve never taken the question or would have run off some BS about something or other and “their strike zone” and “consistency” or something else ridiculous.

      It doesn’t change the call but he should be commended for admitting the mistake. Hopefully he won’t make it again, particularly in such a high leverage situation.

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      • Chippy says:

        Major stones? Maybe. Or maybe it’s just him recognizing that MLB won’t take any corrective action. It’s pretty easy to admit to your mistakes when there’s nothing personal at stake.

        I’d sit the guy out a game for that (If that’s even allowed under their labor agreement).

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        • KDL says:

          Do you get suspended from your job every time you make a mistake? Or does your labor agreement not allow that?

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  2. bobabaloo says:

    what plane are these strike zone maps taken? im just curious because i’ve always thought the strike zone was 3 dimentional, yet we always show it in a single plane. probably wouldnt do anything for this call, but i feel like it should be considered more often.

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    • Doogolas11 says:

      I believe it’s 2D. The very front of the plate is the spot that matters.

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      • bobabaloo says:

        hmmm, i dont think it ever says anything about the front of the plate defining the zone in the rulebook. only that the zone is the area over the plate, with high and low limites, which would make me believe it is 3D.

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        • tahititaco says:

          This is something I’ve been wondering. It also seems like it can be any part of the ball over any part of the plate regardless how small of a fraction.

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        • bobabaloo says:

          ya, im about 99.9% sure it is 3d and the edge of the ball as you said.
          i guess using the front of the plate is good enough, since most balls break away from the strikezone. so in reality, only backdoor pitches and high sinking pitches will be affected. and i doubt anyone will get upset about a pitch shown 1 inch off the plate that was really a strike. just thought it should be noted is all.

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        • payroll says:

          Now I really want to see a Eephus that catches the very tip of the back of the plate for a strike at the letters.

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        • taprat says:

          It’s the whole plate, and I’ve always thought this was a pretty major flaw in the system. There is no reason that a pitch ought to be more likely to break away from the plate than towards it. The shape that shows up on these heat maps should not be round, unless the ball has exactly 0.00 horizontal or vertical movement – it should be oblong.

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        • TheMaskedUmp says:

          Except at the very top of the strike zone, a pitch that does not pass through the front of the zone at the front of home plate cannot pass through the rest of the 3D strike zone.

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    • chasfh711 says:

      See, this is what I am wondering, too. I always thought the umpire had to consider the strike zone as a 3-D object in which, if the pitch crosses through any part of that object, it should be called a strike, regardless of where the ball goes after it passes through any part of the object. And this picture confirms that idea:

      http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/89/Strike_zone_en.JPG

      So if the 3-D strike zone really is a thing, that means that if a split-finger pitch crosses the front of the plate in the lowest stage left corner of the zone, and then continues to drops and hits the ground at the same time it reaches the catcher’s glove, the umpire would have to call that a strike.

      I’m not saying that’s what happened in this specific instance here, and Marty Foster (inexplicably) admitted with 20-20 hindsight that could he have a do-over, he would not have called this particular pitch a strike. But I can easily see where a very similar looking pitch satisfies the description I provide above, and a laser-based umpire system calls it a strike, even though to our trained eyes it doesn’t look anything like one.

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    • Groundballwitheyes says:

      Also, the plot points are 1 inch by 1 inch, while a baseball is 3 inches wide.

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  3. gotowarmissagnes says:

    You want to see a really bad call? Go look at the call between the Orioles and Rays when they called Longoria out for passing Zobrist. It’s one thing to miss the location of the ball. To miss the location of two complete human beings is much worse.

    P.S.: I’m an Orioles fan.

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    • MakeitRayn says:

      The worst part of that was the first base umps unwillingness to confer with the homeplate ump.

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      • Dave (UK) says:

        None of the other umps saw it, they had their own responsibilities to take care of. I have not seen a camera angle yet that could show definitely whether they passed or not. For me the only way you can have a confident opinion on that call is if you saw it first hand (unless I have missed a new angle).

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        • hoober27 says:

          The lack of camera angles on their relative positions is frustrating, but every call I’ve heard of the play state that Longoria passed Zobrist before Zobrist is even rounding second base. Not sure exactly where the press box is the Trop, but I imagine they’d have a pretty good view.

