The Postseason Strike Zone, Thus Far, Vizualized

According to Google.com, this how much an umpire makes yearly:

A Major League umpire’s starting salary is around $120,000, with the senior umps earning up to $350,000. That may sound like a lot for what seems to be six months’ work, but the umpire’s season is considerably longer than that with Spring Training, All-Star Games and postseason play added into the mix.

OK. Call me naive, but $120,000 seems like a lot for 12 months work. I know many people who would take that salary for 24 months of work, in fact. The point is, umpires do OK for themselves. And I’m fine with that, for the most part. Yes, it’s a handsome sum, but umpires have a pretty tough job, all things considered.

In our Game 1 chat, Dave Cameron and I touched briefly on the announcers for the Postseason games. I won’t paste it verbatim, but the gist was that though the announcers perhaps weren’t the greatest choices, it’s very hard to announce baseball. A character trait/flaw of mine is to always be sympathetic toward people who have jobs that I would find difficult, and therefore I tend to cut them some slack. I do the same for umpires. They have to have laser-like focus all the time, people boo them incessantly, and every decision they make is now available for people to see on the Internet. We should absolutely hold them to a high standard, don’t get me wrong, I just think it’s a super-weird and unforgiving job. Now that my conscious is somewhat clear, here is every ball and strike call of the Postseason thus far (all data via baseballsavant.com):

You can filter by umpire and pitch result using the buttons on the right. The strike zone used for the Gameday streams is included for reference. Hovering over a pitch will give you all the deets. I won’t comment too much on the overall performance — you can click around to get a general idea of what’s going on. But I will comment on that one random ball in the middle of the zone. It was thrown by Phil Coke during the eighth inning of the blowout Game 1 of the Orioles/Tigers series.

cokecall

That’s pretty bad. But it wasn’t 100% the umpire’s fault.

cokebadball

PitchF/X and TBS’s system disagree on the actual location, but that’s the pitch. It’s a fastball, and Alex Avila totally whiffs on it. When a catcher has to dive to one knee to catch a pitch, it’s gonna be hard for an umpire to call a strike. It’s reverse framing, so to speak. It looks like their signs got crossed, but we can’t know for sure.

I plan on updating this data as the Playoffs progress, so stay tuned for that. In the meantime, go forth and spout your many concerns in the comments. Or privately among friends. Or not at all. It doesn’t really matter to me.




Print This Post



David G. Temple is the Managing Editor of TechGraphs and a contributor to FanGraphs, NotGraphs and The Hardball Times. He hosts the award-eligible podcast Stealing Home. Dayn Perry once called him a "Bible Made of Lasers." Follow him on Twitter @davidgtemple.


Leave a Reply

44 Comments on "The Postseason Strike Zone, Thus Far, Vizualized"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Just to point out...
Guest
Just to point out...
1 year 7 months ago

…the travel schedule alone would make me demand 120K minimum to do that job, a job I would probably otherwise love.

Anon
Guest
Anon
1 year 7 months ago

That was my thought as well. I don’t know the vacation/time off of umpires, but 7+ months of constant travel would be horrendous. Combine that with a relatively small pool of people capable of performing the job to an acceptable standard. Those salaries don’t surprise me at all.

Also worth consideration, the fiasco the NFL had with replacement refs and the fiscal health of MLB.

miles
Guest
miles
1 year 7 months ago

I fully expected there to be more strikes on the corners. I’m surprised, with how great the pitching has been, that the corners have actually gone to the hitters this postseason. Out of probably a thousand or so pitches, I only counted 6 or 7 strikes more than 2 inches off the zone.

Bill
Guest
Bill
1 year 7 months ago

I remember when that pitch happened – I couldn’t believe it was a actually a strike, much less an obvious one. Coke seemed to have no idea where the ball was going or they mixed up their signs a couple of times.

Luke Kim
Guest
1 year 7 months ago

This graphic is awesome. We need percentage of calls missed by umpire and to relegate the worst ones each season. Better yet, we need computers to call these pitches. The difference between 1-2 and 2-1 is too big to leave to human eyes.

francies
Guest
francies
1 year 7 months ago

Yes.

Rich
Guest
Rich
1 year 7 months ago

Seriously? All you need to do is look at that Coke pitch. You want that called a strike? If that was called a strike all you’d hear is “You got to be kidding me”. Without the “magic strike box ” there’s not a single person on this planet that would think that’s a strike. That’s a ball in any league, any level every day. You want the curveball at the bottom of the knee when it crosses the front of the plate that ends up in the dirt before the catcher catches it called a strike? You want pitches higher than the 2 called strikes on A. Cabrera in the 10th inning called strikes? Be careful what you ask for. Computers calling balls and strikes would be a disaster.

