• Have the Twins been screwed by umpires?

    Robot umpires now? You wouldn’t blame Kyle Gibson for wanting them.

    A recent Wall Street Journal article took an in-depth look at Major League Baseball’s strike zone and found that some teams have benefited from an expanded zone while others suffered from shrinkage.

    Brian Costa consulted with the locally-owned Inside Edge, a Minneapolis-based company that specializes in harvesting video data for teams to use, and IE’s evaluating system combined with the MLB Pitchf/x system showed that an average of nearly 9% of all pitches were called incorrectly.

    While the definition of the strike zone is quite clear, the human element influences the outcome of the calls during the game. Writes Costa:

    “But in practice, it varies from umpire to umpire, game to game and even depending on the count. The data collected by Inside Edge suggests umpires are far more hesitant to call a pitch a ball or a strike if doing so would result in either a walk or a strikeout.

    On 0-2 counts this year, 26% of pitches taken inside the strike zone are erroneously called balls, compared with 10.9% on all other counts. On 3-0 counts, 12% of pitches taken outside the strike zone are mistakenly called strikes, compared with 6.7% on all other counts.”
    Among all the teams, Inside Edge’s data shows that the Twins have been the most wrongly discriminated against when it came to pitches inside the zone that were called balls this season. Just 44.3% of botched pitch calls that were missed were deemed favorable to the Twins. Has this negatively impacted the Twins 2013 season? As Costa’s points out, the Milwaukee Brewers, who at 55.3% have the highest amount of wrongly called pitches go in their favor, have nearly as bad of a record as the Twins. So it appears that even if the Twins had all the calls go their way, it still would not have changed the overall record much.

    What is interesting is that the Twins pitchers have an overall decent amount of strike zone presence. According to Fangraphs.com’s Pitchf/x data, the Twins pitching staff has the second-highest amount of zone presence at 50.7%. Meanwhile, Inside Edge’s data suggests that Kyle Gibson has been one unlucky fellow – getting just 79.2% of in-zone pitches called a strike.

    Before you pick up your pitchforks remember Gibson’s in-zone percentage is one of the lowest in the game at 41.9%. Gibson’s chaotic nature combined with his rookie status may have made it difficult for umpires to side with him on his borderline pitches. However, there may have been another factor that influenced his poor strike percentage.

    While we all have seen the stories and data on Ryan Doumit’s framing issues, but Gibson was spared from having Doumit as his batterymate. Instead, Gibson has drawn Mauer for eight of his 10 starts. While Mauer has been proven to be an excellent receiver when it came to coaxing a call on the high strike, his ability to do the same with a pitch down in the zone was extremely poor. (As suggested in the WSJ piece, it may be due to his large stature which blocks out some umpires.) As a sinkerball pitcher, Gibson works down in the zone with that and a biting slider. With Mauer’s tendency of turning a low strike into a ball, it is no surprise to see a high amount of Gibson’s low pitches being called balls.



    Gibson, a ground ball pitcher by trade, had his problems further exacerbated, beyond the strike zone, by the percent of grounders turned into hits – his .333 batting average of grounders was nearly 40% higher than the league average. Armed with a solid repertoire, Gibson figures to play a substantial role in the rotation for the Twins in 2014.
    This article was originally published in blog: Have the Twins been screwed by umpires? started by Parker Hageman
    Comments 43 Comments
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Only stubbronness is keeping robots out, no reason to keep humans calling balls and strikes.
    1. Dman's Avatar
      Dman -
      A strike is a strike and ball is a ball with greater accuracy would be nice. If computer controlled and consistant it would take alot of angst out of the game for both pitchers and batters.
    1. IdahoPilgrim's Avatar
      IdahoPilgrim -
      I made the case a couple of months ago, in a pitch-framing thread, that maybe it was time for automated ball and strike calls. That not only eliminates the whole pitch-framing debate but this article shows it may be necessary just in general as well.