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        • gotowarmissagnes says:

          Actually, only one broadcast–the MASN one–claimed that. In the one shot, you can see Zobrist clearly reach second before Longoria, and with his wide turn at first, I’d be surprised if he outran him during the early stretch.

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      • TKDC says:

        It seems that more and more umpires are willing to confer. Aside from calls for instant replay, most umpire-bashing has to do with being stubborn and not even trying to do your best to get the call right. Do you want to admit you are wrong on the spot, or have talking heads talk about your jack-ass like tendencies on the highlight show? I’m sure it also helps to some extent for promotions, special assignments, etc., as well as fostering good will with teams. Also, umps must know that this technology exists. Their success rate may have a direct result on their future existence.

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    • chuckb says:

      Also a really, really horrendous call. You’re right. After watching several replays, I have no idea how they even came up with that call.

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  4. Sandy Kazmir says:

    Foster’s history doesn’t show much of an inclination to call that strike against lefties, though he does appear especially amorphous in that direction:
    http://www.brooksbaseball.net/bucket/umpire_cards/card_imgs/122.LHH.png

    It was an awful call, one for which he should miss some games, but it doesn’t help the Rays any. Jeff is right that it cost a fraction of a win, but all those fractions add up. I doubt it is your intention, but this article reads like a litany of excuses. It’s appreciated that Foster wishes he could take it back. Much preferable to the arrogance and infallibility of umpires past (and present), but you can’t put the shit back in the donkey. In a high leverage situation like that you cannot make that call.

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    • wobatus says:

      I don’t think it read like a litany of excuses. It was very balanced.

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    • Jason B says:

      “one for which he should miss some games”

      No. We’re becoming SO lightning fast to fire off harsh punishments for other people’s mistakes (not our own, of course! Ours aren’t dissected on ESPN). Make an error at work today? How about a week’s suspension, that sounds about right.

      I know it’s galling, especially when it happens to our beloved teams. But humans make errors. We shouldn’t give them all a pass, particularly repeated or especially grievous ones. But we need to try flexing that empathy muscle occasionally. Was he deliberately trying to screw your Rays? Of course not. He made what he thought was the correct call at the time. And recognized his error after the fact (which is more than many umps are willing to do). Maybe that will help him not call similar pitches better going forward.

      That…that should be good enough.

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      • Warde says:

        Generally if you are this shitty are your job you get fired

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        • Sleight of Hand Pro says:

          actually, generally, no you dont.

          what line of work are you in that one mistake gets you fired?

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        • Jason B says:

          Totally agree Sleight. We may like to think the world works that way…but how many people in your office/profession do you know personally who is a subpar employee? Who is just riding the clock, or just there for a paycheck? Who won’t do anything above and beyond what is required? Who is lazy at best and totally incompetent at worst?

          I can look around and see several from my desk. Yet they are in no danger of losing their jobs whatsoever.

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    • Sleight of Hand Pro says:

      “there are explanations. yet heres the big problem: they arent good enough. they arent good enough to keep this from being a really bad call”

      “bad enough to be just about unforgivable”

      “like joe maddon said, this cant happen in a major league game”

      the article only reads like a litany of excuses to a rays homer, which you have labeled yourself proudly over the years with your comments (comments like this one). to anyone else, it reads as fair, informative, and entertaining.

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  5. NatsLady says:

    Nice article. Very thorough.

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  6. Richard Boyett says:

    Some day technology will eliminate the Marty Foster element.

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    • Adam says:

      Could very easily be next season if MLB want to but they don’t.

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    • William says:

      This will happen again and again. The strike zone changes from umpire to umpire. This needs to be the most consistant part of the game. Not only can a mistaken call end the game,it changes the batters judgement. I see it every day. The technology is here. At least try to apply it to the game.

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  7. Forrest Gumption says:

    I could drop my “MLB has been pushing the Rangers for the last 5 years and they actually get calls like these quite often and have the umps in their back pocket” conspiracy theory, but I’ll keep that under my hat…MLB is pretty powerful, I don’t want any men in black at my front door!

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    • hoober27 says:

      It does sound like you one too many glasses of moonshine, but has there ever been a study about home calls vs. road calls? In the NFL it’s fairly common knowledge that the refs get caught up in the atmosphere and call more pro-home crowd calls than against.

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      • kylemcg says:

        There’s a book called Scorecasting that has a very interesting chapter on home/road effects on officials. It has some interesting analysis of baseball as well as other sports. It’s worth a read.

