Getting and Not Getting the Calls: Final 2012 Results

All the way back in May, I came up with a pretty simple way to calculate “expected strikes” based on data available at FanGraphs. I don’t know if I was the first person to do this, and it’s so simple I’d be surprised if I were, but I remember me so I’m linking to me. Once you have expected strikes, you can compare that total to actual strikes, and maybe then you can learn something about the pitcher(s) or the catcher(s) or about something else. I”ll explain further!

FanGraphs provides for you total pitches, total strikes, and plate-discipline data based on PITCHf/x data. By using zone rate, you can come up with pitches in the zone, which leads to knowing pitches out of the zone, which leads to knowing swings at pitches out of the zone. Based on those numbers, you can end up with an expected strikes total. You’re way ahead of me — I probably don’t need to explain this in great detail.

The reason I’m re-visiting this now is because the 2012 regular season is over, meaning those numbers aren’t going to change anymore. Meaning now it’s time for a 2012 regular season in review, according to this nameless statistic. I’m interested in the difference between actual strikes and expected strikes per 1,000 pitches, and that’s what you’re going to find in the tables below. This is a post that requires very little in the way of text since the tables tell you just about everything you need to know.

The first table shows all of the teams in baseball. A positive Diff/1000 value means the team got more strikes than PITCHf/x thought it deserved. A negative Diff/1000 value, therefore, means the team got fewer strikes than PITCHf/x thought it deserved. After that table, you’ll find more tables, with individual pitchers. These are the top and bottom 10 pitchers in Diff/1000, given a minimum of 50 innings. Got it? You got it. Note that the overall league average is about -5, and not zero. That is, for every 1000 pitches, there were five fewer strikes than PITCHf/x thought there should’ve been. Off we go!

Table 1: Team Data

Team Diff/1000
Brewers 11
Braves 11
Reds 5
Yankees 5
Cardinals 2
Rays 2
Diamondbacks 2
Giants 1
Nationals 0
Phillies 0
Red Sox -1
Mets -2
Padres -2
Astros -3
Angels -4
Cubs -5
Orioles -7
Blue Jays -8
Athletics -10
Marlins -10
Tigers -10
Royals -10
Rockies -10
White Sox -11
Dodgers -12
Rangers -13
Twins -13
Indians -17
Mariners -18
Pirates -19

Table 2: Top 10, Individual Pitchers

Name Diff/1000
Brad Ziegler 40
Livan Hernandez 39
Chad Durbin 27
Sean Burnett 26
Matt Albers 25
Randall Delgado 25
Craig Kimbrel 24
Scott Atchison 23
Yovani Gallardo 22
Freddy Garcia 21

Table 3: Bottom 10, Individual Pitchers

Name Diff/1000
Jeff Gray -39
Charlie Morton -36
Justin Masterson -34
Tony Watson -33
Hector Santiago -32
Joel Hanrahan -31
Jeanmar Gomez -30
Samuel Deduno -30
Adam Ottavino -30
Jose Valverde -29

You might be curious, so here’s the difference between Brad Ziegler and Jeff Gray, visualized, courtesy of Texas Leaguers. First Ziegler, then Gray.

So! Is it perfect? Of course not. I don’t know what PITCHf/x considers to be the strike zone, and there are differences between that strike zone and real-life strike zones. What this is is basically free of bias, since PITCHf/x is objective. So while you should treat the numbers with care, it seems to me there might well be something in there. Per 1000 pitches this season, Brewers pitchers got 11 more strikes than expected, and Pirates pitchers got 19 fewer strikes than expected. Brewers and Pirates pitchers threw many thousands of pitches.

I bring this back to pitch-framing because it seems like a good and reasonable explanation. It doesn’t explain everything, but I think it probably explains a lot of everything. Mike Fast’s research on the subject was rather fond of Jonathan Lucroy, Brian McCann, and David Ross, among others. It wasn’t so big on Rod Barajas or Carlos Santana. The Mariners’ placement makes a lot of sense considering all of their innings were caught by Miguel Olivo, John Jaso, and Jesus Montero, and those guys are all supposed to be bat-first, except in the case of Olivo, who is more like nothing-first. The results probably aren’t shocking, especially because I’ve posted partial-season results before that looked pretty similar.

There are a lot of things at play, here. Some pitches are just more difficult for umpires to identify correctly than others. Surely, within this data there is noise. But within this data there is probably also signal, and I find that to be most interesting. Getting borderline strike calls is not the most important thing, but it is a thing, and sometimes a critical thing. And when it comes to getting borderline strike calls, not all teams and pitchers are the same.

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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.

