Players often complain about the ball and strike calls made by umpires, but umpires actually do a pretty good job most of the time. However, in Game 2 of the ALDS between the Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers, this was not the case. Ian York takes a look at the calls made by Vic Carapazza and finds that the players had a reason to gripe.
In Game 2 of the Texas Rangers/Toronto Blue Jays ALDS on October 9, several batters on both teams showed their frustration with ball and strike calls made by umpire Vic Carapazza. On TV, it seemed that they might have a point, but the TV strike zone graphics are not very reliable as the zone they show is not the zone that any umpire actually calls. Umpires call balls and strikes based on their own conception of a strike zone, and that zone changes year to year.
The size of the strike zone has changed considerably since PITCHf/x tracking was introduced. The 2015 de facto strike zone, the one batters and pitchers expect to see, is very similar to that in 2014, but quite different from the official zone. Was Carapazza calling this de facto zone accurately?
Unfortunately, Carapazza’s calls still look pretty bad when mapped onto the 2015 strike zone. Here, balls are blue, called strike are red; open symbols are Texas batters, closed are Toronto. I count 10 incorrectly-called strikes, all at the bottom of the zone, and probably 12 incorrect balls:
The grey polygon marks the point where pitches have about a 50% chance of being called a ball or a strike, so those exactly on the line are coin tosses. To be fair, these data are based on PITCHf/x, which has a significant error rate, and even at best may be an inch or two off in its location. Also, PITCHf/x identifies location of a pitch as it crosses the front of the plate; conceivably, some pitches could have moved into the strike zone as they crossed the back of the plate. However, since that would mean the pitches would have to move upward – which balls pitched overhand never do – that’s not a free pass for the umpire here.
Texas was disproportionately hurt by the mistaken calls. Seven of the ten incorrect strikes were called on Texas batters, while 9 of the incorrect balls were awarded to Toronto. After 14 innings, Texas won despite the bad calls, but hopefully umpires will do a better job in the rest of the post-season.