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    • Jarhn says:

      As a Rangers’ fan I could give you a rather extensive list of bad calls that went against the Rangers the last five years (i.e. Michael Young did NOT touch the 3rd base coach in Minn a couple years ago), but of course that won’t fit with your meme.

      Keep trying!!

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    • Sleight of Hand Pro says:

      i could not make a comment, but then again ill just go ahead and make that comment.

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    • Walt says:

      The only thing worse than this stupid comment is your username. You must be an Angels fan.

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    • jim says:

      obvious troll is obvious

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    • Walt says:

      This comment is even worse than your username. Must be an Angels fan.

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  8. Ty says:

    This isn’t quite as bad as the out call in Colorado where Helton was a yard off the bag. But these calls are becoming more frequent (maybe we’re just seeing them more frequent?). Something has to be done to hold these umps accountable

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  9. tahititaco says:

    As a person he can be forgiven. As a baseball umpire he’s being paid to know what a strike is and this was unanimously not that.

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    • chuckb says:

      Well, not quite unanimously. 2% of the time that pitch is called a strike.

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      • HenduforKutch says:

        I think unanimous is correct. We’re not discussing what it was called, we’re discussing what it actually was.

        If you write 2 > 3 on a math test, it doesn’t mean that we no longer have unanimous agreement that 3 is in fact bigger than 2. It means you screwed up.

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        • TKDC says:

          I think you’re wrong. If that is the test, every pitch is either unanimously a ball or a strike, which would mean it would be a pointless term to throw in there. I think “definitely” was the word he was looking for. Another example: Mike Trout was definitely the most valuable player in the league last year, but he was not unanimously the most valuable player.

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        • HenduforKutch says:

          Not every pitch, just pitches that aren’t in that gray area around the edges of the plate…like that particular pitch. The phrasing was akward, I agree, but the .2% of the time it’s called incorrectly doesn’t disprove that.

          The Trout argument doesn’t hold at all. Value is a subjective term. It has many different definitions and can mean completely different things to different people. A strike is not subjective, at least outside of that gray area this pitch did not reside in. A more apt analogy would be that Trout is unanimously recognized as having the highest fWAR last year.

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        • TKDC says:

          This is a silly argument, but whatever – a strike is not subjective. There are bright line rules for what is and is not a strike. It is just weird and useless to say a pitch that was called a ball is unanimously a strike. The only way that makes sense as an intelligent thought is if it means it is always called a strike (or always except for this time). That is not the case. Though weird, it might be true to say a pitch 3 feet outside is unanimously a ball, as no one (I believe) has ever called one a strike (Eric Gregg was close in 97).

          To return to your example, it is no more true that 3>2 than it is true that 2.01>2.00.

          To relate to the ball/strike call, say you have two glasses of water – one has 8 ounces of water, the other has 10. You ask 100 people which has more. If they all say the 10 ounce one, then using the term unanimous makes sense, while if a couple get it wrong it really doesn’t. Otherwise, you could say the same about one glass with 8.1 ounces and another with 8. That just isn’t the context in which the word is used.

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      • kylemcg says:

        There’s nobody who would defend this call after seeing the tape. Not even the ump in question. I assume it’s the same for the other outliers.

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  10. Will says:

    This post raises an really interesting point. How do any of these analytical sites adjust for the relativity of one batter’s strike zone to another? A strike zone is not static as Brooksbaseball or Heat Maps seems to indicate. For example, Sam Fuld is 5’10″, but his teammate Shelley Duncan is a full 7 inches taller at 6’5″. That changes the equation quite a bit. Some of those high strikes may have indeed been correct depending on the batter, as well as some of those which appear to be too low. Or perhaps they were incorrectly called.

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    • Victorious says:

      I’m pretty sure MLB teams who has access to PitchF/X data can compile individual ump’s strike zones and instruct their pitchers to pitch to those hot spots.

      Or maybe I’m just crazy?

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      • Schuxu says:

        I would say they care much more about the hitters cold and hot zones.
        Doesn’t help a lot if you are able to hit the umpires hot spot but the hitter is able to square up on it.

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      • Jason B says:

        “Or maybe I’m just crazy?”

        Yes. I think they say “go out and throw some strikes today.”

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    • Jaker says:

      I’ve always wondered this myself. Does Pitch F/X adjust the strike zone for the batter’s height and stance for every single pitch? It would have to would it not?