51 Responses to “Getting and Not Getting the Calls: Final 2012 Results”

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  1. schlomsd says:

    I just don’t see how pitch framing could possibly be real – or at least on low pitches. I’m watching the Giants-Reds game right now and from where the umpire is setting up behind the catcher it doesn’t appear possible for him to see the catcher’s glove.

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    • Justin says:

      Isn’t a major component of framing being able to hold the glove (or very subtly move the glove) into a spot where the umpire uses it to judge strikes? It’s partially because the ump can’t see every pitch that framing is so important.

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      • schlomsd says:

        Assuming the umpire can see the glove (which would certainly be true on higher pitches I would think) his head would only be about two feet away from it. Wouldn’t any type of movement be noticeable?

        Of course this is all assuming the umpires actually call balls and strikes from where the ball crosses home plate and not from where it was caught, but again if it’s from where the catcher catches the ball how could they possibly not see the movement?

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      • lewish says:

        maybe it helps to think not so much what the glove does as what the glove and body movements don’t do…that is how I like to think of it in any case.

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    • The glove doesn’t have to be the only cue, though.

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      • Jamie says:

        If I remember right, head movement was huge in this. The top sign of a poor framing catcher was dropping the head. It was rather striking watching the video evidence.

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      • Macek says:

        When I was taught to frame pitches, we learned that exposing the correct part of the ball was important and to absolutely not move the glove. Basically that you’d always want to catch the outside of the ball so that the portion of the ball visible to the umpire was the part closer to the strike zone. That was in high school. I’m not really sure how much that applies at higher levels

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    • Switters says:

      The TV commentators on last night’s Reds/Giants game said that that particular umpire sets up differently than others. Funny, right? Gerry Davis, I think?

      Strange I know, but the TV guys specifically mentioned how weird it was that this particular ump did not set up to the slight left or right of the catcher, like most other umps.

      They said it would make it impossible for him to see low pitches, they said he ended up guessing on them (I’m paraphrasing) and they said he gave up too early on breaking balls ’cause he often didn’t (couldn’t) see where they actually ended up b/c of his weird positioning.

      Maybe watch some other umps and see if you feel the same about he glove being invisible to them and therefore a non-factor?

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    • stuff says:

      Umpires can absolutely see where the catcher’s glove is located post-pitch. Even though their head is located just above and directly behind the catcher, which might give the impression they can’t see the ball (especially looking at it from a 2-d perspective like a TV screen), catchers have their arm extended towards the playing field as they receive the pitch, giving the umpire an excellent view of the glove location.

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    • PXF says:

      Take a look at Fast’s article, especially the GIFs and his commentary: he suggests that lunging for the ball and/or dropping your head when receiving led to more called BB’s.

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  2. Michael says:

    Where does R.A. Dickey rank of this list? The knuckleball offers a unique difficulty for the umpire to call. It seemed for a time he was getting every single strike.

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  3. Bad Bill says:

    “The Mariners’ placement makes a lot of sense…” etc., etc.

    Yet another FanGraphs example of how the Mariners are really an incredibly talented and brilliant organization, it’s just that the world is out to get them.

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  4. kiss my GO NATS says:

    no wonder Valverde walked so many this season! All the close calls were going against him!

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  5. Michael says:

    I’d be interested to see if there is any relationship between either A)pitcher’s season (or career) performance and the calls they get, or B)pitcher’s age/experience level and the calls he gets. The prevailing narratives seem to be that veterans and better pitchers get more calls (specifically, pitchers who have shown control throughout their careers).

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  6. MikeS says:

    Oh my god, Hawk Harrelson is…right?

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  7. yes says:

    Miguel Olivo, nothing first…brilliant

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  8. Sean says:

    I’m curious to see if variance plays a role. Does a more consistent pitcher get more border line calls than a wild one?

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    • I Agree Guy says:

      That could be part of what leads to Jeff Gray, he’s a lousy pitcher that’s all over the place, routinely missing spots.

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    • Dave S says:

      My question would always be… is that fair? And I ask in all honesty and humility.

      Does it matter that a pitcher with a good live arm, but questionable control gets penalized by not getting borderline calls (if that even happens)? While the “wily veteran” with a limp arm but good command does get those borderline calls? (hello Livan Hernandez)

      I don’t know.

      Further down that path…

      Is it fair if a young batter get “pinched”, while a veteran gets benefit of the doubt?

      How about a player with a “bad attitude”? Should he get borderline calls?

      How about the guy (pitcher or batter) that has a “history” with a certain ump? Is it OK if the ump squeezes him some?

      Does any of this actually happen?

      It SEEMS like it does. Maybe it doesn’t?

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  9. Eric says:

    So… is there an entirely sortable list somewhere?

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  10. TKDC says:

    What is the run value of 10 strikes that would theoretically have been called balls over 1000 pitches with a replacement level catcher? And what is replacement level? Guesses are welcome.

