Search Archives
Follow Us

Featured Sponsors


Mailing List
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for our Email Newsletter
For Email Marketing you can trust
Twitter Feeds

This site utilizes the MLB analytics platform powered by TruMedia Networks

Entries in called strike rate (3)

Thursday
Feb272014

Umpires Calling Balls and Strikes Better Than Ever Before

The art of calling balls and strikes has long been a topic up for discussion among baseball fans, and if the last century-plus has been any indication, it seems as though professional baseball will have a masked man behind home plate for the prospective future.

But with the advancement of complex technologies such as pitch f/x data, umpires’ jobs have never before come under more scrutiny from the general public. Websites such as ESPN and MLB.com allow fans to visit their websites — for free — and view live game casts in which pitches are tracked and calculated for maximum accuracy and transparency.

Most baseball television broadcasts utilize this, as well, giving an ever bigger segment of the market the ability to say, “What a terrible call! That wasn’t a strike (or ball)! Look at the strike zone box thing!” I’d bet my entire college-student life savings that each of us has said something along these lines at least once.

Yet while the duties of the home plate umpire have never been more transparent in the history of the game, these guys have actually become more efficient at calling balls and strikes in recent years.

League Average Umpire Stats since 2008 (Regular Season)

  Strk% Zone% OOZ Clstk% CC%
2013 63.6 49.4 8.9 88
2012 63.5 48.9 9.5 87.1
2011 63.2 48.6 9.7 86.7
2010 62.8 48.2 10.1 86.4
2009 62.4 48.6 10.5 85.2
2008 62.5 48.6 11.1 84.4


Dating back to 2008, umpires have become progressively less inclined to give called strikes on pitches located out of the zone. In 2008, the league-average ump tagged 11.1% of pitches thrown out of the zone as strikes. Doug Eddings topped all umps in this respect that season, citing a wholesome 14.6% of all out-of-zone offerings as strikes — the highest single-season ‘OOZ’ called strike mark of any ump over the last six years.

The league average OOZ called strike mark dropped more than a half percent in 2009, and with it, the league average ump’s correct call rate (shown by CC% in the table) increased by about the same margin. This perpetuated progressively in the four seasons to follow to the point where the league average home plate umpire accrued a 88% correct call rate last season — highest of any season since our database’s umpire tracking info began in ’08.

These improvements have stretched into the postseason, too. During the 2008 postseason (including the Phillies-Rays World Series), the league average umpire accrued a correct-call rate of 84.6%, juxtaposed to 88.6% last season — mainly due to an out-of-zone called strike rate decrease of 2.1% over that span (11.1% OOZ ClStk% in ’08 versus 9.0% in ’13).

What do these decreasing OOZ called strike rates look like?

Comparing regular-season called strike rate heat maps since 2008

As we can see, the league average umpires’ strike zone has shrunken considerably over the past six seasons. Think that has an effect on a pitcher’s approach? You bet. Due to the lack of calls they’re receiving by umpires, pitchers are focusing in on throwing more ballsin the zone, which is evidenced by an increase in zone rate from 48.6% in 2008 to 49.4% last season and an increasing strike rate (strikes plus balls hit in play) from 62.5% in ’08 to 63.6%.

These increases may seem insignificant, but note that there is a strong correlation between zone rate and in play rate; the more pitches you throw in the zone, the more likely batters are to put those pitches in play.

Which batters and pitchers are most affected by umpires’ shriveling strike zone?

Both righty and lefty hurlers and batters have been affected, but some have been more so than others. Right-handed pitchers have witnessed a 1.5% OOZ called strike rate decrease since 2008 compared to the near identical 1.6% decline for southpaws.

Hitters’ zones have seen more fluctuation in this respect, however. Right-handed batters’ OOZ called strike rate has shrunk 2.0% since ’08 while lefties’ have cut back by 2.4 percent. As for batter-pitcher matchups, it seems that right-handed pitchers and left-handed batters have been most influenced, as umps have called OOZ called strikes 2.5% less since ’08 (2.3% decrease for RHP vs. RHB; 2.1% for LHP vs. LHP;1.4% for LHP vs. RHB).

With this in mind, it seems as though home plate umpires are getting unquestionably better at calling balls and strikes, even in an age where each pitch and subsequent call can be put into question not only in the regular season, but in the postseason, where umpires’ jobs are scrutinized even further. This has directly affected pitchers’ plan of attack against opposing batters, recognizing that stretching the outer and inner corners isn’t working as frequently as it once did.

Expanded replay and challenging rules this season will help the improve the game, especially in situations like this.

But for balls and strikes?

Instant replay can wait. Umps have never been better.

Wednesday
Feb122014

Lefties Lay Off Rodney's Fastball/Changeup Combo

Excluding a select few bullpen iron men  like Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman, relievers just aren't built for sustained excellence. Their job -- hurling max-effort pitches, logging what amounts to two months' worth of innings for a starter -- is inherently volatile. Some 'pen arms manage to dominate for a decade-plus, avoiding injury and bad bounces that balloon ERAs, but many more devolve from relief ace to dud quicker than you can say "Derrick Turnbow."

