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Matt dissects a Jose Altuve commercial, Craig dissects a Jered Weaver tweet, and Mary unmasks the robots behind the plate.

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October 15, 2014 6:00 am

Moonshot: The Victims of a Bad Strike Zone


Robert Arthur

When umpires don't call balls and strikes the way we expect them to, who suffers?

One of the emerging storylines of the postseason so far has been inconsistency in the strike zone. That’s not unique to this postseason, of course; every year sees its share of poor calls, and the effect of those calls is magnified when so much is on the line. Whereas a missed strike may be objectionable in the regular season, it can (at worst) alter the outcome of one game out of 162. Missed calls in the postseason, on the other hand, can end seasons.

As a result, every bad call an umpire makes is scrutinized to a much greater degree. When an umpire’s zone is off—poorly defined, or merely inconsistent—whole legions of fans can flood the internet with vitriol. Generally, an umpire who’s doing a bad job of calling balls and strikes won’t favor the fortunes of one team or the other. But it is frustrating, as a fan, to see a beleaguered slugger’s bat taken out of the game on a borderline call, as happened to Matt Kemp recently.

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The staff has some recommendations to bolster rules enforcement and call accuracy in Major League Baseball.

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June 13, 2013 5:00 am

Skewed Left: Bayes and the Hit By Pitch


Zachary Levine

Ian Kennedy, Zack Greinke, and the probabilistic approach to determining intention.

When home plate umpire Clint Fagan made the decision not to eject Zack Greinke for hitting Miguel Montero with a pitch, and a subsequent decision to eject Ian Kennedy for hitting Greinke with a pitch, he was answering a couple of probability questions that umpires and eventually Major League Baseball will have to face.

It’s not a question of whether the hit by pitch was intentional or not. You’re never able to answer that question. The probability that the act was intentional from the point of view of the umpire/disciplinarian is never 0, even on the most innocuous-looking play, and it’s pretty much never unless Cole Hamels is just begging for a suspension.

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May 10, 2013 8:45 am

Overthinking It: Where the Value of Robot Umpires Ends


Ben Lindbergh

Robots aren't a realistic solution for all of umpires' ills.

The building I grew up in had manually operated elevators. They were quaint prewar contraptions that required an attendant to slide a metal screen across the entrance and a pull a hand crank to start the ascent and stop at the desired destination. (They looked a little like this.) When you got to your floor, you felt like you’d earned it. Or you would have, if not for the person paid to take you up and down.

Those elevators had been there as long as the building, so they had tradition and inertia on their side. And most of the time, they did the job as well as a more modern elevator. But they had a tendency to get stuck between floors, they broke down fairly frequently, and they were expensive to service. Eventually, it became clear that to complete another repair would only postpone the inevitable at additional cost, and the manually operated elevators were replaced by the boring kind with buttons. I don’t remember any outcry about preserving the historic human element of the elevators, probably because by that point the would-be preservationists were sick of climbing stairs.

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We all want to see more plays called correctly, but altering the existing umpiring system could have unintended consequences.

The subject of instant replay is once again in the hearts and minds and throats and fingers of our nation’s baseball commentators, spurred on by the existence of actual news on the subject:

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October 2, 2007 12:00 am

Prospectus Today: The Men in Black Attack


Joe Sheehan

A great ballgame was marred only by the predictable failures of last night's umpiring crew.

I've been anticipating that bad umpiring would become a big story in the 2007 postseason, given the degradation in performance and decorum we've seen over the past couple of years. What I didn't expect was that the umpires wouldn't wait until the postseason to make themselves the story.

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June 4, 2007 12:00 am

Watching the Detectives


Mike Carminati

Kicking off a series of historical investigations on the impact of different umpires.

"Despite all the nasty things I have said about umpires, I think they're one-hundred percent honest, but I can't for the life of me figure out how they arrive at some of their decisions."
-A's manager Jimmy Dykes

"What the detective story is about is not murder but the restoration of order."
-Mystery writer Phyllis Dorothy "P.D." James

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May 3, 2003 12:00 am

Behind the Mask Q&A


Jason Grady

Jim Evans broke into Major League Baseball in 1972 as the youngest umpire ever at age 23. His career spanned 28 seasons, including 18 as a crew chief. He umpired four World Series, eight League Championship Series, three All-Star games, and was the plate umpire for Nolan Ryan's first no-hitter. Currently, Jim is the owner and chief instructor of the leading professional umpire-training academy, the Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring, founded in 1989. He recently chatted with BP about his career in the bigs, the intricacies of the rule book, and a few dustups with ornery managers.

Baseball Prospectus: How did you get started as an umpire? What drew you to that career?

Jim Evans: As a youngster, I played in Little League, Pony League, and all sorts of amateur baseball programs growing up. I was a catcher and got to know the umpires pretty well. I was very curious and was always asking lots of questions. When I was 14, I played in a summer league. One night the chief umpire asked me if I would like to try umpiring. There was a Little League tournament coming up and he needed more umpires than he had. Since I was a catcher, he figured I had a pretty good idea of the strike zone. That first Saturday I ever umpired, I worked five games and loved every minute of it. The managers thought I had a good strike zone and the players liked the way I hustled. Looking back on those games, I probably hustled out of position as much as I hustled into position since I really never had any real training. I was working on instincts alone. My first experiences umpiring were very positive and the $3 a game were icing on the cake. I was still playing two nights a week. With encouragement from the chief umpire, I started umpiring the nights I wasn't playing. I reached the point where I actually enjoyed the umpiring more than playing.

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I was thinking about writing about stupid umpiring decisions, having watched Dan Iassogna make an egregious error in judgment yesterday in the Reds/Dodgers game, but Rob Neyer beat me to that one as well. Suffice to say that Eric Gagne should not have been ejected.

I really did intend to write about the Angels, but between Shane Demmitt's piece here at BP and Rich Rifkin's recent analysis, I don't know what I can add. The Halos are playing good baseball right now, and have to be taken seriously in the five-team scrum for three playoff spots. They do a great job of preventing runs, and as Demmitt points out, are a unique team offensively.

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