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    • Paul Clarke says:

      I think you need to compare to average rather than replacement level – there isn’t really a replacement level for individual skills.

      For the run value, this Book thread suggests about 0.15 runs per extra strike, so the Brewers would be picking up about 2.4 runs/1000 pitches above average. They’ve thrown just short of 25000 pitches this year, making 60 runs above average overal, or more than 6 extra wins. To put it another way, that’s worth as much to the Brewers as Aramis Ramirez’s entire season.

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      • Paul Clarke says:

        Unless by per 1000 pitches Jeff means per 1000 called pitches, in which case the overall value will be more like three wins.

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  11. PackBob says:

    Miggy is first in the eyes of his manager, and that’s all that counts.

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  12. jacob says:

    What I don’t see here, but kind of would expect is some kind of correlation with umpires calling games. As different teams will see different home plate umps (or different numbers of times) during the season it seams reasonable to expect that perhaps that is what is causing the variance.

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  13. cass says:

    I imagine you should be using normalized strikezones representing what umpires actually call, right? There’s been some research on this before and BrooksBaseball has these. Basically, different strikezones are called for righties and lefties, so adjusting for that would be ideal.

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  14. Dave S says:

    I think there are many different variables.

    pitcher command/reputation
    catcher framing
    batter approach/reputation
    umpire’s “normal zone”

    add in all the external variability… weather, stadium backdrops/visibility, personality issues, umpire health and fitness, etc.

    These are different ways to explain “human error”. Because that is what you get when you have humans doing a repetitive task that requires a high level of accuracy and repeatability.

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  15. Eyy says:

    Jusy wanted to mention it might have more to do with the pitcher than you think. Livan always is near the top of lists like this, and I believe I remember seeing glavine got a lot of off-plate strikes when he pitched, despite throwing to a number of different catchers.

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  16. DD says:

    I’m curious what correlation we can see in the types of pitches thrown by each group. Obviously ther eare some hard and soft throwers in each group. The first looks like a heavy slider usage group to me, the second more 2 seamers and sinkers. Does anyone else see a trend here in pitch types? Can the data be broken down by pitch type +/-, or would samples be too small?

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  17. MikeEl says:

    Where can we see the rest of the list?

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  18. Mr Punch says:

    Masterson is an interesting case because this may be the difference between sort-of-good-sometimes and really good, and because it explains some of the discrepancy between perceived ability and achievement. He’s a low-ball pitcher with an unusual motion, which must factor in.

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    • GregH says:

      I like the pitching motion notion (ha!). I wondered about the Pirates with AJ Burnett… also, to echo another previous comment, AJ is a pitcher with wild variance from game to game. So is there a confound between motion and variance?

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    • GregH says:

      Crap… confound is probably not the right word…

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  19. azibuck says:

    Two things that I think could add useful information (actually one thing, with two components). I wonder if there are variations on *where* strikes are called/not called depending on handedness of the batter. I’d like to see the plots for a pitcher v. righties, then v. lefties. Relatedly, the umpire usually sets up between the batter and catcher. Is it because more batters are righties that Ziegler and Gray get more inside strikes, and less outside? Ziegler in particular faced over twice as many righties as lefties. So I’m curious to see the strike zone “splits”.

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  20. Kris says:

    One thing to keep in mind is that although Lucroy is good at framing pitches, he didn’t play the vast majority of the year. It was mostly Maldonado framing those pitches.

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    • grandbranyan says:

      Lucroy still ended up with more innings caught on the season than Maldonado, though watching a large majority of games this year it seemed to me as though Maldy was comparable if not better than Lucroy in the framing department.

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  21. Rich says:

    Can this data be filtered by home plate umpire?

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  22. Dave S says:

    There is all sorts of interesting info possibly hidden in these data. Rather than teasing it all out in various breakdowns and sundry studies… how about we do this:

    let’s stop making MISTAKES when calling balls and strikes.

    How’s that for a crazy idea???

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    • Ruki Motomiya says:

      It’d be great if everything in the world stopped having mistakes done to it, but unfortunately that’s not how the world works.

      It’s not like PitchFX is never ever wrong and never ever makes a mistake either. Let’s try to minimize mistakes, but it’s not like mistakes can just be brought down so easily that this post’s tone works.

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  23. David K says:

    Ziegler is a “submarine” pitcher, and he got the benefit of a lot of low strike calls. My guess as to why he’s #1 on the list: since the ball is coming from a lower release point to begin with, the ump doesn’t see the ball “drop” as much, and perhaps Montero’s glove won’t have as much downward movement (plus he was shown to be one of the best pitch framers in a past article on this site).

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