World Series Umpire Heat Maps

The umpires have finally been announced for the World Series. The crew consists of John Hirschbeck (crew chief), Sam Holbrook, Bill Miller, Mike Winters, Jeff Kellogg, and Gary Darling. That list is in the order that they will work behind home plate.

Using a combination of Pitch F/X and game results (K/9 and BB/9), here is how the umpires rank from the most pitcher friendly to most hitter friendly:

Bill Miller
John Hirschbeck
Mike Winters
Gary Darling
Sam Holbrook
Jeff Kellogg

For a comparison, here are right and left handed strike zones for the two umpires on the extremes, Bill Miller and Jeff Kellogg (the rest of the umpire zones is available at the end of the article).

The scale given is the ratio of called strikes to the total number of called strikes and balls. The box is the rule book strike zone with the inner circle for reference only. The zone is from the hitter’s perspective looking home.

Right Handed Hitters

Bill Miller

Jeff Kellogg

Left Handed Hitters

Bill Miller

Jeff Kellogg

Hopefully, the umpires will not be involved in any major controversies this world series, but who knows. At least none of these umpires are at the extreme ends of the strike zone spectrum. Compared the previous playoff series’s this off season, this crew’s strike zone should be one of the more consistent ones.

The Rest of the Umpire’s Strike Zones

Right Handed Hitters

John Hirschbeck

Mike Winters

Gary Darling

Sam Holbrook

Left Handed Hitters

John Hirschbeck

Mike Winters

Gary Darling

Sam Holbrook




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Jeff writes for FanGraphs, The Hardball Times and Royals Review, as well as his own website, Baseball Heat Maps with his brother Darrell. In tandem with Bill Petti, he won the 2013 SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.


32 Responses to “World Series Umpire Heat Maps”

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  1. eastsider says:

    I’ve really enjoyed a lot of the heat maps on fangraphs.

    It looks like there is tendency for strikes to be called to the pitchers left (umpire’s right) regardless if it is a left or right handed batter.

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  2. Barkey Walker says:

    A (really?) stupid question: why isn’t the Pitch F/X used to assign strikes and balls? Looking at the heat maps, there only Miller doesn’t have a spot inside the circle that doesn’t get called a ball about 80% of the time. Those are pitches that are WAY inside the zone. Add to that the huge variability in the zones, and it seems intolerable when there is something better. Is it just that the umpires put on a better show, or is the Pitch F/X machine flawed in some way.

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    • Nate says:

      Mike Fast at BP has demonstrated that on occasion the calibration for the pitchF/X cameras can be poor, with game 6 of the ALCS as an example of one that was 5-6 inches out of position.

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      • Barkey Walker says:

        Hmm, I’d assume these are among the best umps in the system and some of them are off by 6 inches easily. That doesn’t seem like a good reason not to do it.

        I just read the MLB 2007 announcement of the use of the cameras and it sounds like it is very labor intensive and needs lots of calibration per game and even during the game.

        I’ll bet by 2030 we see the machine calling balls and strikes. As I said, even in a calibration situation, it already rivals the umpires, but I’ll bet in ten years it will be near dead on and much more automated. Then it will take 10 years and probably a postseason one run ball game with a power hitter at bat and a really bad call one way or the other.

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      • Barkey Walker says:

        @nate, I looked it up. Here is the article
        http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=12303
        and here is a follow up about replacing the umps with f/x
        http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=12325
        thanks for posting that reference.

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  3. CSJ says:

    Woah. Why is this from the pitcher’s perspective? Usually heat maps are from the catcher’s perspective, right? Throwin’ me off.

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    • Jeff Zimmerman says:

      good catch – corrected

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    • Max says:

      “The zone is from the hitter’s perspective looking home.”

      Does this not make sense? Or am I just not understanding it. Either way, I don’t get it. Could someone clarify?

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      • danmerqury says:

        I think it used to say “pitcher’s perspective looking home”, which was corrected to “hitter’s perspective looking home”. It should be the hitter’s perspective looking towards the mound, or to put it another way, it’s what the catcher sees from his angle behind home plate looking at the pitcher.

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  4. Brad Johnson says:

    More please, thank you.

    Next assignment, umpire heat maps comparing all counts vs 0-2, 3-2, etc.

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    • Matt Defalco says:

      This is probably even more important than the general strike zone, as the reader gets a good look of how consistent the umpire is with his strike zone. Which, of course, is something that everyone knows is more important than the actual mathematical accuracy of the size of the zone.

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  5. LarryinLA says:

    Are there any studies that show whether these are actually predictive? Are umpires really consistent, or do we just assume they are, because they have reputations?

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  6. [...] Zimmerman of Fan Graphs crunched the numbers on the umpiring crew assigned to the World Series, using Pitch-F/X data along with strikeout and [...]