Joshua Northey
Guest
Joshua Northey
1 year 7 months ago

I wouldn’t mind any of that, but this data seems to support that the umps are doing a pretty decent job.

francis
Guest
francis
1 year 7 months ago

That Coke pitch was according to the actual rules of baseball, one of the best pitches of the entire playoffs, if not the year. Sorry if it didn’t look like a strike to you, or the umpire. The fact is that both of you apparently got it wrong.

If the technology is failing, then make that point, don’t say “it didn’t look like a strike, so it wasn’t” just because it had sick movement.

Steve
Guest
Steve
1 year 7 months ago

If that pitch is called a strike, then someone is probably going to be ejected – either the batter or his manager.

Anyone who thinks that should be called a strike has never played, coached, or umpired a game above tee ball.

Notice how not one person complained about it being balled? It never even occurred to Coke by watching his body language.

Woody
Guest
1 year 7 months ago

Francis, how high up have you ever played or umpired or even coached? You do NOT know baseball. Especially PRO baseball. That is not & should not ever be called a “strike” at any level.
The FX & TBS boxes are not accurate!

Nathan Lazarus
Guest
Nathan Lazarus
1 year 7 months ago

If you want to change or curve the strike zone, fine. But I want what is in the zone to always be a strike, and what is outside the zone to always be a ball. That’s just basic fairness. I respect that pitch framing exists, and is hugely important, but I’d rather the ball-strike dynamic be based solely on the pitch’s location. We have the technology to call balls and strikes with computers now, and I think we should start moving in that direction.

Joshua Northey
Guest
Joshua Northey
1 year 7 months ago

My reaction was that they appear to be doing a really great job. Not many mistakes.

lewish
Guest
lewish
1 year 7 months ago

“graphic awesomeness”- my new favorite term to go, with I hope, my new favorite ongoing piece. Thank you!

ElJimador
Guest
ElJimador
1 year 7 months ago

What stands out to me are all the number of low strikes called balls. Looking at the graphics for each ump, I particularly would not want to be a sinkerballer with Paul Schreiber or Jerry Meals behind the dish.

francies
Guest
francies
1 year 7 months ago

The league really needs to automate balls & strikes. The league makes enough money to pay the home plate umps there if that’s the issue. There are still some necessary calls at home that tech hasn’t figured out yet ( instant HBP , foul tips, and check swings for example )

They can also get behind a screen at that point, and stop taking foul balls to the head.

They do a great job. 90% of close calls like these is a great job. But it’s time to allow for 100% accuracy if it exists.

Rich
Guest
Rich
1 year 7 months ago

I don’t want to start a battle here, but I’m wondering if you’ve ever played, coached or umpired any high level baseball? No offense, but if you think that Coke pitch should be called a strike, you’re missing some insight into what goes on in a high level baseball setting.

AC
Guest
AC
1 year 7 months ago

http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/official_info/official_rules/definition_terms_2.jsp
“The STRIKE ZONE is that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the knee cap. The Strike Zone shall be determined from the batter’s stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball.”

That’s the best definition I can find (strangely enough, from the official rules). If you could point to the part where it says “unless the pitcher and catcher gets crossed up,” or perhaps “unless it would be an unpopular call due to flaws in human vision,” I’d be much obliged.

The fact is, the ball crossed the plate. The part that makes it hard to call all happened behind where the batter’s focus is, and after he made the decision to let it pass. If one were to stop time when the ball crossed the plate, it would look like any other strike. It’s only once the play is effectively over that you (and the ump) think it’s nowhere close.

Vic Romano
Guest
Vic Romano
1 year 7 months ago

Given where the pitch crossed the plate, it was clearly a strike….and should have been called as such. If human eyes/biases are unable to do that, then it’s time for a change..

jdbolick
Member
Member
1 year 7 months ago

Awesome job on the graphics. I’ve been pleased with the umpires thus far despite the constant grousing by TBS commentators. I’m particularly encouraged to see that relatively few non-strikes are being called strikes, as I would rather see them err in that direction.

SimonSays
Member
SimonSays
1 year 7 months ago

Umpires also get meal money when on the road. Old college umpire I used to see a lot said it was around $100/day, which is right around what the players get. So that expense is gone. That’s a lot of money they’re making.

Bryan Cole
Guest
1 year 7 months ago

When you do the next version of this, can you include pitch type? I’d like to see how movement affects those boundary calls.

Keeper
Guest
Keeper
1 year 7 months ago

Any way we could sort this by innings? I’d love to be able to debunk my own conspiracy theory that the umps tend to squeeze the zone in the last few innings of tight games compared to how they called the strike zone early. Seriously, the voices get loud in my head.

