Should pitchers be going up the ladder on low-power hitters or is that a danger zone?
The game of baseball moves like ivy, spreading upwards and outwards toward opportunity, consistent and chaotic. There are times in this growth where it tangles with itself, spins into contradictions. For years it drove managers to madness when their pitchers walked batters, and yet the batters themselves were encouraged by the same coaches to put the ball in play, show enough courage to take the bat off the shoulder. That seeming inequality grew as a consequence of a different priority, the valor of the productive out, available to the hitter and not his opponent.
As the culture of the game slowly grew to accept the walk and its benefits, another bias lingered: the idea that ground balls were beneficial to pitchers, while opposing hitters were often taught to swing downward on the ball and achieve that exact same result. The same cultural preference, of the ball in play (especially that vaunted achievement, the grounder to the right side with the runner on second), also promoted this strangely inconsistent set of philosophies. But batted-ball data and research has proven the benefits of not only swinging for line drives, but even putting the ball in the air compared to the grounder so long thought superior.
Moving the strike zone up seems a simple, elegant solution to what ails offense. But won't anybody think of the unintended consequences!?
Last week, Major League Baseball announced a proposed change to the strike zone. In response to a zone that continued to sag downward, MLB’s competition committee has recommended that the definition of the bottom boundary of the strike zone be changed from the hollow under the kneecap to the top of the knee. It doesn’t seem like much. That’s maybe two inches of space, although the actual called strike zone has always differed somewhat from the rulebook strike zone, but if the changes are put into effect for 2017, then pitchers might be feeling a little more squeezed next year.
From time to time, we’ll hear that a hitter was called out on strikes on a pitch that was “too close to take.” This statement implies that the pitch wasn’t a strike, but that it had a shot at being called one.
Searching for evidence of the existence of the make-up call.
On June 5th, 2013, Mike Aviles came up to bat in the top of the ninth with his Indians trailing the Yankees by two runs. With Joe Girardi watching anxiously and Mariano Rivera warming in the bullpen, CC Sabathia was working hard to go the distance. Sabathia had been roughed up a bit, but he was commanding his fastball well. He had managed to keep the complete game in reach by allowing only one walk and striking out eight hitters through as many innings.
Breaking down the zone profiles of some of baseball's best pitchers.
The Minnesota Twins have earned a reputation over the years for their general preference toward “strike-throwing” pitchers who are adept at avoiding free passes, and the recent signings of Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes only reinforce that idea. Nolasco has maintained a walk rate between 4.8 and 5.7 percent in each of the past six seasons, and Hughes has kept his at six percent over the past two seasons combined. Both pitchers have been vulnerable to hard contact, manifested in higher-than-average rates of hits and homers allowed, and the combination of box-score stats paints the picture that they spend a lot of time within the strike zone. But does the PITCHf/x data support that notion?
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Incontroveritable evidence that the Brewers starter did get his grump on yesterday afternoon.
Yesterday afternoon, Kyle Lohse lost to the Cubs, giving up three runs on seven hits over five innings. All of the runs were scored on homers, the more damaging and game-winning of which was a two-run shot by Nate Schierholtz in the third. That homer, which was hit on 3-1, followed three straight pitches that Lohse probably felt he deserved to get. Home plate umpire Chad Fairchild felt otherwise.
Which factors affect the size and shape of the called strike zone?
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Gary penned an early, pre-PITCHf/x plea for robot umpires in the piece reprinted below, which was originally published as a "6-4-3" column on March 15, 2002.
Now, whenever I go to the ballpark just to watch a game and the maniac next to me in the upper deck is screaming bloody murder at the home plate ump, I think: This is someone who has never umpired; this is someone who has never come upon the sudden understanding that the strike zone is malleable by the mind, that every pitch is a puzzle, that just about every ball has strikelike qualities and almost every strike is ballish. —Bruce Weber, As They See ’Em: A Fan’s Travels In The Land Of Umpires
Over the years, I’ve read a lot of proofs Rob Neyer has written that I could never find again, that were tucked into longer pieces or chapters, that elude search engines or scans of his online archives, but that I have gone back to so many times in conversation and thought that they stay with me. One of these proofs was about the flimsiness of the Human Element argument, the case against instant replay that praises umpire error as a loveable quirk of the game, like Tal’s Hill or pitchers batting. Fine, Neyer said, it’s a quirk. But who’s to say that we have exactly the right amount of human element? Why not more? Why not hire only umpires with bad vision, and refuse them glasses, if the human element is so good?
A few weeks ago, during the division series, Brandon McCarthyremarked on Twitter that it would be more interesting for TBS to show a diagram of the batter hot and cold zones for every batter than to show the PitchTrax strike zone and pitch location graphic. He argued that knowledge of the hot and cold zones would give viewers additional insight into the battle between the pitcher and the batter.
Is the traditional strike-ball dichotomy too simplistic?
Believe it or not, most of our writers didn't enter the world sporting an @baseballprospectus.com address; with a few exceptions, they started out somewhere else. In an effort to up your reading pleasure while tipping our caps to some of the most illuminating work being done elsewhere on the internet, we'll be yielding the stage once a week to the best and brightest baseball writers, researchers and thinkers from outside of the BP umbrella. If you'd like to nominate a guest contributor (including yourself), please drop us a line.
Matt Lentzner has carved out a (very) small niche in the baseball analysis world by examining the intersection of physics and biomechanics. He has presented at the PITCHf/x conference in each of the last two years and has written articles for The Hardball Times, as well as a previous article for Baseball Prospectus. When he’s not writing, Matt works on his physics-based baseball simulator, which is so awesome and all-encompassing that it will likely never actually be finished, though it does provide the inspiration for most of his articles and presentations. In real life, he’s an IT Director at a small financial consulting company in the Silicon Valley and also runs a physical training gym in his backyard on the weekends.