Dexter Fowler and the call for Robo-Ump

The eye test seemed to indicate all season that, apparently on a whim, the umpires have decided to give Dexter Fowler a bigger strike zone than most other players in the league.  It’s not like Fowler hasn’t developed a reputation for one of the keenest eyes in the game.  It’s not like he’s not a highly intelligent player who has a thorough understanding of the game and it’s rules.  And it’s not like he’s some prima donna who rubs people the wrong way and gives umps a (flimsy) excuse — he’s honestly one of the nicest, most respectful players in the game.

So why?  Why  do the umps feel like they suddenly have to rewrite the rule book when Fowler and certain other MLB hitters step to the plate?  What is exactly is the reasoning?

I can’t answer that because I have no idea what goes on in an umpire’s head, but Fowler has become an unwitting example of how an ump’s performance can vary from player to player.

And the data now backs it up, as we can see in this article by Jeff Sullivan on the Dexter Fowler strike zone.

As I’ve mentioned, I don’t think we can just blame the umps for Fowler’s struggles, but he is certainly a player that depends on his strike zone judgment as a significant component of his offensive approach.  He is not a good enough hitter to hit with an expanded zone and he depends on the walks to pad his OBP, which has been his strength as an offensive player.  The Cubs offense, in part, was built around that ability to get on base and without that top of the order catalyst, the offense has predictably struggled.

I’ve long been for the so-called robo-umps, simply because we have the technology to make the game more objective and thereby improve the quality of the game itself.  A game that has the same rules for everyone should be a given, but baseball stubbornly insists that bending the rules is okay when it comes to the most fundamental aspect of the game.  They spin it as the “human element”, that is just “part of the game”,  But that is nonsense.  Nobody is concerned with the humanity or individual quirks of the umpire once the game starts.  Not to sound cold, but they are only valued for their ability to make sure the game is played on a level field.  The humans we care about as spectators are the players on the field.   Teams and players that control the strike zone are the ones that tend to have the most success, so why isn’t that left up to them rather than an arbitrary interpretation of the rules that varies from player to player?

Umpiring is a tough job.  Nobody should ever claim otherwise.  It takes a strong personality to succeed in that field.  That type of personality is necessary because you don’t want the strike zone dictated to them based on the personality and persuasiveness of the hitter, pitcher, or manager in the dugout.  That would set up an even more inconsistent interpretation than we currently have.  But that alpha personality has it’s downside — a sort of territorial mindset pervades their interpretation of the strike zone. They want to make it their own, sometimes combined with  a pathological need for a public display of authority and for some, a compulsion to be the center of attention (we know well who those guys are) even when their very success is defined by their invisibility.  The performance of an ump is inversely related to the amount of attention he gets in the game simply because nobody notices when the umpire follows the rule book correctly.  That is what we expect them to do.   We expect them to be fair and consistent, even when they make mistakes, those mistakes should be consistent across the board.  An umpire that fails to do that is not doing his job and should be held accountable.  Without accountability, there is no incentive for umpires to correct mistakes or control their all too human whims and impulses.

Players, however, are that human element that we pay to watch, even with all their imperfections.  Their flaws and inconsistencies are something we can readily accept as “part of the game” — well, at least to some degree.  When it no longer is acceptable and becomes detrimental to success, they are replaced by a different and probably less costly human element.

Recently we witnessed one of the least enjoyable games I can remember this season, the Cubs first game vs. the White Sox– and it had nothing to do with the result.  It was unenjoyable because it felt like the outcome was in large part taken out of the players’ hands.  Even as the game was 0-0, I commented how I was only enduring this game.  I also noted that if I had to market a game to promote baseball, that first game would not be it.  Not by a longshot.  No matter which team you are rooting for, who wants to see an outcome so heavily influenced by non-participants?

In many sports, that kind of influence is inevitable.  You cannot have machines call fouls or penalties.  We have no choice but to live with an arbiter’s interpretation and enforcement of the rules.  Baseball, when it comes to the strike zone at least, is different.  There is already technology in place that can objectively measure the most fundamental aspect of the game.

Why not use it?

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  • My only fear with robo umps is that the Cardinals might hack the system to get all the borderline calls.

    Otherwise I'm all for it.

  • In reply to MendyMania7:

    LOL!

  • In reply to MendyMania7:

    lol good one!