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  11. Critter says:

    A couple things one thing is that we don’t have the best view base of this gif you know why its not behind catcher secondly a good umpire can admit there mistake. thirdly tell me how many mistakes you guys make in your work. than be complain about everyday. lasty madden and other maanger don’t have the best view for that call.

    -19 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • mike says:

      Really dude? This is one of the worst ball/strike calls we’ll see all year. Who cares what view Madden had of it? He’s right — this bad of a call cannot be made in MLB, especially to end a game. And if I made a typo in this post, it doesn’t make the call any less crappy or more forgiveable.

      Oh yeah, and the view we have from the .gif (over the pitcher’s right shoulder) makes the call look less crappy than it would if the camera were directly over the pitcher’s head.

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      • chuckb says:

        The only thing worse than the call was the grammar used to justify it. That rationalization was unintelligible.

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        • Tsunamijesus says:

          Well, to be fair, it was pretty exceptional for a critter. But why are people letting their pets post on the internet?

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    • The Royal We? says:

      english, motherfucker, do you speak it?

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  12. Hurtlockertwo says:

    It seems common for announcers to explain at the start of a game that one umpire is a low ball umpire and another may be a high ball umpire. I also see predictions of success for pitchers that throw low strikes and umpires that call those low strikes. This pitch was missed for sure, but I’m never surprised anymore that there is so much variability in calling balls and strikes.

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    • mike says:

      Variability happens, sure. Borderline calls as expected can go either way. The problem with this call was that it was far from borderline. This missed call was egregious, hence the coverage last night on MLB Network, today on fangraphs, etc.

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  13. Synovia says:

    “It is an irrefutable fact that nothing that happens at the beginning of April can cost a team an entire baseball season. ”

    Games in April aren’t worth any less than games in September. When you fall 1 game short of making the playoffs, that lost first game of the season on a blown call is just as relevant as the lost last game of the season.

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    • Victorious says:

      That is undeniably true, but human psychology doesn’t seem to work like that. We tend to remember and give the greater importance to the things that has happened most recently, giving the illusion that the games at the end of the season are more important than the ones at the beginning.

      But given the relationship of wins/losses at the very end and the final standings, one can say that the last few games are must wins compared to the first few games where there are still 150+ games to go.

      It always appears that the baseball season is like an NBA game, where only the last 2 minutes counts in a close game.

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    • wobatus says:

      “But it is likewise an irrefutable fact that every single game of a regular season matters.”

      +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Schuxu says:

      Well it is just that the number of future (and therefor not yet decided) opportunities to make up that loss gets less as the season progresses.

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    • Jason B says:

      “that lost first game of the season on a blown call”

      Ah, but there’s the rub. As the article points out, they did NOT lose the game because of a blown call. Even with the walk their win probability would be around 15%. The umpire didn’t lose this game for the Rays; their own players have a LOT more culpability in that. That call did, however, push a small win probability down to zero.

      +7 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Baltar says:

      I am glad that somebody besides me recognizes this fact. I have even seen Jeff Sullivan make a comment like “when the games really count,” referring to the latter part of the season.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. Synovia says:

    “Given that calls like this are relatively infrequent, this isn’t a problem that’s out of control. ”

    These happen pretty much every game… just not the last pitch of the game, and maybe not in that specific location. But missed strike/ball calls are probably the biggest influences in W/L outside the players themselves.

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  15. Schuxu says:

    I wonder how happy the league and the umpire union are with Fosters admission.

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  16. 81 says:

    Bad call but Nathan is on my fantasy roster and I’m up against a team with Zobrist this week. All is well in my selfish little world.

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  17. mike wants wins says:

    Imagine if we had this technology when Glavine and the rest of the Braves were “throwing strikes”…..

    I can’t wait until balls and strikes are consistently called by technology. Then we can see a more true competition between hitter and pitcher.

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  18. sneakyflute says:

    there’s a lot of confusion over the strike zone even after all this time. the ball appears to cross the plate at zobrist’s knees and then fall sharply to the right and pierzynski’s handling made it look worse than it was. i have to commend the umpire for not focusing on bullshit like molina’s “framing.”

    -6 Vote -1 Vote +1

  19. Tim Lemke says:

    This is great analysis. When I saw the replay, I had a feeling the call was not quite as bad as I originally thought. Not a good call, but not the worst in history.

