How One Little Call Helped the Red Sox Beat the Tigers

The Cardinals felt like they were in a good position, handing the ball for Game 3 to Adam Wainwright. The Cardinals lost, not because of Wainwright, but because they couldn’t score. The Tigers felt like they were in a good position, handing the ball for Game 3 to Justin Verlander. The Tigers lost, not because of Verlander, but because they couldn’t score. Verlander, on Tuesday, turned in one of the better postseason starts all-time, I’d say. Over eight innings he struck out ten and was made to pay for one mistake. But John Lackey and the Red Sox bullpen kept the Tigers shut out, with Koji Uehara slamming the door. And Uehara’s outing was not without its moment of interest.

It was bad for the Tigers when Miguel Cabrera struck out with two on in the eighth. It was bad for the Tigers when Prince Fielder struck out right after. But according to the play log, the worst play all game for the Tigers was Jhonny Peralta‘s ninth-inning double play. After Victor Martinez‘s leadoff single, the Tigers’ win expectancy was an estimated 35%. After the double play, it dropped to 5%. Hope was torn down as quickly as it was built up, and Alex Avila‘s closing at-bat felt like a formality. The game effectively ended on Peralta’s grounder, and that grounder came on a pitch that followed a 1-and-1 fastball.

As long as people are going to write about pitch-framing, we should try to understand how it can matter. Pitch-framing isn’t all about extra walks or extra strikeouts. It’s about extra balls or extra strikes, and the differences those can make. Given that a pitch is kind of the smallest component of any single baseball game, it doesn’t feel like one pitch can be that significant, but, consider the Peralta case. This is one example of how pitch-framing, or a strike call, can influence subsequent events.

Martinez singled to lead off, and he was replaced by a pinch-runner. The first pitch from Uehara to Peralta was a splitter, high, for a ball. The second pitch was a splitter, low and away, for a swinging strike. The count was even at 1-and-1, and Uehara and Jarrod Saltalamacchia came back with a fastball. I can’t yet access video of this pitch, so Gameday’s the best I can do:

UeharaCalled.gif.opt

Update: and now a .gif

PeraltaUeharaStrike.gif.opt

Trust me when I say the pitch was down. Trust me when I say the pitch was received well by Saltalamacchia. Trust me when I say the umpire had a pretty good zone all game. Trust me when I say Peralta disagreed. The pitch was, at best, a borderline strike, and at worst it was an obvious ball. Uehara didn’t miss his spot, but low’s low. Before the game, when there was talk about David Ross maybe starting over Saltalamacchia, the first thing I thought of was Ross’ considerable framing advantage. Ross is one of the best; Saltalamacchia’s something like average. On this particular pitch, Saltalamacchia helped to do Uehara a solid.

As a result, the count was 1-and-2. As a result, Uehara threw a splitter out of the zone, and Peralta could barely do anything with it.

UeharaDP.gif.opt

That pitch worked out as a double play. Now think about the pitch before it. What if the low fastball had been called a ball instead? Rather than 1-and-2, the count would’ve been 2-and-1. Would Uehara have thrown the same pitch? Would he have thrown it in the same spot? Would Peralta have attempted the same swing? Would Peralta have attempted any swing?

For the record, this year, in 1-and-2 counts, Uehara has thrown 62% splitters. In 2-and-1 counts, he’s thrown 47% splitters. He’s thrown a far greater rate of 2-and-1 pitches in the zone than 1-and-2 pitches. It also stands to reason hitters would be less defensive at 2-and-1 than 1-and-2, when they feel like they have to expand and protect. That plays into Uehara’s strength. That plays into every pitcher’s strength, but Uehara in particular has a terrifying breaking ball that’s downright lethal when there are two strikes on the board.

We can look at this a different way:

Jhonny Peralta, career

  • After 2-and-1: .818 OPS
  • After 1-and-2: .521 OPS

Koji Uehara, career

  • After 2-and-1: .673 OPS allowed
  • After 1-and-2: .386 OPS allowed

Peralta’s way worse behind in the count, of course. Everyone is. Uehara’s almost unhittable ahead in the count, of course. Just about every great pitcher is. The third pitch to Peralta influenced the fourth pitch. Because the third pitch went Uehara’s way, he could make the fourth pitch better. He could think less about just throwing a strike, and more about putting Peralta back in the dugout.

