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Wednesday, January 05, 2022

An Illustrated Guide of Missed Strike Calls

The Stab
A classic as old as our appreciation of framing. If you want to present a pitch as a strike, a still glove is key. This one was a strike, and it wasn’t a cross up; it was just Daulton Varsho making a mess out of a pitch he had to know was coming:

Did Jean Segura’s half-hearted bunt attempt throw him off his mechanics, or perhaps confuse the umpire’s sense of the bottom of the zone? Maybe! For a call like this to get missed, something has to go really wrong. That pitch was six inches above the bottom of the zone, squarely in not-even-close-to-a-ball territory. The worst part of this one is that it would have been easily avoided. J.B. Wendelken didn’t miss the target by much. If Varsho had kept his glove down the whole time rather than first pulling it up and then recovering back down, I’m fairly certain this would have been called a strike.

This isn’t the most exaggerated stab you’ll see. That motion, though – reaching down for the ball with the glove – just looks like a ball. It wasn’t a ball, of course. We have the luxury of the white strike zone box – and exact three-dimensional coordinates – but between that dipping motion and the bunt attempt, it was simply a missed call. Usually, umpires get these right. Stab often enough as a catcher, though, and you’ll lose strikes. There’s a reason Varsho grades out as indifferent at best with the glove. It’s not this pitch in particular, but it’s an accumulation of things like this pitch.

 

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: January 05, 2022 at 02:32 PM | 18 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: strike zone, umpires

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   1. John DiFool2 Posted: January 05, 2022 at 04:43 PM (#6059780)
I guess the implication of these videos (and all of that framing stuff which makes Yadier Molina look so good) is that umps can be easily mislead if not impelled to change their call based on what the catcher does (or doesn't do). In a vacuum in other words (imagining myself as an ump) I WOULDN'T CARE what the catcher does, because I would have already made up my mind as the pitch crossed the plate.

But we all are well aware of umps with extremely delayed strike calls while the hitter assumes he got a walk, then up comes the arm as the hitter is already well on his way to first.

The other thing is (I guess) umps are taught to never move their heads one tiny inch. Except doing so you would think would improve their 3D impression of the pitch's path through the zone, as well as being able to track whether it crossed the corners or not (as in moving your head to match the pitch's path inside or outside). In one of the clips in the FG article (4th one, with Jonah Heim) one ump is set up like a foot inside of the inside corner; I simply can't see how he could ever have the slightest clue about whether it crossed the outside corner or not (where he apparently thought it didn't). Wouldn't he have a much better idea if he moved his head to his left as he tracked the incoming pitch? I guess they can't allow the catcher's head to block their view tho.

Input from those out there who have umped (at whatever level) is welcome.
   2. Jose Has Absurd Goosebump Arms Posted: January 05, 2022 at 05:03 PM (#6059788)
Input from those out there who have umped (at whatever level) is welcome.


Well, you asked....I umped a long time ago at the youth level. Now as a coach I occasionally do it for scrimmages or in practice. Anyway, I wouldn't want to be moving my head to try and track a ball because I'm focused on it. When you are concentrating on something it's easier if you remain still. Also if you are moving you run the risk of being fooled like the hitter though of course we see umps get fooled now too.

I think your first point is both good and entirely wrong. Obviously you'd WANT to ignore what the catcher does but it's human nature to react to all the stimuli around us. I'll tell you one I see all the time in youth baseball. Catchers inevitably set up too deep at that age. The pitcher throws a perfect strike at the knees but it bounces because the catcher is a foot deeper than he should be. That gets called a ball every single time. It's not the right call but I get it. I have no doubt that MLB umpires run into something fairly similar.

On the issue of setting up on the inside corner that's always what I was taught. It's really not that tough to cover the outside corner. In theory you are up above the catcher so any pitch that is potentially a strike on the outside corner you are looking down on it and with the 17 inch wide plate you aren't that far off. You can see it pretty clearly. I'd rather try and see it from there than have to adjust my field of vision by shifting my body to look in the ever so brief time the pitch takes to get to home plate.

It's a very very very tough job. I've done it enough to say that with confidence. I think on the whole the umpiring at the MLB level is far superior to the officiating in other sports. That's not to say it's perfect but I think MLB umps influence games far less than officials in other sports. If you believe what umpscorecards.com says then the "luckiest" team got about 2 extra wins and the most "unlucky" team got about 2 fewer wins based on ump calls. More importantly to me 18 of the 30 teams had an impact of less than one win due to ball/strike calls.