  • In reply to MendyMania7:

    Haha...their hacker is Matheny. I'm still under the belief that he hacks the minds of umps in person as well as delivers modest scripts in K shell for his cronies to execute.

  • Completely agree. Letter writing campaign?

  • In reply to wastrel:

    I'm game!

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Robo-letter writing campaign?

  • It is inevitable, more technology and more precise analysis that even specifics bias of umps, on teams, players or situations

  • Good topic for an article. I think one thing that is a double-edged sword for all pro sports is how opaque and off-limits the leagues make their officials/umps/refs. On the one hand, I get it. The leagues don't want every single call micro-scrutinized and also (on some level) don't even want the give any credence to them being human and therefore, fallible. So, by keeping reporters away from them and from rarely, if ever, commenting on the refs performance, they shield them from criticism and help maintain a facade of objectivity.

    However, this same shield (for me at least) serves as a major source of distrust. If you never own your mistakes, when there are egregious ones, how do we know they are even being addressed? Most leagues say they have their own internal evaluations of their umps/refs (and I'm sure they do), but we have no idea what those processes are. Are they effective? If so, how do we keep getting Joe West out there giving us the Joe West Show year after year? We never get the news that so and so has been let go because they aren't good. Or that they have been demoted. While I understand the human element of it all, not seeing any meaningful consequences only serves to create an atmosphere of distrust of both the league and the officials... hence fans often complaining that X ump/ref has it in for their team. They probably don't, but when everything is opaque, how do we know? We just have to trust that MLB and the other leagues are doing a good job (which, in some cases, they frankly haven't... I'm looking at you Goodell).

    And what about players who get shafted? It's part of the game, it could be argued, but it has real impacts on people's careers and therefore their livelihood. Dexter Fowler will see more money this year than I'll probably see in my life so I'm not totally crying for him, but by the same token, it sucks that the umps (at least in part) impact his numbers and therefore will help determine what he makes next year.

    Luckily for baseball, they have at least a partial way out of this conundrum in that they have the technology to get it right. They should use it. They can still keep the same # of umps per game for fair/foul and safe/out calls, but take the balls and strikes out of the umps hands. They've proven they just can't get it right. /rant

  • In reply to Pura Vida:

    Agreed Pura Vida. If they can't replace the umps yet, they should make them more visibly accountable. Baseball claims to have a system of accountability, but I agree, if umps are shielded in every way, that can only lead to a greater feeling of their invulnerability.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, for this article John. This IS my biggest issue when it comes to baseball, and I believe I have posted as much before.
    The ego of the umpires union, as you mention the 'human element', that helps keep the progress towards the automated strike-zone, from happening. Also old fogies like Torre and LaRussa, I believe are not for it, either. Technology is here, use it - as Brenley used to say.
    Calling balls and strikes is not easy, no one can get them all right, but tech can get almost all right, and most of all, consistent.
    As mentioned elsewhere here, the calls the Braves go in the 90's were ridiculous in their favor. I truly do believe if as honest poll of fans were taken, the automated strike-zone would be wildly popular. It would also quicken the pace of play.

  • In reply to Pura Vida:

    Vida, lets not forget, Cowboy Joe West was one of the 22umps once fired by MLB(Eric Gregg and the guy who blew the 96 playoff call in the NY/Balt ALCS was another one), yet the umps union got West re-hired by an arbitrator. Guess they know hes incompetent, yet are forced to keep him.

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    In reply to Pura Vida:

    Agree 100%
    I really hope the cubs, and other teams w players on that list are sending video to the league. (pretty sure they have). Expect a smaller strike zone for Dex and a monster 2h for him as well. So all you fantasy geeks go pick him up if hes been dumped in your leagues! God I am so happy I held on to the Schwarbenator in all my leagues.

    Have to give credit to Jim Joyce who manned up and answered questions when he botched a call at 1b which cost the tigers pitcher a no no. What a horrible feeling that must have been.

    I Forgot that pitchers name, but i am sure he's telling all his friends that if they had instant replay a few years ago, he'd be in the history books !!