It’s a shift in probabilities. That’s what everything in baseball is. Peralta doesn’t make one or two outs every time he falls behind Uehara 1-and-2. He doesn’t do something productive every time he gets ahead of Uehara 2-and-1. But the odds are so much more in Uehara’s favor when he gets that low fastball. That allowed Uehara to put his splitter anywhere, and Peralta had to be on the defensive. That’s exactly what Uehara wants out of every at-bat.

The specific point: Jarrod Saltalamacchia got an important strike, ahead of the game’s most important play. The more general point: individual pitches matter, sometimes quite a lot, because all pitches are connected. One pitch in part determines the next pitch, and so much of baseball comes down to the sequences. It’s important to understand the counts, and it’s important to understand the differences between them. Get there and it can start to make sense how pitch-framing research can yield such significant run values sometimes. Over a season there are a whole lot of pitches.




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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.


80 Responses to “How One Little Call Helped the Red Sox Beat the Tigers”

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  1. B N says:

    Maybe it was just me, but I felt like the ump was calling the low strike all day? The zone definitely seemed to extend more toward the bottom than it did toward the top. But there was definitely some solid framing on that borderline pitch.

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    • Nothing low to lefties. Two or three low strikes to righties, but this was the lowest. A couple less-low pitches were not called strikes.

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      • Cybo says:

        I want laser beams making the calls on balls and strikes. No seriously. Have the calls signaled to the umps or something.

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        • Jason B says:

          No! Broadcast them in circa-1950′s robot voice.

          By a circa-1950′s robot.

          Baseball is all about tradition for some folks. What could be more traditional white-bread than Robbie the Robot?

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    • Brian says:

      I don’t think it absolves the ump to say that he’s been calling low strikes all day (if indeed it was a ball; I don’t know). Hitters should not be expected to change their approach day to day according to the whims of the umpire.

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      • wally says:

        I agree. It seems to me that this whole “batter has to adjust to the strike zone” thing is nearly impossible. Your talking about a choice, to swing the bat, that has to be in something like the first 1/10th of second as the pitch approaches the plate (I remember reading about what this number actually is somewhere, but am to lazy to find it). How do we expect hitters to adjust to a few inches here or there once its over the plate every game when they have to make the choice to swing when the pitch is only a few feet out of the pitchers hand? Its absurd. This is a skill, to predict what’s a ball or strike so quickly, that takes them decades to develop and they have to, not exactly relearn it, but sometimes greatly adjust to on any given day.

        I think this is why we see the crappy swings on pitches that wouldn’t even be called strikes by the given up of the day. Its because hitters are pushed out of what they know and they try to force something they aren’t comfortable with because, in effect, this ump says they have to try.

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  2. Bryan Curley says:

    I thought the same thing when I saw this, and I’m convinced it was an obvious ball. Still, instant replay doesn’t have any business in the realm of balls and strikes, so things like this are likely unavoidable. That said, do we want to avoid them always? This one will generate a lot of debate and intrigue, which I quite enjoy!

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    • Cybo says:

      Not replay lasers. The ball breaks the beam its a strike, if not its not. Or even just have them for the umps to use as a tool. Baseball breaks the beam it buzzes in the umps pocket. He has an idea of if its in the zone or not but sometimes they can’t quite see it for certain. A buzzer telling them it caught one of the beams would certainty help.

      Or an idea I’ve seen before is another off field ump in charge of balls and strikes and that’s it. Two way radios are pretty reliable and wouldn’t fail any more often then a stadium’s lighting really. Its an easy fix if you really think about it.

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      • Cybo says:

        Also think about how much it would cut down on arguing from players and coaches if they can’t even confront the ump making said calls.

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      • Dion says:

        As long as the ball/strike call could be done reliably by electronics I’m not opposed to it. The issue with a laser is that it would indicate that the outer edge of the ball broke the beam and not the center of the ball or the inner edge of the ball. I assume they could calculate for that difference.