If you are still reading I will say I heartily encourage the 10-12 year olds I coach to ump when they turn 13 and are allowed to. It's a fun way to make some money and you get an appreciation for how tough it is and what goes into it. The whole "walk a mile in another man's shoes" bit is helpful to know what umps are going to do.
   3. Jack Sommers Posted: January 05, 2022 at 07:13 PM (#6059817)
Framing Runs from baseball savant/statcast

Min 1000 pitches called, 59 catchers

Yadi not looking great in this metric





   4. The Duke Posted: January 05, 2022 at 10:43 PM (#6059859)
I ended up catching for two years (transitioned from SS of all places). I loved chatting with the ump over the course of the game. It’s a tight community being inches from someone for seven innings. When I first started, I wasn’t very good at calling games. I told the ump I was new to the business and didn’t exactly know what I was doing in terms of calling a game. About the third inning the ump starts tapping my shoulder once, twice or three times (fastball, curve, change up). It was great - I learned how to call a game that day. The ump never said a word and at the end of the game I just tipped my mask and walked off. He be called them all fair -I didn’t get any gimmees. Another guy was a former catcher and he would help me between innings on how to improve my stance to block pitches (this of course was in his best interest).
   5. Howie Menckel Posted: January 05, 2022 at 11:34 PM (#6059863)
I continue to wonder how a catcher who is at the top in terms of framing/stealing calls can be at the top of that category in consecutive MLB years.

I mean, if I was an ump not in the highest tier, I think I'd be worried if a few Houdinis might make me lose my livelihood. if so, why on Earth would you give that catcher the punch-out on the exact corner of the plate that he duped you on in the previous season?

seems a little like a poker "tell" - if I am on the fence for a moment about that corner, now I know that he is bluffing - so I call the pitch a ball next year, and the C's "frame rate" drops while my rating is liable to rise.
   6. Bhaakon Posted: January 06, 2022 at 02:22 AM (#6059874)
If umpires just start randomly tossing in more ball calls when they're not sure about the pitch and the catcher has a good framing reputation, that's still going to result in a poor rating because the pitches are evaluated individually and more balls randomly thrown in to the mix would just result in more individual blow calls even if the overall bias was counteracted. If they make a concerted effort to only do that on truly borderline calls, well, they'd probably fail. Slight biases are notoriously difficult to excise.

Besides, it seems to me that good framing is less about being some magician stealing strikes by slight of hand and more about just having the equivalent of a stone-cold poker face and forcing the umpire to rely more completely on their own judgement. You just don't give an indecisive umpire some nugget of extraneous information to based his guess on, which naturally results in more strike calls because the extra nuggets of information almost always makes the pitch look worse than it was.
   7. SoSH U at work Posted: January 06, 2022 at 08:22 AM (#6059877)
Besides, it seems to me that good framing is less about being some magician stealing strikes by slight of hand and more about just having the equivalent of a stone-cold poker face and forcing the umpire to rely more completely on their own judgement. You just don't give an indecisive umpire some nugget of extraneous information to based his guess on, which naturally results in more strike calls because the extra nuggets of information almost always makes the pitch look worse than it was.


Yes, good framing is about catching the ball quietly (the opposite of the stab), or the pitcher hitting the target. If you set up two inches off the zone and the pitcher puts it right there (the way Livan excelled at even without Eric Gregg's NLCS lunacy), you're going to get more strikes. Conversely, if the catcher is setting up on the inside corner and the pitcher throws a strike on the outside corner, the catcher's movement across the zone is going to lose it more often than not. I think it would be very hard for an umpire to say to himself, "this guy gets a lot of undeserved strikes, I'm going to correct for that" as Howie suggests.
   8. DL from MN Posted: January 06, 2022 at 09:25 AM (#6059886)
Runs From Extra Strikes converts strikes to runs saved on a .125 run/strike basis