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  20. Nick says:

    Sure it is a bad call but if Jose Molina was framing that pitch and not A.J. Pierzynski then there wouldn’t be as much discussion methinks.

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  21. Abe says:

    I’m not sure how easy it is to find, but the radio broadcast of this call was hilarious. The announcers were completely taken aback. Also worth watching is Joe Nathan’s own reaction: you can see him say the word “wow” as he walks towards home plate.

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  22. Maggie Thatcher says:

    Bust the union and send Foster to Texas League for a year. Enjoy the scenic bus ride from Tulsa to Midland, asshole.

    -5 Vote -1 Vote +1

  23. Terry Benish says:

    When you are watching the video, look at where the umpire is standing. It is on the right shoulder of catcher or in other words inside on a left handed hitter. Showing the pitch calls on a rh hitter where the ump is also set up inside is as relevant as nothing. Show the calls away on rh hitter.

    Umpire’s words say it all.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  24. Arlington O's Fan says:

    I’d be interested to see Pitch F/X data compiled annually by team and situation leverage to see how much each team benefits (or otherwise) from questionable pitch calls. I assume something like this already exists somewhere publicly (maybe here even!), and would be difficult to distinguish from other factors like pitch framing, but it would do my soul some good to really know that all teams are hit by bad pitch calls evenly in the long run.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Jason B says:

      Hopefully the tin-foil hat brigade wouldn’t take that data and run with it, with something akin to “See! See! This definitively PROVES that everyone is out to get my beloved Padres!” or “See! See! This data proves that the umps and Bud Selig and the broadcasters and the entire MLB power structure is pushing for the Indians to win!” Or something to that effect.

      (In other words, I worry that a lot of conspiracy theorists would read causation into the data.)

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Arlington O's Fan says:

        But it does seem unscientific to preclude the possibility of that causation sight unseen. What if the data really did show that year-in, year-out there were some sort of bias in calls?

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • stevenam says:

          Maybe I’m naiive, but it seems unlikely that one team or another benefits or suffers more from “bad” calls in the long run than another. What does, however, seem possible, is that one umpire may favor a given team, pitcher, pitch type, etc. over the long run, and I think teams would love to know that.
          I agree with the comments that umpiring has deteriorated somewhat in the past few years (see, “Bucknor, CB”), but compared to the other major sports, baseball’s officiating is by far the best.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Jason B says:

          “But it does seem unscientific to preclude the possibility of that causation sight unseen.”

          Oh I don’t disagree. But if we find that team ABC has benefitted from 26 “clearly wrong” calls over the past five years and only 9 went against them, we would certainly require more than that as conclusive evidence that all umps collectively (or any umps, individually) are biased in favor of that team, or trying to influence their games.

          That evidence, if it exists, should just be one data point in a larger discussion, a jumping off point; not a “smoking gun” type of thing that we point to as conclusive proof of anything. (Not unlike a discussion involving WAR and a player’s value)

          And as always the conspiracy minded would do well to remember Occam’s Razor. Which is more likely – that humans make occasional mistakes, and that in a large enough sample, over time, one team may have benefited a bit more than another…OR that there is a covert apparatus in place to push some clandestine agenda that would threaten or destroy an individual umpire’s credibility, if not the entire game’s?

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • LastrosFan says:

          There is no way that bias is not present in some cases. As much as refs and umpires (I believe) try to be professional and get it right, they are also humans and subject to all of the same emotions mood swings that we all experience. And sometimes they probably get a little too human (see Luciano, Ron v Weaver, Earl).

          Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Baltar says:

      I am not sure about teams, but there have been FanGraphs articles on which pitchers benefit from umpire’s calls.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  25. sneakyflute says:

    most people probably judge the zone by the location of the ball when it’s caught by the catcher. in that last gif, it’s hard to tell where the ball is in relation to the plate’s 3d space, especially because of the offset camera angle. if it managed to cross the plate at the hitter’s knees and had an extreme break at the end then it was still a strike.

    i’ve seen worse (’97 nlcs)

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  26. sneakyflute says:

    my god. did anyone even read the article? it shows that the call wasn’t as bad as people think yet we still have people claiming it was an egregious call.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Doug Lampert says:

      It also points out that 98%+ of balls in that location are called balls and that “Marty Foster didn’t make the worst call ever. He just made a bad call, bad enough to be just about unforgivable. … like Joe Maddon said, this can’t happen in a major-league game, …”