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    I think I've been asking for robo-umps for a long time, at least 5 years. It is so simple the technology exists in every park right now. Quest-tech can easily be hooked into the scoreboard in all 30 parks. I know the umpires union will object. But no one has to lose their jobs. Home plate umps will still be needed to call HBP, foul tips, and out/safe calls at the plate. Instantly there will be no need to argue balls and strikes. Of course if you like ejections you may not like that. But that has gotten very old, at least for me. Players will be glad to adjust to an actual stable zone. And it might increase offense if hitters know what the zone will be. Some pitchers may complain but they get jobbed by umps a lot too so they will get on board. Eventually it will happen so why wait. Do it now then rather than wait until a playoff or World Series game gets ruined by the ump show.

  • In reply to Sean Holland:

    An objective strike zone may even increase offensive production because players will have a better chance to control the zone. Could be a win for MLB in that sense.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    There's no doubt about this. It would lead to a huge boost in offense production by means of shaking some pitching talent off of the higher branches. What I see happening to the pitchers is the emergence of a more narrow but still elite top tier.

    I've often wondered about umpire influence but I suppose I've been too lazy to search further. Is there a metric which weighs umpire ERA (uERA) or umpire batting 6pm (uBA) or even umpire Defensive differential earned runs (uDDER)?

    This could be helpful in DFLs.

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    In reply to Christopher Wolff:

    I have no idea where that 6pm came from...

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    In reply to Christopher Wolff:

    I know there is a stat for catchers ERA. I wonder if someone would keep an umpires ERA stat. I guess the same people who keep catchers ERA could do umpire ERA. Of course MLB might not be a fan of a site that offered ump ERA. Some umpires get reputations as hitter or pitcher friendly. But I really do think offense would go up with consistent strike zones. Of course it would also completely do away with pitch framing. Ironically it would be a huge help for guys like Wellington.

  • In reply to Sean Holland:

    Read this over at Hardball Times. Goes pretty deeply into "grading" umps.

    http://www.hardballtimes.com/the-commissioner-speaks-imagining-a-redefined-strike-zone/

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Jiohn, Robo-ump if implemented(even experimentally) should be limited to balls/strikes or plays involving the home plate ump. I understand umpiring is a tough job, but when guys like Jorge Soler get called out on pitches in the dirt and Bryce Harper gets curves knee high and in the middle of the plate called balls, something is wrong. Fanngraphs should haved included Soler, hes been on the wrong end of a bunch of bad calls.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    Agreed. They can mess with a player's good sense of the strike zone. For what reason, I do not know. I think part of is just imposing their will, as I said I think a sort of territorialism takes hold over "their" strike zone. Not always and not with every ump, but it happens. If they can better weed out the worst umps maybe that will provide incentive to call the strike zone consistently as defined.

  • In reply to Sean Holland:

    I agree with your points, well said. I also think it would keep the pitchers from 'nibbling' as much as they do, because it seems there are so many calls, that are 'evening up calls' that umpires make. By that I mean, the umpires mindset being, 'I gave the pitcher the last one, I'll give one to the hitter now'. No! A ball is a ball, and a strike is a strike.
    As you mention, the zone should be stable, constant.
    I also think that the umpires interpretation of the call, is one reason for the 'home field advantage' in baseball. Automate it. I would welcome an organized campaign towards that purpose.

  • In reply to Sean Holland:

    So how does ROBO handle the check swing? Does he have an alter ego on the 1st and 3rd base line to make those calls?

  • In reply to stix:

    Should still have a home ump for check swings, plays at the plate, etc.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    They could also keep the tradition of "calling" the balls and strikes with a simple microphone in their ear telling them which it is each time. Would all probably look the same.

  • What's Manfred's mlb address? I think a blogger driven campaign would move the needle.

  • I'd buy that for a dollar!

  • In reply to hoffpauir6:

    :)

  • John, I absolutely love your writing. You are really on a roll today. Keep up the great work.

  • In reply to JohnCHI:

    Thanks, John. Been loving the extra time I've had now that I am (finally) settled in.

  • I must admit my opposition to robo umps until watching so many games this year which were obviously decided by inconsistent umpiring. I dislike expanded strike zones but always took the position that there was equity if calls were the same for all players in the game.

    This year, for some unknown reason, the strike zones were unequal from some umps. Perhaps I'm more aware of it because of the replays of pitches using the boxed strike zone. The fans and the players all deserve an even playing field and it's not happening. Reluctantly I have come to the same conclusion of John. Bring in the technology.

  • Got to agree with you John its time for robo-umps. What has bothered be is hearing so and so has a low strike zone or he has a tight zone. There is only one strike zone and is defined by MLB not by individual umpires. If human umpires aren't going to call that strike zone bring in the robots.

