The Strike Not Called

The f/x chart above shows balls and strikes on Berkman’s at bat in the seventh.  The chart shows the view of the strike zone from the catcher’s point of view, so pitches on the left side of the chart are outside pitches to a lefty like Berkman, and pitches on the right side are inside pitches.  Pitch 4 is circled above.  It was called a ball.  Obviously, pitch 4 was a strike (not exactly “down the middle”, Andrew Marchand, but a strike nevertheless).  Pitch 2 is also circled above.  It was called a strike.  Obviously, pitch 2 was a ball.

Even Steven, as we used to say.

The thing is, Wendlestedt called balls and strikes this way all game long.  Check out the f/x chart below.

Our second chart shows all of Wendlestedt’s called balls and strikes to left handed batters on both teams.  The squares are pitches thrown by Twins pitchers, and the triangles are pitches thrown by Yankee pitchers.  The red shapes are called strikes, the green shapes are balls.  Pitch 4 to Berkman is circled.  It was one of six strikes on the inside of the plate that were called balls by Wendlestedt.  Three of these pitches were thrown by Yankee pitchers, three by Twins pitchers.

Even Steven.

Also note how Wendlestedt called pitches thrown to the outside part of the plate to left-handed hitters.  Wendlestedt called a lot of strikes on outside pitches to lefties that should have been called balls.  Moreover, if you check the proportion of red squares to red triangles, you’ll see that the Twins have nothing to complain about here.  Twins’ pitchers got the benefit of most of the bad calls on these outside pitches.  (Note that JoeP noticed this same thing over at FanGraphs: some pitches called strikes for Pavano weren’t given the same benefit for Pettitte.  RAB noticed this too. Both JoeP and RAB were far more critical of Wendlestedt’s pitch-calling than I have been.)

It was obvious all game long: Wendlestedt’s strike zone was (from his perspective) located a bit right of where it should have been.  I heard Berkman talk about this in his TBS post-game interview (sorry, I don’t have the exact quote): with a left-handed hitter at the plate, Wendlestedt was giving pitchers the outside strike, but not the inside strike.  Berkman knew this when he took pitch 4.

Point is: Wendlestedt called balls and strikes to Berkman in the seventh inning pretty much the way he called balls and strikes to lefties all game long.  His strike zone was a little strange (also note the lack of strikes called on the bottom ¼ of the plate). But major league hitters adjust to the way an ump calls balls and strikes, so long as these calls are reasonably consistent.

The Twins got the benefit of some of Wendlestedt’s bad calls, including the call on pitch 2 to Berkman.  The Yankees got the benefit of other bad calls, in particular the call on pitch 4 to Berkman.  Even Steven, as we say.  I don’t see anything here for the Twins to complain about.

15 thoughts on “The Strike Not Called

  1. The Strike Not Called…

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  2. I spent the rest of the game yelling this at my television while the TBS announcers obsessed over the non-called strike, forgetting entirely about the fall nearly a foot off of the plate Wendelstedt gave Pavano. At least they got excited about something while the Yankees were batting I guess.

    That's not to say Wendelstedt wasn't awful though. Someone tweeted last night that in 93 Pavano pitches, Wendelstedt call 16 of them incorrectly. That's abysmal. Not quite as bad as knowing nothing will be done about it, but close.

  3. John

    Great article Larry. I saw the Berkman comments too, but before that even I was feeling bad for Minny fans after that call. They just aren't catching any breaks against the Yanks. They don't match up well with the Yanks anyway, and if they aren't getting any breaks it makes it almost impossible for them to win.

    I bet the Twins are wishing they lost a few more games and finished behind Texas right now. I think they'd be able to take the Rays.