      I expect MLB to move on this on an accelerated timetable, and have it in place for the 2023 season.
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      I go back and forth. On one hand, an automated strike caller would purify the competition between pitcher and batter. On the other hand, since framing appears to be a real thing, a repeatable skill, then its another little thing to keep me as a viewer engaged in games.
    1. adjacent's Avatar
      adjacent -
      I put framing in the same category as working the referees in another sport. Yes, it is a repeatable skill, but I am not sure it is a skill I want games decided on. I am all for automatic calling of balls and strikes, at least in MLB. It is not fair, even for umpires to ask them to do a task well that it is almost impossible for the human eye to do.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by Parker Hageman View Post
      while others suffered from shrinkage.
      Sympathizes:
      Attachment 5633

      (Yeah, I'm basically just spelling out Parker's joke.)

      Way back in another age, I always felt that early-career Latroy Hawkins and especially Willie Banks would have been more successful if the umpires gave them half a chance. I don't know whether my one-sided fan's view would have been borne out by stats like Parker has pointed to here, though.

      Do these records get down to the level of pitch count? I suspect if the first-pitch calls are going against the Twins on a systematic basis it matters more than later on - the difference between 1-0 and 0-1 is pretty huge on how the rest of the PA comes out. With all the counts lumped together, maybe that's why a seemingly large disparity between two teams like the Twins and Brewers doesn't translate into much difference in results.
    1. jay's Avatar
      jay -
      As Costa’s points out, the Milwaukee Brewers, who at 55.3% have the highest amount of wrongly called pitches go in their favor, have nearly as bad of a record as the Twins. So it appears that even if the Twins had all the calls go their way, it still would not have changed the overall record much.
      Parker, why would you assume that? How wouldn't the Brewers record have been even worse without the calls? We don't have a great way to quantify the true difference it caused, but you can't tell me it doesn't have an impact on each team's record.

      That's like saying 'well, the Twins have hit 20 fewer homers than the Cubs this year, but their records are the same, so it wouldn't have mattered if they hit 20 more'. A bit more extreme, but the same line of reasoning.
    1. Monkeypaws's Avatar
      Monkeypaws -
      I watched the game last week where Pelfrey got screwed about three times in one inning. I'm sure it has an effect. That's where a bulldog mentality would help.
    1. Jim Crikket's Avatar
      Jim Crikket -
      You can't tell me that umpires are incapable of making the corrections necessary to improve the way they call balls/strikes. The problem is that they have absolutely no incentive to do so.

      These egomaniacs actually seem to believe that the appropriate way fans should react to this kind of data is to insist on the players adjusting how they perform based on who the umpire is.

      If umpires' compensation and perhaps even their jobs were influenced heavily by how accurately they called balls/strikes (not to mention outs), I guarantee you that we'd see a lot more accuracy in their calls. We wouldn't see NEARLY as much bias on 3-ball or 2-strike calls and we certainly would see a lot less "this rookie hasn't earned that call" crap.

      Robots or other electronic calls of balls/strikes may be where we need to get, but I would prefer to see the THREAT of going there move umpires (and their union) toward accepting a compensation/employment system that places a high level of emphasis on competency and that certainly includes calling balls and strikes accurately.
    1. IdahoPilgrim's Avatar
      IdahoPilgrim -
      I remember this whole debate in tennis a while back - should electronic means be used to determine whether a ball is in or out. They finally put electronic monitoring in place, but the chair umpire retains the right to overrule the machine when he or she chooses. Of course, in practice, those who overrule the machine consistently soon find themselves out of a job...
    1. Alex's Avatar
      Alex -
      I think that more accurate and consistent strike zones would be a massive improvement to the game of baseball, far more than the system of replay they are implementing, where a lot of what happens after something is overturned will be subjective (not unlike the recent incident in the Twins game).
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      I think both Doumit and Mauer struggle to get the low strike called because they are both tall for catchers. Gibson lives at the knees and most of the in-zone pitches called balls were in that area. Another reason to move Mauer to first and put Pinto back there in 2014.
    1. jm3319's Avatar
      jm3319 -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      Only stubbronness is keeping robots out, no reason to keep humans calling balls and strikes.

