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Saturday, May 03, 2014

BtBS: Does the strike zone shrink in later innings?

John Smoltz suggested last week that the strike zone shrinks in the late innings. Is he right? [.

I never trust anything I see on Twitter (or the Internet, for that matter) without checking out the bona fides of the party involved, and after a rigorous vetting process, determined the tweeter involved could be trusted—indeed, they appear to be a stunningly bright group of men and women at the forefront of sabermetric research, but I digress. It poses a legitimate question, and the data exists to check the veracity of the statement.

Before showing the data, it’s important to draw an important distinction. When John Smoltz shaves, he loses more baseball knowledge than I’ll ever possess in my lifetime. In testing questions like this, my purpose isn’t to demean someone or show off my vast knowledge as much as check if the facts line up with the statement. There will never be an instance when my opinion should be given greater weight that John Smoltz’s.

http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2014/5/1/5668626/john-smoltz-strike-zone-baseball-pitchfx

bobm Posted: May 03, 2014 at 09:19 PM | 9 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: john smoltz, strike zone

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   1. boteman Posted: May 04, 2014 at 08:38 AM (#4699904)
tl;dr No, the calls are consistent across all innings of all games taken in aggregate since 2008. About 33% of pitches outside the strike zone are called strikes when they should be called balls.

Interestingly, there are much more egregious errors left and right of the strike zone than there are above and below the zone.
I expected the opposite since it's tougher to see especially the bottom border of the strike zone the way most umpires position themselves. I would have expected the inside and outside edges to be fairly accurate. I guess they want to speed the game along.
   2. Cblau Posted: May 04, 2014 at 08:49 PM (#4700117)
Trouble is, Smoltz claimed it happened in close games, and the research doesn't address that. The data used are for all games, and the tightened strike zone in close games could be offset by an expanded zone in other games.
   3. cardsfanboy Posted: May 04, 2014 at 09:09 PM (#4700130)
Trouble is, Smoltz claimed it happened in close games, and the research doesn't address that. The data used are for all games, and the tightened strike zone in close games could be offset by an expanded zone in other games.


Exactly, I've seen announcers mention in blowouts, that the umpire is going to expand the zone to speed up the game. It's very probable that the opposite happens, in which the umpire is trying to avoid having the call determine the outcome of the game (see NHL refs and lack of whistles in the post season for another example of this phenomenon)


   4. Greg K Posted: May 04, 2014 at 09:31 PM (#4700136)
Interestingly, there are much more egregious errors left and right of the strike zone than there are above and below the zone.
I expected the opposite since it's tougher to see especially the bottom border of the strike zone the way most umpires position themselves. I would have expected the inside and outside edges to be fairly accurate. I guess they want to speed the game along.

One thing that may be influencing things is framing. When a catcher wins or loses a strike for his pitcher I get the sense that it's usually inside or outside, not high or low. Though that could be wrong.
   5. Walt Davis Posted: May 05, 2014 at 12:14 AM (#4700182)
With 1-inning high-leverage relievers toting K/9 rates of 12, we're worrying that the strike zone in late, close situations is too small?

Anyway, K/PA rates are lower in high leverage for AL 2014 although as always it's a complicated picture -- more BB in exchange for a bit less power, especially HR.

high 260/339/395, 9.8% BB, 20.3% K, 2.0% HR
med 256/328/396, 8.9% BB, 19.7% K, 2.2% HR
low 253/322/402, 8.4% BB, 20.6% K, 2.5% HR

Those are pretty trivial, especially high vs. med. And most of that is IBB (1% in high, 3-4 times the others) -- issue IBB at the same rate in those two scenarios and the high walk rate is down to 9.2 while K rate is up to 20.5.

It's only 2014 data but is is about 17,000 PA already, 3500 in the high situation. For those who like it "late and close"

254/341/380, 10.9% BB, 21.8% K, 1.9% HR, 1.2% IBB rate. Bit more of a difference here and even the adjusted walk rate is pushing 10% but the K-rate is higher and the HR rate lower.

Doesn't mean umps aren't squeezing. But most likely means that Smoltz felt like he didn't get the calls as a closer that he got as a starter.
   6. Scott Lange Posted: May 05, 2014 at 07:17 AM (#4700198)
In addition to the problem in #2, another problem is that Smoltz could've been speaking figuratively. I've heard basketball players say that the diameter of the rim shrinks, or the distance from the free throw line to the rim expands, in pressure situations. I don't think they mean it literally.
   7. Sunday silence Posted: May 05, 2014 at 10:14 AM (#4700235)

Those are pretty trivial, especially high vs. med.


I agree w/ your general pt. about closers and strike outs. But I am not sure those numbers are trivial. For instance since bat avg as well as reach on error increases with men on base doesnt this call into question the accepted linear weights of singles, doubles, etc?

if hits are occurring in bunches (well statistically they are slightly more bunched) then that means their value for scoring a run is greater than if they occur at a rate that never changes.
   8. Danny Posted: May 05, 2014 at 11:37 AM (#4700317)
Those two quoted paragraphs are cringe-inducing.
   9. Walt Davis Posted: May 05, 2014 at 06:04 PM (#4700671)
#7 I'm not sure I follow but I'll try ...

The BA diff between high and low is 4 hits per 1000 AB or about 3.6 hits per 1000 PA. There have so far been 3500 high PA so that's about 13 more hits.

On the other hand, the HR/PA is 2 per 1000 PA in the favor of "high" so that's 7 fewer HR. I think I'll take that trade. Question is how the IBB play into it.

Does the value of a hit vary on context. Of course it does. But until it can be established that certain hitters perform better in certain contexts, there's no reason to move away from the standard linear weights.

So sure, the 260/360/395 line in high is doing more damage than the exact same line would do in med -- that's just the definition of leverage. What that says about the strike zone or the quality of pitching is beyond me. But note that the "late and close" numbers are quite different than the "high" numbers. BA and ISO are both well down late and close and clearly some walks are (intended to be) strategic.

The other high leverage situations I assume must be something like 5th inning of a tie game, a couple of guys on.

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