I still have no idea whether this is reasonable. I still think the biggest effect is when the framed pitch is strike three / ball four. I don't think a catcher should get credit for stealing strike one in an at-bat that ends with a dinger, for example.
   9. villageidiom Posted: January 06, 2022 at 11:00 AM (#6059904)
I still have no idea whether this is reasonable. I still think the biggest effect is when the framed pitch is strike three / ball four. I don't think a catcher should get credit for stealing strike one in an at-bat that ends with a dinger, for example.
I could see an argument that every additional strike is, absent other PA context, worth roughly one-third the value of a strikeout. I don't see the argument that we should credit just the catcher, when the pitcher put the ball in a frame-able spot. Likewise, I don't see the argument that we should credit the catcher free of PA context. A pitcher who throws 60 called strikes in a game is not credited as having achieved 20 strikeouts. If he gets shelled he gets credit for having gotten shelled, and it doesn't really matter that he got a lot of called strikes along the way.
   10. villageidiom Posted: January 06, 2022 at 11:29 AM (#6059915)
Having said all that, I wouldn't mind if we value players on a finer level than PA outcomes. I'm just saying we shouldn't be doing it for one group of players and not for other groups of players.
   11. DL from MN Posted: January 06, 2022 at 11:44 AM (#6059920)
Is the value symmetrical strike/ball as it is ball/strike? 3 strikes vs 4 balls makes me wonder if it is not as bad to lose a strike as it helps to gain one. A walk is .55 runs more than an out but we're giving the catcher credit for .375 runs if he steals 3 strikes in an at-bat? That would make the catcher more responsible for the outcome than the pitcher.
   12. A triple short of the cycle Posted: January 06, 2022 at 05:21 PM (#6060031)
Somewhat apropos - One of many favorite things about watching baseball (on video) is seeing just how far the catcher has to move his glove from the target location to catch each pitch. Just immediately tells you what type of control the pitcher has. Especially on home runs the pitcher often misses location badly.

EDIT: I am a simple man with simple pleasures.
   13. villageidiom Posted: January 06, 2022 at 09:13 PM (#6060094)
A walk is .55 runs more than an out but we're giving the catcher credit for .375 runs if he steals 3 strikes in an at-bat? That would make the catcher more responsible for the outcome than the pitcher.
The pitcher gets credit for a K if the outcome is a K. But the catcher is also given credit for the equivalent of a K if he frames those 3 strikes. That alone is a problem.

I mean, every outcome is a product of equal and opposite work by the offense and the defense. A pitcher strikes out a batter; the batter failed to put the ball in play. Everything is in balance. If we just look at defense there's one outcome, and credit should be apportioned for it among the defensive team players in a way that achieves balance. That is, the credit for an outcome should total 100% for the defense. Catcher framing is the only case where balance is cast aside, and credit for an outcome can be more than 100%.

Most of baseball defensive statistics are still outcome-based. If they are action-based I think we can get to something more descriptive of each player's contribution to the outcomes. On offense we're starting to move in that direction, recognizing the actions a batter takes will contribute to outcomes. Things like launch angle, exit velocity, etc., are getting at the actions/behaviors associated with batting success. You could develop offensive production stats based just on that stuff rather than home runs or OBP or whatever. It's a further neutralization of context. On defense we're getting there, too, with sprint speed and route efficiency and probabilities based on positioning and the velocity of the ball in play. For pitching it might be based on the counts they generate, or the quality of contact their pitches are likely to induce, rather than the outcome. AT THAT POINT it makes sense to include catcher framing (and offset it by removing credit from the pitcher), because then we're working at that action/behavior level for everyone. It doesn't really make sense to work at that granularity for the catcher, but not the pitcher.
   14. sunday silence (again) Posted: January 06, 2022 at 09:17 PM (#6060095)

I still have no idea whether this is reasonable.


It certainly seems about the right number. If we weighted value of a walk by 4 we get .06 divide weighted K by 3 its like .08. So going from a ball to a strike or vice versa maybe somewhere around .14 or .125 or something.

I still think the biggest effect is when the framed pitch is strike three / ball four.


I think its a good pt. But on the other hand, its easily shown that your ability to get a hit goes down if you fall behind in the count and it goes up as you are ahead in the count. You cant really deny that that has an effect, and since it does you have to assign it value.

Perhaps strike 3 or ball 4 is about .14; but first strike or first ball is only .11, but perhaps the average of all those is .125?

I don't see the argument that we should credit just the catcher, when the pitcher put the ball in a frame-able spot.


But I think you have to do it that way. If a pitch is thrown in the strike zone, the catcher stabs at it, and it gets called a ball, that's entirely on the Catcher. Right? So I think there's a problem if you only want to count it one way. At least that's the argument.

