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Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Ball? Strike? It Depends: Is the Pitcher an All-Star?

They would rather not talk about it, but umpires may be just as star-struck as the average baseball fan.

Two researchers looked at the photographic evidence and found that umpires make more errors in favor of All-Star pitchers than pitchers who have never been selected for an All-Star Game — about 17 percent more.

This is a subject umpires are naturally hesitant to discuss….

But the science exists, for anyone who wants to look at it. Every major league stadium is equipped with the Pitch f/x system, which includes strategically placed cameras that record the locations and trajectories of every pitch. The technology provides a record that is difficult to dispute. In the seasons the study covered, 2008 and 2009, umpires earned a B-plus average, at best, in calling balls and strikes.

The researchers — two business school professors, Jerry W. Kim of Columbia Business School and Brayden G. King of Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management — looked at data on 756,848 pitches over 313,774 at-bats in 4,914 games. Some umpires were, unsurprisingly, more accurate than others, but on average they called a strike on 18.8 percent of pitches that were actually out of the strike zone and a ball on 12.9 percent of pitches that were, in fact, strikes.

Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: July 08, 2014 at 07:33 AM | 3 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: umpiring

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   1. Joyful Calculus Instructor Posted: July 08, 2014 at 12:23 PM (#4746067)
Or could it be that the causation is reversed: Pitchers who throw pitches that look like strikes but are actually out of the strike zone are more likely to become all stars. Given that such a skill would be very useful as a pitcher, this would make sense.
   2. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: July 08, 2014 at 12:49 PM (#4746100)
Some umpires were, unsurprisingly, more accurate than others, but on average they called a strike on 18.8 percent of pitches that were actually out of the strike zone and a ball on 12.9 percent of pitches that were, in fact, strikes.


And so the solution is naturally to let them keep doing this while they instigate replay for the 1% of plays on the bases that get called wrong.
   3. Walt Davis Posted: July 08, 2014 at 06:06 PM (#4746545)
But the science exists

As #1 sort of hints -- this is not science!

This is two guys adding up numbers ... which is fine although we don't need Business profs to tell use proportion of in/out calls, that's what fangraphs, etc. are for. Beyond that they seem to have done no more than simple "hey, let's compare the means of two groups."

Science is "why". They might speculate why but they have no evidence of why. And it almost surely isn't "all-star" that was just a convenient and independent measure of "quality" and "star." And the chicken-egg problem. And how did they define "error"? Was it a simple and lazy "yes/no" -- called a ball a strike regardless of how far outside the zone the pitch was?

There are zones where basically every pitch is gonna be called a strike and zones where basically every pitch is gonna be called a ball. The rest are the gray areas. Good pitchers live in the gray areas, bad pitchers will have a wider distribution of locations. If they haven't accounted for that then their finding is empty.

If half of a pitcher's balls are in a gray area then, sure, he's probably gonna get 25-30% of his balls called strikes. If only 1/4 of a pitcher's balls are in a gray area, he's probably only gonna get 10-15% of his balls called strikes.

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