        How about the batter’s spot in the box? I’m not entirely certain; does that change the location of the strike zone in depth? Where exactly, in a 2d space, is the strike zone? Or is it a little more complicated (3 dimensional)?

        Assuming they can calculate it perfectly every time with electronics (and that they never failed), I would be more than happy to encourage it. We’re still a long way from that kind of change in baseball, and even though I’m a more liberal baseball viewer, I’m not entirely sure I like the idea, but I support it on the concept of the game being more objective.

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        • Anonymous says:

          The zone is the three dimensional space on top of the plate, roughly from the bottom of the kneecap to halfway between the shoulders and belt (though in practice above the navel is rarely called). If even the slightest part of the ball travels through any part of this volume, it’s a strike. The lasers would only have to indicate the edges of the zone. This would be very easy for over-the-plate, but difficult for high and low. I don’t really trust the zones you see on TV for this reason–finding the exact top and bottom of the zone batter by batter is too hard.

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        • Anonymous says:

          And a note: many people are not aware that a “back door breaking ball” actually has a technical meaning. It is a strike that did not pass over the front corner of the pentagonal plate, but did catch the rear corner. The plate’s rear end is partially cut off to prevent back door strikes from being too extreme.

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        • Nathan says:

          Anon — thanks for these two posts, I never knew that about the zone. Always cool to learn something new.

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        • Basil Ganglia says:

          “The plate’s rear end is partially cut off to prevent back door strikes from being too extreme.”

          No – the rear end of the plate is cut off to align with the foul lines, so that all of the plate is in fair territory. Hence any ball that strikes the plate is a fair ball unless/until it goes foul – no need to decide if a ball strikes the part of the plate that is in fair or foul territory.

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        • Anonymous says:

          That is a convenient feature, but not the original motivation. Originally, the plate was square and the whole thing sat in fair territory. Complaints that it was too difficult to call strikes on a such a plate caused it to be changed to a pentagon flush with the foul lines.

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    • TKDC says:

      What exactly is the debate and intrigue? About whether we should use technology to get it right more often or not? That debate is tired. I’m not sure what the intrigue is. I guess you can wonder about whether Salty really did have an effect and if perhaps a terrible receiving catcher might not have gotten the call, but all the intrigue is baseless speculation. I’ve been reading these articles the last year or so on pitch framing and I’m still not sure any of these people really can tell what good pitch framing is. I’m somewhat convinced it is like knowing good art. You just bullshit it.

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      • Iron says:

        Good pitch framing: minimize glove movement, smooth glove movement, minimize arm movement.

        I.e. not sweeping the glove across the plate in a wild gesture. Examples and counter-examples which resulted in mis-called pitches are numerous and fairly straightforward.

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        • David says:

          There was still a lot of movement on that glove. Can the umpire really not notice the glove being turned and moved upwards? It’s far slower and much less subtle than most of the work they do (90+mph baseballs passing through an unmarked volume of air).

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        • TKDC says:

          Yeah, I can look at the price tag on a piece of art and say it is amazing or mediocre. I can look at pitch f/x and the resulting call and say it was great or poor pitch framing. I’d like to see how well people who think they understand this well would do not given anything other than replays of the event. No pitch f/x; no ball/strike call; and see how many get it right most of the time. Some pitch framing is of course obviously awful, just like I know my 6-year-old niece’s “art work” probably won’t end up in a museum. I just don’t really believe people can see this stuff on the edges, the difference between good and very good.

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  3. MaineSkin says:

    How is Peralta not bunting in that situation? It’s a sinker ball, splitter, pitcher which creates GBs on call. Instead of risking destroying the inning, give your guys 2 chances to tie the game w/speed at 2nd. Leyland brought in a rightie to face Ortiz and let hik hit and now ran his team out of another game.

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    • Dan says:

      So you’re saying that you would rather have Peralta give away an out in the 9th and let Avila, Infante, or Dirks try to knock him in? Peralta is best hitter of those four, bunting would be a free out for the Sox.
      i’m a sox fan, but I can’t think of a good reason why bunting would be considered in that situation given their position in the order

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    • chris moran says:

      Wrong, just wrong. Without really getting into the bunt argument, which would be an awful idea with Peralta at the plate, Uehara is not a groundball pitcher. His career groundball rate is 32.1%.