  4. It was Passan and, as he notes, Wendelstedt was just horrilble. He missed more calls behind the plate than the umps in the other two games yesterday combined.
    http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/news?slug=jp-twinsyan

  5. Excellent job. The point of all this is not to tell Twins fans, or the Twins themselves, to not be annoyed by the call on the 4th pitch in the Berkman AB, but to view that blown call in the proper perspective and keep in mind that the Twins got more calls than the Yanks got last night, Wendelstedt's strike-zone was awful all night long and he didn't discriminate against the Twins. It sucks for the Twins that pitch-4 of the Berkman AB wound up costing them since he crushed the next pitch, but you can't make a reasonable argument that the Twins were robbed or that there was some bias against the Twins/for the Yankees in play. There were a ton of bad calls last night (and let's not forget the bad call on the phantom final out in Game 1 that wasn't a bigger deal simply because the Twins couldn't take advantage of the opportunity), this one just happened to be followed by an important hit. So it goes.

  6. jon

    While the ump was definitely off, at least he was consistently off. And a team with experienced batters can figure that out. The graphs show what was apparent within a couple innings – that for some reason, the ump was "seeing" the zone moved toward the 3rd base side, for whatever reason.

    Afaic, the call at the plate was better than the previous night – I couldn't discern a pattern Wednesday – again, at least he was consistent this time. If there's a gripe to be made, it should be about all of the outside pitches that were strikes for Pavano but balls for Andy.

    • I hate this argument. If an umpire's strikezone is off, it distorts the game. Period. An umpire that isn't giving strikes on the inside corner is effectively taking half of the plate away from the pitcher. I can see the argument for consistency above everything on pitches that are legitimately borderline, but when they're getting calls clearly wrong, I don't care how consistent they are. They're wrong.

      • jon

        Don't get me wrong. A good strike zone would be good – that goes without saying. But if you can't have that, at least give everyone a consistent strike zone. I'm far from being a ballplayer, but I know if I was at the plate, I'd sure like to know whether a pitch was a ball or a strike, based purely upon location.

        If you figure out a way to get umps to standardize the strike zone, I'm all for it.

        • Well that's easy; you fire the umpires who can't hack it and replace them with guys working in the minors who can.

          I'm not expecting perfection or anything. If we're talking about legitimately close pitches, then sure, I'm fine with consistency. But that's not good enough when we talk about guys who shift the zone 6 inches or more. At that point, consistency is irrelevant, because no matter what you're distorting the game.

          • Strang

            Make this man commissioner! We'll be out of viable umpires in less than a season.

            Umpires create an individualized challenge to the game. Hitters have to constantly adjust, just as pitchers do. If you make PitchTrax the ump, you'd be bored pretty fast. You'd have nothing to yell at your TV about.

  7. williamnyy23

    Wendelstedt may not have had a good strikezone, but it was consistent. The reason the Twins got the benefit of most calls was because the Yankees had 7 lefties in the lineup.

    The Twins really have no beef. We saw what happened when Pavano had to come over the plate. If he had not had the benefit of the wide zone, I don't think he makes it through five innings.

  8. Mike T

    I thought I was the only one that yells at the TV every pitch since TBS keeps PitchTrax up all the time (which I love). I wholeheartedly agree with Brien — if you are consistently wrong, why is that better than being wrong on one pitch every once in awhile? Because you can expect it? I don't buy this. Should I consistently give my boss a spreadsheet in the wrong format, or would you rather I mess up once in a while? I am pretty sure the former gets me fired more quickly. I know it's something all hitters have had to deal with since they start playing, but to me the strikezone is the strikezone. Having it be so different ump to ump (even pitch to pitch) is like if they changed the size of the goal in hockey every game. It's just unfair to a hitter to consistently give strikes so far out of the zone (in this case Pavano getting all the calls off the corner), I mean it's difficult to even physically reach, so why should it be a strike? Makes no sense. And the same when pitchers miss back toward the inside corner when the catcher is set up outside — the pitcher NEVER gets the call even though it is still clearly a strike. That's just so frustrating to me, almost like the game is played on a false premise if there are so many wrong calls. I still long for the day where the ump has a buzzer in left/right pocket for ball/strike, or something like AR (augmented reality) glasses with the K-zone built in. But considering where they are with instant replay I'm probably 1000 years ahead of time. Somehow getting it right isn't a priority.

  9. LarryAtIIATMS

    Brien, remember that there's not much to calling swinging strikes, foul balls or balls hit in play. I think Wendlestedt's true numbers are worse than 16 wrong out of 93.