      I disagree. i think it would HEAVILY favor the hitters, at least the very good ones. Think about players that already draw a lot of walks and have a good eye at the plate (AKA Mauer, Cabrera, etc). After a "calibration period" players would KNOW if a ball was a ball or a strike was a strike, even better than they do now. If the human element is removed, then batters just have to sit back and make the pitcher come to them. The very good one would chase balls out of the zone even less. It wouldn't turn a .250 hitter into a .350 hitter, but I feel like the best hitters would feast of a zone they knew with even higher accuracy.

      In short, it'd force the pitcher to throw a strike and remove the "protecting the plate on 0-2" defensive mentality of the hitters, which I think would lead to fewer strikeouts and more hits.
    1. jay's Avatar
      jay -
      Quote Originally Posted by jm3319 View Post
      In short, it'd force the pitcher to throw a strike and remove the "protecting the plate on 0-2" defensive mentality of the hitters, which I think would lead to fewer strikeouts and more hits.
      Ironically, the data doesn't support "protecting the plate on 0-2". Out of every possible situation, you're most likely to get a ball called in that count if the pitch is close.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by jay View Post
      Ironically, the data doesn't support "protecting the plate on 0-2". Out of every possible situation, you're most likely to get a ball called in that count if the pitch is close.
      I was going to say that that is no longer the case. It is really hard to get a called third strike the way the umps call it in today's game. It used to be too easy. Not so anymore. To me, this is the main reason games are so long and we have to use so many pitchers. If umps just called the third strike regardless of the count, guys would start protecting the plate again.
    1. TJW's Avatar
      TJW -
      Here are the things that affect whether or not a pitch is called a ball or a strike:

      1. Identity of the Umpire
      2. Where the Umpire stands
      3. What kind of vest the Umpire is wearing
      4. Reputation of the Pitcher
      5. The seniority of the Pitcher
      6. How that Pitcher is locating on that particular day
      7. Reputation of the Batter
      8. The seniority of the Batter
      9. Whether or not the Catcher can frame that kind of pitch
      10. The pitch count
      11. Whether there are runners on base
      12. The number of outs
      13. The score of the game
      14. Whether or not the teams/umpire need to catch a flight immediately after the game
      15. Regular season vs. Playoffs
      16. Whether or not there is a likely rain delay coming up soon
      17. The reaction of the fans
      18. Whether the umpire needs to "make up" for a previous mistake
      19. The identify of the Team
      20. The ACTUAL LOCATION OF THE PITCH!!

      I would say we definitely need something better than umpires.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      If the Twins had a savvy front office who can actually understand what the article said, they should have taken it to the off-season MLB meetings, demanding MLB fixing the problem. If that were Boston or the Yankees, that's what they'd do. But the Twins do not really understand what is going on.

      The umpires have way too much say in the outcome of a game and things should change. If they do not perform and call things the correct way, they have no place in baseball...
    1. Thegrin's Avatar
      Thegrin -
      If the pitch counts were taken away from the umpires, it could cause a game wide imbalance towards the hitters or the pitchers. This could be remedied by legislating changes in how tight or how lose the strike zone is. How much of the "black" is called a strike ? A tall batter does not have the same strike-zone profile as a short batter. The umpires would need to check to make sure that the strike-zone profile of each batter is correct, and change it accordingly.
    1. jorgenswest's Avatar
      jorgenswest -
      If the Twins want to find blame, they need only look in the mirror. While other teams are finding catchers skilled at managing the strike zone, the Twins have ignored or been ignorant of the data.

      Are the Twins also behind in developing this skill in their minor league catchers?
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by jorgenswest View Post
      If the Twins want to find blame, they need only look in the mirror. While other teams are finding catchers skilled at managing the strike zone, the Twins have ignored or been ignorant of the data.

      Are the Twins also behind in developing this skill in their minor league catchers?
      We have a gold glove catcher who is one of the best I've seen at framing. But the umps make no effort to change their stance with a taller catcher. So they don't call the low strike when Joe is behind the plate. Doumit has the same problem, but he is also framing challenged in general.

      I think the catching position will revert to 5 foot 10 guys who can get really low, work with pitchers and manage the running game. The days of the Mauers and the Poseys are numbered, especially with the concussion issue.
©2014 TwinsCentric, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Interested in advertising with Twins Daily? Click here.