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    • baseballbaseball says:

      not to mention peralta bunts maybe once a year? id give him 50/50 odds of even getting one down.

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  4. RF says:

    This is why I’m firmly against automatic calling of balls and strikes. I hate bad umpire calls as much as anyone, but there’s beauty in watching a great pitch framer do his job and get tiny advantages for his team. Getting rid of the value of that skill would be a sad thing for baseball.

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    • Brian says:

      Fair enough, but you and I have very different ideas about beauty. I find a properly called game where strikes are strikes and balls are balls far more beautiful.

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    • Ruki Motomiya says:

      I’m of the opinion for either automated calls or making pitch framing an actual, rules-y part of the game.

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      • Sometimes the solution, she is worse than the problem says:

        “making pitch framing an actual, rules-y part of the game.”

        How would that be done? No pitch framing allowed?

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        • williams .482 says:

          Make “framed strikes” and “poorly caught balls” (or some nicer sounding equivalent) official catcher stats?

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  5. J says:

    I completely agree with this analysis. It’s notable that there are always borderline calls in games that fundamentally affect at bats.

    Brooks Baseball does a great job with the strike zone. Take a look at the game in question:

    http://www.brooksbaseball.net/pfxVB/zoneTrack.php?month=10&day=15&year=2013&game=gid_2013_10_15_bosmlb_detmlb_1/&prevDate=1015

    Looks like Boston got two questionable calls below the zone. Meanwhile, Verlander (Tiger’s pitching) lived in the marginal area on the outside of the strikezone against lefties.

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  6. james wilson says:

    I’m in favor of electronically called balls and strikes, but all in all the umpire was better than the hitters today. Still, the umpires union is going to cut their own throats if they don’t clean house. When I see an umpire really rule the zone it is a marvel. I don’t wonder why. It ain’t for everybody and that includes most big league umpires.

    Of course I could be wrong if electrons rule and it turns out I miss all the cajoling and complaining and lobbying and whining, but sometimes I miss my ex-wife too.

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    • Cybo says:

      Pitch framing, while certainly a valuable skill, is simply gaming the rules. As a fan of this great game I much prefer to see baseball talent determine the outcome of a game, not deception and trickery.

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      • What’s an offspeed pitch but deception and trickery? I would very much argue that framing is a talent. It’s a question of whether it’s a talent that should matter.

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        • Cybo says:

          Sure but a great bender takes baseball talent. Pitch framing is tricking the official into making an incorrect call to benefit one’s team.

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        • Cybo says:

          Also I meant to add, I agree with you that framing is indeed a talent.

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        • Scott says:

          Come on, Jeff. An offspeed pitch tricks the batter. Pitcher framing tricks the umpire. Not remotely the same.

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        • It’s still a talent, is the point. And it isn’t always about stealing strikes. It’s very frequently about preserving strikes. In that way it’s almost like *un*-tricking the umpire.

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        • David says:

          It’s a talent in the same way diving is a talent.

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        • David says:

          Not the swimming pool, diving board kind but the flopping, draw-a-penalty kind.

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        • Mike G says:

          Pitch framing is a talent, but it’s a talent like flopping in the NBA is a talent. A player trying to manipulate an official into an incorrect call. Of course you appreciate the talent when the guy plays for your team and you see the value, but is it good for the integrity and quality of the game? I’d say no.

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      • Campbrice says:

        As a fan of this great game you should realize that deception and trickery has been a part of the game since its inception……and makes its no less of a great game.

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  7. PackBob says:

    Very good analysis and I like the win expectancy process, but I would rate the 35% win expectancy less with Uehara pitching than a lesser closer. Given a lot of different pitcher/hitter combinations, it may work out to 35%, but I wouldn’t take those probabilities against Uehara the way he’s pitched this season.

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  8. Eric Hainline says:

    Why is it not possible for a baseball on a downward trajectory to be even with the bottom of the zone when it begins to cross the plate, and still be caught below the knees when it finally gets behind the plate and into the catcher’s mitt?

