Jerry Crawford’s Big ALDS Role

Umpires have been in the spotlight all season, from Joe West’s comments about the pace and style of games between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees to Jim Joyce’s blown call costing Detroit’s Armando Galarraga a perfect game. But on the 25th anniversary of Dom Denkinger’s controversial call in the 1985 World Series, the scrutiny of assignments and performance of umpires goes to another level in the postseason.

Perhaps the most interesting assignment for the League Division Series will see Jerry Crawford serving as crew chief for the Yankees’ series against the Minnesota Twins.

Crawford is considered to have the smallest strike zone in the major leagues; this season, among all umpires, he has the lowest strikeout to walk ratio at 1.55, well below the league average is 2.17 strikeouts per walk. Conversely, Brian O’Nora, who is on Crawford’s crew for the series, has an average of 2.50 strikeouts per walk.

While the stats tell one story, the graphic of an umpire’s strike zone can offer an enhanced look at exactly how umps see the strike zone and what that means for the two teams when specific men in blue are behind the plate.

The following images are the called strike zones of Crawford and O’Nora for right-handed hitters in 2010. The graphs were created from MLB Pitchf/x data using 255 separate buckets to represent his strike zone. The dark red area is where 100 percent of the pitches in that zone are called strikes, the green area is where 50 percent of the pitches are called strikes and the purple area is where none of the pitches are called strikes.

This is Crawford:

This is O’Nora:

O’Nora has a significantly bigger strike zone than Crawford, especially in the vertical direction.

The Yankees led the league with a strikeout/walk ratio of 1.81 and the Twins were second with a ratio of 1.88. Both of these teams know how to work a count in order to get players on base.

When Crawford is behind the plate, then, it’s going to be a marathon, and the season mostly bore that out: the Twins had Crawford behind the plate four times; their normal nine-inning game lasted 2 hours, 46 minutes, and with Crawford it lasted 2 hours, 49 minutes (not a huge gap). The Yankees played 3 hours, 5 minutes on average; in the two games they had Crawford calling balls and strikes, they averaged 3 hours, 31 minutes.

The main impact point for CC Sabathia, Francisco Liriano, Phil Hughes, Carl Pavano and others in this series is this: You don’t want to throw around the middle, obviously, especially with Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Jason Kubel and Joe Mauer in this series — but with Crawford, you either pound the zone or you walk a ton of guys.

Keep an eye on which game Crawford is behind the plate for; it could be the turning point of this series.




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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.

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