Also what Bryan said about pitch type would be fantastic. Thanks!

Spencer Porter
Guest
Spencer Porter
1 year 7 months ago

Isn’t the other problem with this that it’s mapping a 3-D zone onto 2D? For instance, in that Phil Coke pitch that looks like a ball but caught by tech as a strike, I’d be interested to see the 3D flightpath of the ball through the zone. It may only catch a bit of the 3D zone, but when it gets mapped to 2D it looks egregious.

francis
Guest
francis
1 year 7 months ago

I think this is the pitch ( I hope the link works for you )

http://baseballsavant.com/popup/traj.php?hfPT=&hfZ=4|&hfGT=R|PO|&hfPR=&hfAB=&ddlStadium=&hfBB=&hfHL=&pid[]=457435&hfCount=00|&ddlYear=2014&ddlPlayer=pitcher&ddlMin=0&ddlPitcherHand=&ddlBatterHand=&ddlVGT=&ddlVLT=&ddlDistGT=&ddlDistLT=&txtAngleGT=&txtAngleLT=&txtGameDateGT=2014-10-02&txtGameDateLT=&ddlTeam=&ddlPosition=&hfRO=&ddlHomeRoad=&hfIN=8|&hfOT=2|&ddlGroupBy=name&ddlSort=desc&ddlMinABs=0&ddlSBSuccess=&txtPx1=&txtPx2=&txtPz1=&txtPz2=&ddlRPXGT_ft=&ddlRPXGT_in=&ddlRPXLT_ft=&ddlRPXLT_in=&ddlRPYGT_ft=&ddlRPYGT_in=&ddlRPYLT_ft=&ddlRPYLT_in=&txtBAGT=&txtBALT=&txtBLGT=&txtBLLT=&txtSRGT=&txtSRLT=&txtSDGT=&txtSDLT=&player_id=457435

Mike Webb
Guest
Mike Webb
1 year 7 months ago

Heads up that some of these (or at least one) seem to be off. I was playing around and found a pitch (-1.088, 1.979) that was marked at thrown by Jordan Zimmerman in the 18th inning. Unless I’m reading it wrong.

francis
Guest
francis
1 year 7 months ago

Mike I saw the exact same thing. I was trying to find the 1-0 pitch to Panik, and stumbled across that one.

GRMIke
Guest
GRMIke
1 year 7 months ago

I work with a big data analytics team and we use Tableau every data so I thought this was a great story with a wonderful example on the importance of investigating outliers.

However, shouldn’t it be “visualized” and not “vizualized”?

Joe
Guest
Joe
1 year 7 months ago

Vic Carapazza’s zone is especially intriguing considering the Cabrera/Williams ejections. It actually looks like he was relatively consistent.

Mel
Guest
Mel
1 year 7 months ago

The Pitch F/X for the two pitches (the first where Cabrera starts towards first, and the second where he loses his sh*t) showed them as strikes.

If anything, the advent of Pitch F/X has demonstrated that on the whole, umpires do a great job of calling balls and strikes, and makes it damn funny when a player and his manager get tossed from an important game over something they’re demonstrably wrong about.

Uninterested Cat
Guest
Uninterested Cat
1 year 7 months ago

I’d say that both PitchF/X and replay have shown that umpires are actually quite good at their jobs. Sometimes they make some real head-scratching decisions, but for the most part, they get the great majority of close calls right.

Having said that, I think it’s time to go to automated balls and strikes. You’ll always need umpires for judgment calls and real-time decisions still, in any case.

Rich
Guest
Rich
1 year 7 months ago

keep in mind the years it took these MLB umpires to get there. Paying their way to attend one of the umpire schools. Finishing that one month training in the top of the class to be invited to Professional umpire school, where only the top handful of guys there are offered professional jobs. Then you start in the low minors, making about 50 bucks a game plus meals and lodging. Driving hours on end to the next small rookie ball town to do a series then back in the car to the next small town. If you’re lucky, you’ll move up and by your 6th or 7th year of beating the bushes you might be lucky enough to get a AAA assignment. Then if yoyu happen to be the best of that group and there happens to be some retirements at the ML level, maybe you get a shot at a fill in for vacations at the ML level. Excel there and now your in line for the “big” money of 120K a year. Yeah, it’s about a ten year journey on average and only the creme of the crop get there. A 4 year engineering degree and a job with microsoft gets you to 120K a lot quicker. These guys do it for the love of the game and the best of the best are rewarded when they make the show.