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    • baseballbaseball says:

      well of course it is possible, and happens. but not in this case, i think most electronic zones show the front of the plate.

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      • Catoblepas says:

        This pitch was definitely low, but it wasn’t as low as where Salty caught it at the front of the zone, which is I think why both Gameday and the on-screen zone show it as still probably a ball, but not that far off. This seemed to me to be closer to a preserve-a-strike frame than a stolen strike.

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        • Eric Hainline says:

          I agree, and that is how I interpret the info. The problem, as I see it, is that this discussion is deeply infused with our own interpretations, each of which pales in comparison to the trained, experienced, and better positioned interpretation of the umpire that is under fire here.

          The GIF of the broadcast presents us, the viewers, with one flight path that we interpret for ourselves. The FOXTRAX graphic gives us what appears (at least, to my eyes) as a slightly different data point. The MLB Gameday graphic gives us a third – significantly different – data point. And the PITCHf/x data on Brooks Baseball gives us a 4th (although, a lot closer to the FOXTRAX data point).

          None of those say that the pitch was well within the zone as defined by any of those tools. But, remember, every single one of those tools uses a manual definition as to what constitutes the bottom of each strike zone. Human PITCHf/x operators, separate and independent from the human umpire, create out of their own judgement that bar that is the bottom of the frame for every batter.

          IMHO, it is entirely possible that some part of the pitched baseball was at the knees of Peralta when it first entered the zone, and that the umpire had a decent perspective to consider that a strike. And it is just as possible then that everything Salty did to “frame” the pitch after catching it was ignored by the umpire anyway. And it is entirely possible that none of our tools were set up properly to record that history but, instead, mislead us into writing a version of history that is entirely our own.

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  9. ChuckO says:

    Calling balls and strikes electronically will not necessarily solve the problem of bad calls. The top and bottom of the strike zone will have to be set for each batter. A human operator, or some very sophisticated software, will have to do that. In either case, you’ll have a judgment or calibration factor involved. Invariably some mistakes will be made for a variety of reasons. Not only that, but batters will learn to game the system. For example, when you get to the plate, you could crouch to get a smaller strike zone set. When the pitcher goes into the windup and you know the strike zone has been set, you could rise up into a more conventional stance. I’m sure batters would come up with other ways to game the system as well.

    As for missed calls by umpires, they are pretty much inevitable. The fact is that when a pitch is coming to the plate at 90 mph, you literally cannot see the ball for the last ten feet of its trajectory. It is physiologically impossible. That goes for the batter, the catcher, and the umpire. Hence, all three of these men are guessing, based upon their experience, as to the ball’s trajectory in the final ten feet. If a ball breaks late and in unexpected fashion, the umpire can be fooled, just like the batter. In such cases, it’s not surprising that he would see where the catcher caught the ball, which brings framing into the process.

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    • RC says:

      “the strike zone will have to be set for each batter. A human operator, or some very sophisticated software”

      I don’t think you understand the level of software written today. The code to adjust the strike zone to the batter would be orders of magnitude less complex than the code that is executed just to recognize that you touched the screen of your smartphone.

      Its code thats orders of magnitude less complex than what your scanner runs every time it tries to determine whether a collection of dots is actually a letter.

      IE, its a solved problem, and its a solved problem that isn’t even close to complex.

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      • Eric Hainline says:

        It has been several years now (and being an IT industry professional I truly do realize the speed at which our technical abilities are advancing), but when last I was able to read up on the PITCHf/x (and the QuesTec system before that) technologies in use it was that there was so much visual clutter within the strike zone itself that the systems didn’t even look over the plate.

        If that is still true, they don’t even capture the batter in order to allow any software to try and find the upper/lower limits to the zone. It wouldn’t, then, matter how sophisticated the software was.

        Further, I foresee a serious hurdle in getting the umpires union to agree to trust some “magic” software to drive their jobs. That would make today’s BBWAAA versus WAR narrative seem like hopscotch.

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        • RC says:

          If that’s true, then they’re doing a shitty job with PitchFX, and they need to stop using cameras, and start using better equipment. This is a trivial problem.