Fernando Rodney hasn't quite fallen to such depths -- he just landed a two-year, $14 million contract from the Mariners, after all. But he's nonetheless a prime example of how transient the "relief ace" label can be. The changeup artist was considered a chronic underachiever entering the 2012 season, posting a career park-and-league-adjusted ERA just one percent above average (101 ERA+) and issuing 4.9 walks per nine innings pitched. Then Rodney, in his mid-thirties, suddenly became an arrow-slinging assassin. He walked a mere 1.8 hitters per nine for Tampa Bay in 2012, with the best single-season ERA+ (638) ever for a reliever working 60-plus frames. After a decade of disappointment, Rodney turned in a year that made Dennis Eckersley's fabled 1990 campaign (603 ERA+) look tame.

Was Rodney a changed man? Apparently not. While no one should have expected a repeat performance of 2012, he was pretty much the same strike zone-challenged pitcher who unnerved fans in Detroit and L.A. for a decade (4.9 BB/9, 113 ERA+ with Tampa in 2013). Left-handed batters proved especially troublesome. While lefties took wild swings against his fastball/changeup combo during his banner 2012, they learned to lay off and trot to first base in 2013.

Rodney enticed lefties to chase his pitches 38.9 percent of the time in 2012, blowing away the 28 percent average for righty relievers against opposite-handed batters and trailing only Red Sox teammates Koji Uehara (48.3 percent) and Junichi Tazawa (39.4 percent) among American League firemen. In 2013, though? Rodney baited lefty hitters 31.3 percent of the time, which matches his overall lefty chase rate during the Pitch F/X era (2008-present).

What changed? Lefties stopped bailing Rodney out by swinging at pitches so far off the outside corner that they'd need a telephone pole to make contact. Check out lefties' swing rate by pitch location versus Rodney's fastball over the past two seasons, and then against his changeup.

Fastball 

Lefties' swing rate vs. Rodney's fastball, 2012

Lefties' swing rate vs. Rodney's fastball, 2013

Changeup

Lefties' swing rate vs. Rodney's changeup, 2012

Lefties' swing rate vs. Rodney's changeup, 2013

Rodney's fastball chase rate against lefties dipped from 33.7 percent in 2012 to 24.7 percent this past season. That's awfully close to his overall 26.8 percent fastball chase rate versus left-handers during the Pitch F/X era. He also got fewer chases on the changeup: 47 percent in 2012, and 39.7 percent in 2013. His changeup chase rate against lefties since '08? 39.1 percent. With lefties showing more typical plate patience against him, Rodney surrendered a free pass to 15.2  percent of batters faced after walking lefties just 6.3 percent the previous season. Lefties reached base at a .363 clip, after being held to a .222 OBP in 2012.

Rodney will always have 2012, but he doesn't appear to be a fundamentally different pitcher than the guy who gave Jim Leyland and Mike Scioscia heart palpitations for years. Unless lefties do him a favor by lunging at unhittable, off-the-plate pitches, Seattle's new crooked-capped closer figures to keep walking the yard.

Tuesday
Aug272013

Verlander's Fastball Losing Favor with Umps

Justin Verlander's fastball has been a hot topic, as the once-untouchable offering has gradually lost some zip (his average fastball velocity had dropped from 95 MPH in 2011 to 94.6 MPH in 2012 and 93.9 MPH in 2013) and been lashed into the gaps more often (batters slugged .358 in '11, .389 in '12 and .442 in '13). One little-discussed aspect of Verlander's fastball woes is that he's not getting as many called strikes on heaters thrown outside of the strike zone. That, in turn, is leading to more free passes for opposing hitters.

A few years ago, umps were quite generous to Verlander when batters took a fastball located off the plate. Verlander's called strike rate on fastballs thrown out of the strike zone was 16.4 percent in 2011, well above the 12 percent major league average for right-handed starting pitchers. Among righty starters, only Livan Hernandez, Doug Fister, Shaun Marcum, Ryan Vogelsong, Dan Haren, Colby Lewis and Roy Halladay got more calls on out-of-zone fastballs.

Since then, Verlander hasn't been so fortunate. His called strike rate on out-of-zone fastballs fell to 15.1 percent in 2012, and sits at a league average 11.9 percent so far in 2013. The main difference is on arm-side fastballs -- umps aren't calling as many strikes on pitches thrown well inside to righty batters, or off the outside corner to lefties.

Verlander's called strike rate on out-of-zone fastballs, 2011

 

Verlander's called strike rate on out-of-zone fastballs, 2012

 

Verlander's called strike rate on out-of-zone fastballs, 2013

Verlander's declining called strike rate on out-of-zone fastballs is made more puzzling by his decline in velocity. In general, there's an inverse relationship between fastball velocity and called strike rate on out-of-zone fastballs -- the slower you throw, the more called strikes you get. Out-of-zone fastballs thrown by righty starting pitchers between 90-92 MPH, for example, have a called strike rate of 12.4 percent over the past three years. That called strike rate dips to 11 percent for fastballs thrown between 93-94 MPH, and just 8.4 percent for fastballs thrown 95 MPH or harder. You'd think that a softer-tossing Verlander would get more called strikes, not fewer.

While the change in Verlander's called strike rate on fastballs thrown off the plate might not seem huge, those extra balls do add up. The difference between his 2011 and 2013 called strike rates on out-of-zone fastballs amounts to 20 additional balls thrown, which partially explains why his walk rate has climbed in recent years (from 5.9 percent of batters faced in 2011 to 6.3 percent in 2012 and 8.3 percent in 2013). When Verlander toes the rubber against the A's tonight, keep an eye on his off-the-plate heat -- the ump's generosity could be the difference between strike three and ball four.