      This wasn’t as bad a call as the first gif makes it look, that’s pointed out, but it’s also pointed out that this was still an egregiously bad call.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  27. The Party Bird says:

    Here’s a “great” one in terms of changed win-expectancy.

    http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=9391381

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  28. Michael Scarn says:

    Trey Burke was on the receiving end of a worse one.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  29. tynandaly says:

    2 things I want to point out

    1: Check out mlb.com’s MUST C segment on the call. You’ll notice all four broadcasts (TV and Radio for home & away) call the pitch ball 4, and then are dumbstruck when they realize the ump called it a strike. You know its an awful call when that happens.

    http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/gameday/index.jsp?gid=2013_04_08_tbamlb_texmlb_1&mode=recap_home&c_id=tex#gid=2013_04_08_tbamlb_texmlb_1&mode=video

    2: The pic Sullivan posted of Pierzynski catching the ball isn’t accurate. He actually caught the ball way lower than that- it is WELL outside and low. I know the ball crossed the plate at a higher point than it was caught, but even if it was thrown over the center of the plate that’s a pitch usually not called a strike.

    http://imageshack.us/a/img14/1620/55138500.png

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    • tynandaly says:

      In the next frame you can still see the ball at his ankles!
      http://img708.imageshack.us/img708/979/57287432.png

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    • sneakyflute says:

      a strike isn’t defined by the location of the catcher’s glove. it possibly broke over the plate at zobrist’s knees and then took a dive.

      the offset angle of the camera makes it hard to determine strikes at times.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • That Guy says:

        Honestly, from the screen shot (not the gifs) it looks like it’s right on the edge of the plate, right at the edge of the knees. Borderline, sure, but I too don’t see how this is such a terrible call.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Mark Kuhn says:

          I see the umpire setting up on the inside corner of the plate. That pitch seems to be close to the front outside corner of the plate. The strike zone is actually very close to being 23 inches wide; 17″ of white plate surface plus 3″ on each side for the width of a baseball. Any part of the ball passing thru any part of that strike zone is a strike. So the umpire made the call from the inside part of the strike zone looking across to the outside. I can see where this pitch appeared to be a strike, hitting the outside front edge of the strike zone and breaking down and away from the hitter.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

  30. H says:

    this is likely a good place to start if you’re trying to understand why Foster made that call

    http://www.significancemagazine.org/details/webexclusive/999747/Why-do-home-teams-win.html

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  31. Craig Breslow says:

    Tremendous article

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  32. Tex Pantego says:

    That ump was awful the entire night, so that call was not extraordinary. The same inning, Nathan had a 3 and 0 count and yet all three pitches were clearly strikes. That was probably the worst call against a lefty in the game, but he was calling inside strikes on righties that were closer to the batters box than the plate.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • RogersHornsbybeatsall says:

      You realize that MLB has made Umpires much better at calling balls and strikes thanks to replays and pitch F/x, right? Every Umpire has to watch his games back and compare his calls with what the ball tracking equipment says. They aren’t awful.

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      • TheMaskedUmp says:

        While it’s true that umpires can review their pitches from a previous game, not all of them do. And there isn’t any accountability except for losing coveted assignments such as playoffs or the All-Star Game. An umpire with poor mechanics can continue to have poor mechanics without accountability.

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  33. TheMaskedUmp says:

    A more productive dialog would be about the poor plate mechanics of Marty Foster. Watch his head — it’s moving all over the place during that pitch. That is as bad as plate mechanics get in professional baseball. His head should be stationary, with his eyes — and only his eyes — tracking the ball all the way into the catcher’s mitt. But Marty Foster’s mechanics are poor because he has developed bad habits and has no evaluators and no one to answer to for this lapse in standard mechanics. That’s what needs to change — umpires who are accountable and regularly evaluated.

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  34. Lokomotiv Yaroslavl says:

    Yeah, nothing that happens at the beginning of the year could possibly ruin a team’s whole season.

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  35. Billhiggs says:

    Why do they have to be perfect? Is baseball that precise? Bad calls seem like knots in a piece of wood- accept them, move on and don’t let it detract from your appreciation of the game (in all its flawed beauty).

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  36. BIP says:

    What’s unforgivable is the proven existence of the lefty strike.

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  37. soul says:

    In Korea, baseball fans usually say “that ball has a soul in it.” like in this situation.

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