          We shoot missiles out of the sky with other missiles for god’s sake. We do surgery with robots… you don’t think there’s “clutter” inside a human abdomen?

          Also, the umpires union only has leverage so long as we still want umpires. Tell them all to go screw as far as I’m concerned.

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  10. Dave S says:

    My reply to this is now, and has always been, do NOT ALTER the top and bottom for each individual player for each and each individual pitch.

    Have a set, pre-defined, fixed level for the top and bottom of the zone.

    eg. bottom of zone for every player is 12″ above home plate. Top of zone is 36″ above home plate. (or whatever levels you want to set)

    As a 6’5″ human being, I have no idea why I should be penalized and have a much larger strike zone to cover than a shorter player.

    Just DEFINE the freaking strike zone so it is the same for EVERY batter, and EVERY pitcher.

    This also allows for adjustment from year to year. If run scoring is going down too much, tighten the zone a little next year, to help the batters. If run scoring is out of control, loosen the zone to give the pitchers a little help. As long as everyone knows what the zone is, and it is always called the same, its fair for everyone. Isn’t that the point of “rules”?

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    • baseballbaseball says:

      tall people have enough advantages in life, you bastard!!

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    • olethros says:

      Wow, what a terrible idea. Your strike zone is different because you have longer arms to go with your increased height (unless you’re a tyrannosaur). By the same token, good fucking luck hitting a ball 12″ off the ground for anything but a weak grounder, because your arms are at a higher elevation than mine. I’m 6″ shorter than you, and my knees are more than 12″ above the ground.

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      • Dave S says:

        note “eg.” means “for example”, as I was not trying to insist that 12″ and 36″ would be actual strikezone boundaries.

        I further emphasized this by adding “(or whatever levels you want to set)”.

        Was I not clear enough that those were mere examples?

        My point is not that the limits should be 12″ and 36″… my point is that you could set actual limits… and the actual limits could be standard for all players… and that standard could be easily monitored by current computer/video systems… and that standard could be altered (uniformly) if so desired/needed.

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    • Sometimes the solution, she is worse than the problem says:

      “As a 6’5? human being, I have no idea why I should be penalized and have a much larger strike zone to cover than a shorter player.”

      Ummmm….really? Holy cow, Tall-y McTallerstein let his height cloud his judgment there.

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    • Eric Hainline says:

      Sounds like Cricket. Such an approach, taken to its logical conclusion, allows for some simple mechanical system for validating where the pitched ball went with respect to the rule book zone. No need for umpire judgement, nor for robots. Just nail some sticks into the ground and see if the pitcher can hit them!

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      • Dave S says:

        Funny you mention cricket… they already use a video/computer system to monitor bowling/batting.

        Think about that for a moment.

        The “stodgy old Brits” are technologically AHEAD of us! And… their game is OLDER than ours. But we’re going to claim “tradition” for not using technology to make our game more fair?

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  11. james revere says:

    Peralta set the zone by swinging at the 1-0. The 1-1 looks to be closer to the zone than the 1-0. If the 1-0 was good enough to swing at, then he definitely should have swung at the 1-1.

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  12. rustydude says:

    Detroit broadcasters made this point in real time. They practically predicted the double play ball after the previous low pitch was called a strike.

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  13. Forsyth says:

    Love that this is mentioned, but Strike 1 to Stephen Drew with Gomes on 1st in the 5th, which was the most blatantly bad call in the entire game, isn’t mentioned at all. That pitch was 6 inches outside, and made Drew expand the zone.

    All this to say – 1 pitch doesn’t make or break a game. The Tigers had a runner on 3rd with less than 2 outs twice and didn’t score.

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  14. Cybo says:

    If an ump needs to look at where a ball was caught to make his call he is doing it wrong and in a sense also cheating. I truly feel this is an ugly part of the game much like flopping in soccer, the NBA, the NHL, etc. At least those sports have rules penalizing the most obvious attempts.

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  15. Randy says:

    Maybe Google will develop some goggles that the ump can wear that lets them see a beam with the strike zone boundary, but that nobody else can see. It would give them some kind of aid. Still not perfect, but you can’t get much more intrusive than that or else it will disrupt the flow of the game and distract the players from actually hitting pitches.

