The Season’s Worst Called Strike(s)

Earlier, I wrote about the season’s worst called ball. It only made sense to attempt a companion piece, regarding the season’s worst called strike. I’ll blockquote from that other article, because even though blockquoting is lazy, it’s Friday afternoon and shut up:

Last season, in baseball, there were more than 700,000 pitches thrown. Of those, nearly 400,000 were taken, or un-swung at. Every single one of those taken pitches was determined to have been a ball or a strike by a trained human umpire. Trained human umpires are very good at their jobs — to confirm, one need only watch an untrained human umpire. The umpires in the major leagues get almost every call correct. But they do miss some, and when it comes to nearly 400,000 called balls and called strikes, it stands to reason that there are going to be mistakes, and there are going to be really bad mistakes. It’s simple probability. Within any such data pool, there are going to be extremes.

There, in that research, I looked for strikes called balls. Here, for the piece that follows, I looked for balls called strikes. There are mistakes made at either end of the spectrum. Again, the purpose of this isn’t to make you mad, or to get under your skin — it’s just to shed light on something that happened that’s weird and reasonably interesting. One shouldn’t be so easily made upset. One shouldn’t be easily made upset at all. Being upset should be saved for situations in which being upset is an actually appropriate response. Like, I don’t know, accidentally buying a rotten apple. It’s the worst! Damned store!

Now, a note: in the earlier piece, I was able to identify a single worst called ball. Here, I was not able to identify a single worst called strike; rather, I identified three candidates. I’ll explain. Let’s just get to the pitches.

**Candidate 1**

Pitcher: Chris Archer
Hitter: Daniel Nava
Catcher: Jose Molina
Umpire: Ted Barrett

“Of course,” you’re thinking, “there’s Jose Molina.” The Rays were playing the Red Sox on September 19. It was 3-2 Boston in the top of the fourth, when Nava faced Archer with two down and none on. A first-pitch fastball was a borderline ball, then Archer followed with two more balls to fall behind in the count 3-and-0. The fourth pitch was a fastball at 92 miles per hour — this fastball, at 92 miles per hour:




Of all called strikes captured by PITCHf/x last season, this one was the furthest from the strike zone, with a horizontal location of 20 inches from the middle of the plate. You can see in the screenshot that the pitch is actually located in the opposite batter’s box. Thought of in this way, this is the worst called strike of the season. But there are two factors to consider:

(1) the “lefty” strike zone extends outside, off the plate
(2) the strike zone is at its most generous in 3-and-0 counts

Technically, this was the worst called strike of the season. It was not the most, I don’t know, unlikely called strike, though, given the two factors above. It’s just an extreme lefty strike in a count that comes with the most forgiving zone. Nava didn’t raise much of a stink. On the next pitch, he walked. It was a borderline fastball, right on the strike zone’s lower edge. Okay!

I think it’s interesting that this called strike came in a game in which Red Sox pitchers walked ten Rays batters in eight innings. That was the second-highest team walk total in 2012 for games going eight innings. Daniel Bard threw four strikes out of 16 pitches. Chris Archer was given the strike you see above. The Rays wound up winning by ten.

It had to be Jose Molina.

**Candidate 2**

Pitcher: Joe Nathan
Hitter: Josh Reddick
Catcher: Yorvit Torrealba
Umpire: Tim Welke

This was A’s/Rangers, on May 16. Reddick led off the top of the ninth against Nathan, with the A’s trailing 4-1. Oakland was looking at phenomenally long odds; Nathan’s first pitch to Reddick didn’t help.




There’s no doing anything about the off-center camera angle, as both broadcasts used the same or very similar video feeds. This was a fastball, at 94 miles per hour. This was very slightly a less-worse called strike than the Chris Archer called strike, at 19.9 inches to the side from the center of the plate. That’s a difference of a tenth of an inch. However, the Archer pitch came in a 3-and-0 count, while the Nathan pitch came in a 0-and-0 count. The first-pitch zone is smaller than the 3-and-0 zone, so perhaps this was a more unlikely called strike.

It’s still a lefty strike, though, which is why we have still a third candidate. Over the rest of this game, Welke granted a handful of lefty strikes. This one was the most extreme, but only by a little. According to the rulebook, this was a terrible strike call. According to how umpires actually call baseball games, this wasn’t as terrible a strike call. Reddick didn’t argue, or at least he didn’t argue much. The broadcasters didn’t complain, or gloat. This was close enough to being an ordinary strike that it didn’t seem to raise eyebrows.

The data I’m looking at suggests that Torrealba is an above-average pitch framer. You should just take my word for it since you’re not also looking at the data. I probably wouldn’t lie to you. Torrealba, of course, is no Jose Molina in this regard, but he pulled a Molina above.

**Candidate 3**

Pitcher: Joe Smith
Hitter: Matt Holliday
Catcher: Carlos Santana
Umpire: Mike Winters

Now you probably didn’t expect to see Santana in here, either because evidence suggests the Indians have been bad at pitch framing, or because you haven’t been making predictions while reading. The Indians were playing the Cardinals in an interleague matchup on June 8. Smith entered in the bottom of the eighth, with the Indians winning 6-2. The first guy he faced was Matt Holliday, and the first pitch he threw was this one:




The camera angle is just about dead-on, and the pitch is clearly inside, off the plate. It was a sinker at 89 miles per hour, and though it was tailing in, it never touched the strike zone. It was located 18.6 inches inside, horizontally, from the middle of the plate, where the border of the actual plate is 8.5 inches from the middle. And it wasn’t a lefty strike, as Holliday bats right-handed. You don’t expect a generous strike zone in a 0-and-0 count, and Holliday turned to ask about the pitch after it was called. Ask, or complain. I don’t know, I wasn’t there, but I don’t want to make potentially baseless accusations.

This pitch was more than an inch “better” than the Archer and Nathan pitches. But those pitches were thrown to lefties, for whom the strike zone shifts. That’s why this stands as the third candidate, and possibly as the best candidate. Even better, here’s the second pitch of the at-bat:


This pitch was identical to the previous pitch. It was a tiny bit faster, but on Gameday, the locations completely overlap. The first of the twins was called a strike. The second of the twins was called a ball. All hitters really want in a strike zone is consistency. Something they can grow accustomed to. Holliday wasn’t happy after the first pitch, and he probably shouldn’t have been happy after the second pitch. “What, exactly, are you doing back there?” would be one thing to ask. Realistically, it makes sense that there would be areas where some pitches are strikes and some identical pitches are balls. On paper, though, that’s stupid. This is stupid.

I’m not sure which of our three candidates is the worst. I am sure that we’ll find the worst among our three candidates.

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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.

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