Ian York uses PITCHf/x and his unique charts to determine if John Hirschbeck called an even game behind the plate in Game Three of the World Series.
Cleveland won Game Three of the 2016 World Series 1-0 over Chicago, but home plate umpire John Hirschbeck didn’t do the visiting team any favors along the way. Using PITCHf/x to examine the locations of the pitches that Hirschbeck called balls and strikes – and overlaying them on the strike zone that umpires called this season (as described in more detail here and here) – reveals what the umpire’s calls looked like against Cleveland batters:
Nothing stands out in those graphics. Hirschbeck’s strike zone to left-handed batters is on the small side – which is good for batters, of course – with almost all the pitches that touch the outside edge of the lefty strike zone being called balls. [Note: That line is the region where pitches have a 50/50 chance of being called a ball or a strike, so having all four pitches there called balls suggests a small zone.] One pitch to a left-handed batter, well outside and below the zone, was called a strike. There was a mirror image strike called on a right-handed batter that should have been a ball, but one or two outliers per game is to be expected. Otherwise Cleveland batters/Cubs pitchers had a strike zone that was close to the typical zone called all season.
However, the same cannot be said for Cubs batters/Cleveland pitchers:
There are no extra called strikes in these zones, and five, or perhaps six, pitches that should have been strikes were mistakenly called balls. Only nine called pitches to right-handed Cubs batters were in the strike zone – and Hirschbeck called three of those pitches balls.
The most egregious missed call – to Kris Bryant in the sixth inning – was several inches inside the outside edge of the strike zone, yet was still called a ball. [Note: Bryant also received a gift called ball in the fourth inning.] Bryant was facing Andrew Miller in the sixth inning – perhaps Hirschbeck felt that the matchup was unfair and was handicapping Miller. And he may have been right, since the Indians relief ace struck out Bryant on six pitches.
Here is an animation of that at-bat; notice the location of the first pitch, called a ball:
At the end of the day, Miller struck out Bryant and Cleveland won. But the strike zone, as called by Hirschbeck, was not consistent for both clubs.