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    • Dave S says:

      how about video/computer system that instantaneously transmits a sound (or a buzz, or any sort of signal)to the ump for a ball… and a different one for a strike.

      The ump can still make the signal/call for balls and strikes… so nothing changes visibly to the fans or players.

      Just EVERY ball/strike call is accurate (and there are no longer any arguments about it).

      It doesn’t disrupt the flow of anything. In fact, it will SPEED UP the game… as there will be no more arguments or stepping out or nonsense because of erroneous ball/strike calls… because there won’t be any erroneous ball/strike calls!!!

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  16. JZ says:

    Honestly, this sounds like sour grapes. Did bad calls explain why Verlander left a fat one to Napoli? Did bad calls explain why the best hitter in baseball (Cabrera) strikes out to Tazawa with one out and a man on third? Did bad calls allow that runner to get to third becuase of a walk by Breslow? Oh, “yes” to that last one.

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  17. Green Mountain Boy says:

    Granted, the Peralta AB was a critical one, but I have to believe the Tigers’ win expectancy was greater than 35% when they had 1st and 3rd in the 8th with one out and Cabrera at the plate. For that matter, what was their win expectancy with two out and Fielder at the plate in the same inning? I submit that those 2 ABs had much more to do with the outcome of the game than Peralta’s. Plus, psychologically they were daggers for the Tigers.

    As to the strike zone, the best ball-strike umpires get roughly 93.5% of the calls right, the worst roughly 87% right. But there’s more to it than that. What about balls called strikes and strikes called balls? Here’s where it gets interesting, because most calls (especially balls) are obvious. When you get into the borderline pitches, it appears that the men in blue get it wrong according to Pitch f/x about 14% of the time on average. So 1 in 7 borderline pitches gets called wrong. It happens all the time. In fact, Tim Wakefield in 2011 had an astounding 29% of his strikes called balls, the obvious reason being the knuckleball is darting all over the place. But when that 1 of 7 borderline pitches gets called incorrectly against your team in the playoffs… all hell is sure to break loose.

    I get it, calling balls and strikes on 95 MPH fastballs, curves that drop, and splitters than dive at the last second is difficult. At least the catcher knows what’s coming. The umpire doesn’t, but bear with me on this one. I think we can all agree that the best vantage point for seeing if a ball goes over the plate is to be directly behind the plate, right? So WHY do umpires call the game from above the batter-side shoulder of the catcher? There’s no way they can distinguish the outside corner from there, no way. It’s an educated guess at best. They go by “it hit the mitt right where the catcher wanted it” to help guide them, and this is why catchers are now so adept now at “pulling” or “framing” pitches. From the inside shoulder, the umpire really can’t say for sure if the pitch is a ball or strike.

    It seems to me that making this one simple change to positioning the umpire directly behind the plate would greatly improve the accuracy of ball-strike calls. Yeah, it doesn’t do anything for high-low, but it’s better than what we have now. And please don’t say that doing so would make the umpire blocked by the catcher’s head. Catchers for the most part move to center their bodies on the inside or outside corner before the pitch is thrown.

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    • RC says:

      “I get it, calling balls and strikes on 95 MPH fastballs, curves that drop, and splitters than dive at the last second is difficult.”

      It’s not difficult, its impossible.

      Which is why we should stop having them try to do it.

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      • Cybo says:

        It certainly is impossible using the current method but it certainly doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. Its 2013 and games are being called the same way they were in the 1890s. Everything else about the game has found a way to evolve. The umps need an upgrade to their equipment at the least. Sure it’ll never be perfect no matter what, I get that, but it doesn’t mean you stop trying to improve it.

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        • RC says:

          They’re never going to be wrong less than 10% of the time, and thats with roughly 80% of pitches being so far from the edges of the plate that they’re routine. Unless we replace their eyes.

          Seriously, what does having an ump behind the plate bring to the game?

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  18. Noah says:

    They should just get automated umpires. We have the technology. It would save time, money, and make the game better.

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