Joshua Northey
Guest
Joshua Northey
1 year 7 months ago

To be fair being at the top of your class in a 4 year engineering degree is not exactly easy either, otherwise everyone would do it and the pay would be much lower.

A salary of 120k in this country isn’t unattainable, but you typically need to be very good at something, or born rich. They don’t just hand them out like participation medals.

Rich
Guest
Rich
1 year 7 months ago

No argument there. I was just long winded about the fact that these guys have certainly earned their stripes and paid their dues. They are the top in their field. The salaries for getting there are not insane.

francis
Guest
francis
1 year 7 months ago

The one problem I have with pitch fx strike zones is that the tops and bottoms of the zones are static from batter to batter. The strike zone for Altuve is a lot smaller than it is for Mike Morse, but I don’t think pitch fx has resolved that.

Of course the other problem is what the top of the strike zone actually is. The top of strike zone and check swings are two areas of ambiguity that baseball should really look to finally address this decade.

DC
Guest
DC
1 year 7 months ago

Actually, PITCHf/x provides this, set by an operator for each batter. This is problematic, because there’s inconsistency in the operators’ assessments, but it’s in the data. However, Brooks and others ignore this part of the data, instead setting up a fixed top and bottom edge because umpires don’t actually vary their calls much based on the batter. It would be much better if they eliminated the hard edge on the top and bottom of the box and left their dashed “typical strikezone” for the top and bottom on charts that span multiple batters.

Other question on these charts – why is the strike zone 24 inches wide?

Rich
Guest
Rich
1 year 7 months ago

It’s actually 23. 17″plate and the ball is 3″ dia. Any part of the ball touching the plate is a strike. 1/2″ on either side is tough to judge on the graph…

DC
Guest
DC
1 year 7 months ago

Oh yeah, and if you haven’t looked at Nats-Giants Game 3, balls/strikes were awful for the first 5 innings or so. Several very obvious strikes called balls.

BW
Guest
BW
1 year 7 months ago

I think the discrepancy between the TBS plot of the pitch and the PitchF/X plot is that the TBS version is looking from the pitcher’s point of view, while the PitchF/X version is looking from the umpire’s point of view. If you flip one of them around, you find that they line up pretty well. Both of them show a pitch right at the outside 1/3rd laterally, and a little above the midpoint vertically, of the zone.

NATS
Guest
NATS
1 year 7 months ago

Man, Paul Nauert’s zone is almost perfect. Can MLB set up some kind of pay incentive system for getting things right?

Kris
Guest
1 year 7 months ago

Hey, I made a remix of the umpire data in Tableau. Check it out:
https://public.tableausoftware.com/views/PostseasonStrikezone_0/UmpPanel?:embed=y&:display_count=no

Looks like Jerry has some bad calls in the bottom left corner.

Uninterested Cat
Guest
Uninterested Cat
1 year 7 months ago

$120,000 is less than I would have expected. It must be an interesting feeling to be cursed out by people making 100 times what you do.

Al-Kendall
Guest
Al-Kendall
1 year 7 months ago

The overall numbers favor the hitters, with 3x as many balls inside the zone as strikes outside the zone. This is a surprising result! Normally, when watching a game you seem to obsess over balls that are called strikes.

Umpires should be given a bonus based on their +/- for both balls and strikes, but I wonder if the current tracking is accurate enough to make this a fair incentive. Obviously, the Phil Coke pitch is one all umpires are likely to call a ball, and it appears to be far outside the strike zone from the camera perspective.

Steve
Guest
Steve
1 year 7 months ago

Honestly, I don’t think a bonus would change anything. I’m just a HS umpire, making about $75 for a 7 inning game. If you told me I could make an extra $20 per game by being more accurate, I don’t think it would matter. I try to get each and every pitch correct throughout the course of every game. As hard as I try, I miss some. There are just some pitches that look good that aren’t, and vice versa. You may be talking about fractions of an inch on a ball traveling 85mph (or 95+ in pro ball). The key is to not make gross errors.

Also, the way a catcher receives the pitch matters. We’re taught to follow the pitch all the way into the mitt. If he’s dragging pitches into the dirt, or turning his mitt over, or allowing his mitt to travel way in or out, it affects our view of the pitch and potentially turns a strike into a ball. I know I’ve balled pitches that went through the zone that were butchered by the catcher. I can’t think of a single complaint by a pitcher or coach when this happens. They even comment to their catcher – “Catch that clean and we probably get the strike.”

I can’t imagine how sterile the game would feel with computers calling balls and strikes. Part of the game is the adjustments the good players can make over the course of the game. And as others have said, these guys do a pretty darn good job in a high pressure environment.

wpDiscuz