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  7. AB says:

    not to be a nerd, but what kind of interpolation did you use

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    • Jeff Zimmerman says:

      I use R and am just counting the number of pitchers in 2.4 in squares. If you look at some images and there are diamonds, that box got less or more than the boxes around them

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  8. Jeff Wise says:

    I love those heat maps!

    Why in the world would umpires be more likely to call strikes outside of the zone on left-handed hitters?

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    • cs3 says:

      “Why in the world would umpires be more likely to call strikes outside of the zone on left-handed hitters?”

      It is interesting that these umpires seem far more likely to call an off-the-plate outside strike to a LHB than to righties
      The only reason i can think of is has to do with how they set up to see the pitch.Maybe it depends on which of the catchers’ shoulders the umpire is looking over?

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      • Barkey Walker says:

        that makes me wonder if it shouldn’t be by pitcher arm as well as player arm (i.e. 2×2 instead of 2×1).

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      • Choo says:

        Umpires tend to favor the catcher’s throwing shoulder during setup – less visual interference I guess – which makes the corner low and away the most difficult area to read. When a pitcher is dotting the catcher’s glove-side target low and away with consistency and purpose, the umpire is going to concede those borderline pitches in the pitcher’s favor.

        Also, there are more RHPs than LHPs and most pitches tail by nature, specifically fastballs and everything from the sinker/splitter/fork/change family. The most effective way for a RHP to induce weak contact or a swing-and miss is to throw a pitch that either finishes for a strike in that bottom corner or starts there but dives just out of the zone. RHP’s pound that corner, especially against lefties, and that takes us back to the umpire’s willingness to call more of those borderline pitches for strikes.

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    • BlueMoose says:

      Choo’s point is incorrect. Umpires always set up in the “slot” between the battter and the inside edge of the plate has nothing to do with the handedness of the catcher. The low outside corner is the hardest to be consistent. The outside edge on left handers gets expanded because the actions of the catcher often play into the calling of a strike ie catcher drops or butchers a pitch it is not a strike no matter what the tracking says. A point players will hate with any automated systems. But given that most catchers are right handed they wear glove on left hand, ball hits unmoved glove in webbing while palm is over edge of plate will almost always be called a strike.

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  9. Squanto says:

    To solve the “looking” confusion, why not label the image “inside” and “away”?

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  10. Ezekial says:

    Do you have the following statistics for WS umps
    fraction of pitches in strike zone that are called strikes
    and
    fraction of pitches out of strike zone that are called strikes?

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  11. mike says:

    I too find the differences in what pitches – off the plate – are called for strikes versus lefties as opposed to righties startling. Just amazing that their calls seem so good against righties while not so much against outside pitches to lefties.

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    • Guelphdad says:

      Mike

      I’d guess because the umps see the hitter from that side of the plate so fewer times. Figuring 10% of population are lefties, add in your switch hitters and you’re probably still talking 1 in 5 hitters at most.

      From the umpire’s perspective they probably see the outside of the zone differently. Looks like they over compensate the zone but are also giving the lefty hitters more of the inside of the plate because of that.

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  12. Mike says:

    So, who do you believe, the umpire or Pitch F/X? I think you have a dilemma. I’ll call it the “Fan’s Dilemma”, because no matter who you choose, it’s not the right answer. So you choose to not change to the alternative.

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  13. Tom says:

    With 1/3 strikes called balls, and 1/3 balls called strikes, it appears umpires are subject to error and influence. I would be interested in the charts being broken down into charts for each individual catcher. Some catchers catch the pitch on their glove side wth the glove facing out, some in. Some catch low pitches palm up, some down. These methods differ for left hand vs right-hand pitchers, and for breaking balls or changes ups vs. fastballs. I hypothesize charts would differ under all of these circumstances. I’ve always believed low pitches should be caught palm-up so as to influence the umpire into thinking the pitch is higher than it actually is. Most catchers catch it palm-down.

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  14. Paul west says:

    Winters has been the most inconsistent strike zone on the playoffs. I can’t believe such a controversial ump is even in this series.

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  15. CollegeUmp says:

    It’s all part of baseball. The umpire being consistent with the zone, for the whole game, is of more important than his zone accuracy. All players involved will adjust around him, from pitchers who will paint that low inside corner, to managers and batters that see me call it that way. What I don’t seem to understand, is all the hoopla around accuracy. Pitchers are not accurate, and batters are most definitely not. If a $3 million player makes a game changing error, he gets a 3 second spot on a sports show, and there isn’t talk about replacing him with a machine. Yet, if a $200k 15 year veteran umpire calls a fourth ball in the bottom of the 9th, with loaded bases, tied score, and costs the same run, he gets 15 seconds on all the sports networks. It’s all part of baseball.

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  16. Ward Gupton says:

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