Everyone knows that umpires are not perfect. However, sometimes the mistakes they make are not really forgivable, and there were many complaints during the Boston Red Sox-Chicago White Sox game from this past Wednesday. Rick Rowand investigates the calls by Mike Estabrook to determine if the umpire was at fault.
If you were watching the game Wednesday night between the two Sox on NESN or MLBN, you would have heard color commentator Dennis Eckersley in rare form complaining about the strike zone of home plate ump Mike Estabrook.
Eck (or Dennis, as he’s known to his friends) has never been shy about criticizing players on the Red Sox, their opponents, nor the umpires, and Wednesday night was no exception as the strike zone seemed to shape-shift over the course of the game. Because NESN uses the camera from dead center field, the viewer at home has a very good look at the ball from the time it leaves the pitcher’s hand until it lands in the catcher’s mitt. Between that and the Amica Pitch Zone, we are all able to make a fairly educated guess as to whether a pitch was a strike or a ball based on the rule book strike zone.
However, umpires don’t use the rule book strike zone, as demonstrated in articles by our own Ian York. The strike zone described in the official MLB rule book is used more as a guideline than anything else. Last night was no exception. It appeared to my eyes, and to those of Mr. Eckersley, that pitches that were obviously balls were called strikes to Red Sox hitters, and occasionally White Sox hitters. Some of the hitters were very surprised at the calls and voiced their displeasure to the ump.
Whenever it appears that balls and strikes are called more randomly than usual, Ian York will chart the game to see if we, the viewers, were correct, or if our eyes were deceiving us. Here are the pitch charts from Wednesday night’s game. The grey polygon is the de facto strike zone which is called by umpires throughout the season:
You can see in the charts above that yes, there were a few missed calls for and against each team. And yes, the ump should have done a better job, but the game was called much better than Eck, myself, and some of the players, had initially thought.
Follow Rick on Twitter @rrowand.