    Personally, I wasn't trying to judge the quality of Wendlestedt's work, I was trying to put a particular "bad call" into perspective (what JoeRo said). Predictably, a lot of ink is being spilled over Wendlestedt's bad call on Berkman pitch 4, but nearly no one has said a word about the missed call on Berkman pitch 2, which evened things out in a rough justice sort of way.

    WilliamNYY, you've nailed an important point that I did not reach in my post: the preponderance of calls in favor of the Twins was largely the result of Pettitte being a lefty and Pavano being a righty. I saw no evidence that Wendlestedt was biased against either team. But I also agree, Pavano probably survived a little longer because he was given the benefit of the call on outside pitches to left-handed hitters. The Yankees seemed to clobber much of what he threw in the strike zone.

    Yes Brien, I understand your feeling that a distorted strikezone distorts the game, even if the distortion is consistent. It's just that this has been a part of major league baseball for as long as I can remember. What's new on the scene is the f/x pitch data, and TBS' decision to show the location of just about every pitch. I don't know if the quality of umpiring is deteriorating, but I'm sure that our ability to criticize umpiring has improved dramatically.

    The consistent-but-wrong strikezone is part of the "human element" that is used as an argument against the expansion of instant replay. MikeT, the "consistently wrong" strike zone provides an advantage to hitters who are smart enough to quickly figure out what's going on, and are flexible enough to make adjustments. I don't think that's a bad thing. My opinion shifts when I take the perspective of a pitcher. Think of a Mo Rivera, who lives off of his inside cutter to lefties. If he can't get that call, he loses effectiveness, and the situation is NOT balanced out by an ability to get called strikes on pitches thrown away from lefties and outside of the strike zone.

    Personally, if I ran baseball I'd figure out a way to use the f/x data to call balls and strikes on the field. But I think I'm in the minority on this one. The majority opinion seems to be that balls and strikes should be called by the umpires on the field, and that they should simply do a better job of making these calls. I'm fine with that too, but it seems to me that we complain about this every year and that every year the quality of ball-and-strike calls is about the same.

    You want to do a better job of training umpires, selecting umpires for the post-season? Fine, have at it. Anything to improve the quality of the game. I just don't think that yesterday's calls from the home plate ump were out of the ordinary. I saw the game pretty much like Jon did. I agree with JoeRo, if I was a Twins fan, I'd probably not be thinking about umpiring in tones this charitable. But you still have to look at Berkman's at bat in context. Based on f/x, Pavano still would have had to throw a fifth pitch to Berkman.

    Thanks everyone for commenting and for the nice things you said about my post. Much appreciated.

  10. lagabe

    I like your analysis and thank you for it. As a Twin fan my problem is just a lack of hitting. I noticed early that the Twins weren't getting the inside strike on lefties and the Yankees were smart enough to lay off. That is just good baseball. I was irritated, but I didn't know if the calls were even or not so, I had just bite my tongue. My only problem came when in 8th inning (I think) Valencia (spelling?) got called out on that same pitch that Berkman watched. That ticked me off!!!! Other than that, I have always said to my son that you have to watch what the ump calls and all you can ask for is consistency. If he is consistent you can use that both as a batter and as a pitcher. Those damn Yankees did that better than us. Congrats… Maybe we can take three? Wishful thinking? I am also a Cub Fan Ouch!!!

  11. LarryAtIIATMS

    lagabe, Valencia's last at bat was in the 7th inning, and he's a right-handed batter. Wendlestedt's strike zone was different for righties. I don't think any pitcher got a call on that pitch against lefties.

    This series is far from over. The Twins are too good a team to count out. There's too much veteran leadership in that clubhouse; they're going to fight the Yanks tooth and nail for the ALDS. If the Twins win game 3, you'll see that the story line will change, that momentum will be seen as on the side of the Twins, and that the Yanks will be facing a "must win" situation in game 4. Remember Rule 3 from my "Rational Guide": don't overreact to the last thing you've seen. No team is going to win it all without facing some adversity. Granted, I'm a Yankees fan, and I like our position. But teams win and lose 3 games in a row all the time. I'm not taking anything for granted and neither should you.

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