I don't think a catcher should get credit for stealing strike one in an at-bat that ends with a dinger, for example.


Really? Do you think a hitter should get credited for a hit if he doesnt drive in a run? What about pitcher? Should he get credit for a K even if he gives up a run that inning? Should a hitter get a HR even if his team doesnt win the game?

The game is comprised of a series of iterations. The only serious way to measure a players ability is to evaluate each of those iterations and then assume that whatever result that was: walk, strike, foul etc. is measured against some neutral environment. So a bases loaded HR in a pennant clinching game, is basically evaluated the same as a bases empty HR in a 10 run blowout in April.

You just sort of have to start with that assumption or else we get back to the whole predictive vs what was actually accomplished argument.
   15. sunday silence (again) Posted: January 06, 2022 at 09:27 PM (#6060099)
I don't see the argument that we should credit the catcher free of PA context. A pitcher who throws 60 called strikes in a game is not credited as having achieved 20 strikeouts. If he gets shelled he gets credit for having gotten shelled, and it doesn't really matter that he got a lot of called strikes along the way.


This is no more insightful than saying that "I dont see why Babe Ruth got 9 WAR alone for hitting 60 HRs when he didnt win 9 games with those HRs"

The method is not asking who got shelled or who won the game. Its asking: "who is good at framing on a pitch by pitch basis?" And about how much would that skill be worth over a season?"
   16. DL from MN Posted: January 06, 2022 at 11:00 PM (#6060110)
its easily shown that your ability to get a hit goes down if you fall behind in the count and it goes up as you are ahead in the count. You cant really deny that that has an effect, and since it does you have to assign it value.


xFIP completely denies that this has an effect. The pitcher only gets credit for walks, strikeouts and home runs, not for reducing batting average on balls in play by getting ahead in the count. This directly contradicts xFIP. Moreover, if the pitcher doesn't have any effect on anything besides walks, strikeouts and homers then the catcher certainly doesn't have any effect on balls in play. If framing runs are real, then xFIP is wrong.

If a pitch is thrown in the strike zone, the catcher stabs at it, and it gets called a ball, that's entirely on the Catcher. Right?


If a pitcher misses his spot and makes the catcher move his glove across the zone, that's on him, not the catcher. If a pitcher has been missing the zone a lot then it isn't the catcher's fault that he loses the benefit of the doubt on close calls.

Do you think a hitter should get credited for a hit if he doesnt drive in a run?


I'll put it another way - if a hitter is consistently falling behind in the count and manages to keep getting hits anyway should we count his hits as less because he shouldn't have been getting them?

I think framing matters, but I also think that the measurement noise is almost as strong as the actual effect and that the pitcher has the vast majority of control on the outcome of an at-bat. That's why catcher ERA isn't a real thing.

So going from a ball to a strike or vice versa maybe somewhere around .14 or .125 or something.


It is much more a probability distribution. A pitch down the middle is 99% a strike and a pitch 9 inches off the plate is 99% a ball. The pitches on the corners are 50/50 and the pitcher gets most of the credit for putting the ball on the corner. That doesn't even get into umpire tendencies.

In 2021 Jacob deGrom threw 856 strikes and 370 balls. He had 146K and 11BB. That's a strike/ball ratio of 2.31 and a K/BB ratio of 13.3. Just based on those rates a called strike is worth about 17% of a strikeout (not 1/3) but a called ball is worth just 3% of a walk (definitely not 1/4). A confounding factor is there are plenty of swinging strikes (framing couldn't matter) but no such thing as a swinging ball. I don't know where to find data on how many of deGrom's strikes were called versus swinging.
   17. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: January 07, 2022 at 12:47 PM (#6060166)
I'll put it another way - if a hitter is consistently falling behind in the count and manages to keep getting hits anyway should we count his hits as less because he shouldn't have been getting them?
Yeah, this or giving the batter credit for working a 3-ball count before grounding out. That would be the right analogy.
   18. CFBF is Obsessed with Art Deco Posted: January 07, 2022 at 01:16 PM (#6060168)
Quasi-related question: has anyone ever looked at whether certain hitters systematically get more balls called strikes and vice versa? Is there something a hitter can do to consistently get umpires to favor them with the ball/strike calls?

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