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    I am off the fence and am totally in favor of the robo umps. I don't understand why there is replay with all other plays except balls and strikes and that's where most of the errors are.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Ball and strike replays would not work, since there would be dozens of questioned calls. We need to do away with umpires calling balls and strikes, and go to a totally automated zone.

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    In reply to DaveP:

    I know--that's my point. There are so many errors in calling balls and strikes that baseball needs an automated system to rectify this. Most calls on the field are correct and we have replay, yet the one place we need to be as close to 100% is behind the plate, and as long as we have the technology we have to use it and it is in
    everyone's best interest.

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    Thank you. X1000

    I feel the same way, and have for a long time. What I want is for a game to be called fairly and evenly, for all teams and players involved. It's been a hot button issue for me since the early 90's, when the Braves pitchers would get strikes 3 inches off of the plate against Cubs hitters, while in the same game, our pitchers were getting squeezed because they didn't have the same reputation or cache as the other guys. Burns me up to no end. If the team loses because they were outplayed, I get sad but deal with it and move on. If they lose because of the umpire(s) though, it sticks with me for a long time.

  • In reply to Bender13:

    I can think of 5-6 games just this year, the Cubs have lost because of questionable umpiring. The one that most sticks with me is the San Diego opener(Kris Bryants first game) where the 2 non-calls on Padres hitters in the top of the 7th costed Lester the game and gave Schlitter a loss he didn't deserve. The home opener this year , with Mike Winters calling Rizzo out on pitches a foot out of the zone and ankle high, or Soler being called out on a pitch that bounced in front of the plate, was absurdly bad umpiring.

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    I have wanted a reform of the umps for a long time, we have the tools to make this work, we should absolutely use it. I've discussed ways mlb could use these tools to help the umps make more informed calls
    on balls and strikes, give them a beeper to let them know if it is a ball or strike, use it as information if you will to let the ump know if he is calling the plate as it should be or as he is seeing it,if the ump continually misses the pitch and doesn't adjust, then you have room to admonish the ump, or you could let the ump decide on his own whether to use the asssistance or not, either way we could rid the league of the Joe Wests,Bob Davidsons, Angel Hernandez and others...

  • Would not mind a completely unbiased approach to balls and strikes.. since that's not review able why not cut out the middle man and keep it consistent. .

  • If I recall correctly, there were two separate Fowler at-bats in that Friday Cubs/Sox game where he worked a full count and got called out looking on two pitches that were clearly out of the strike zone. Each of those calls would have put two on with less than two outs with Rizzo coming up (I know for sure there would have been only 1 out in one of those instances). In a 0-0 game that is a huge momentum swing and there is absolutely no excuse for it.

    The main problem has been the inconsistency of the home plate ump from batter to batter and I've never noticed it more than this year.

  • I'm for it as long as Jorge Orta cannot be retroactively be called out in the '85 Series giving the Cards another WS.

  • I think Jorge Orta was thrown out at third base in that same inning making Deckinger's bad call at first inconsequential . Cardinal fans just need an excuse:)

  • Part of the problem I think is taking off to first base before the umpire has made the call of ball four. Some umpires feel like batters should not go toward first until they tell them they can go.
    Otherwise I think that umpires calls should be compared to the calls that the strike zone box shows. This should be a continual comparison and for the umpires who miss calls the most, they should have a computer replace them in that duty.

  • write suggestions to:

    MLB Advanced Media
    75 Ninth Ave.
    New York, NY 10011

    or can go to site and give 'em your e-mail address, etc. A number of thoughtful letters could have an impact.

  • In reply to wastrel:

    We should supplement this campaign with a petition too. Whether this results in robo umps or not it will at least bring some attention to the idea.

  • In reply to wastrel:

    Thanks Wastrel.

  • I would love to see the robo-ump as well. I forgot when I heard this, maybe the Waddle-Silvy show, but Manfred was quoted as saying "the technology isn't anywhere near where it needs to be for this happen." (I'm paraphrasing). I have do idea where he is coming from - I have to believe the technology that exists today is far more accurate that the umpires we have in place today.

    Thanks again John for another great article.

  • Give each manager one strike/ball challenge per inning (at least as an interim to all computer/no umpire calls).

    The computer call is instant so no time should taken. Manager signals, press box confirms with a button to a light, call is reversed, move on.

  • I am one of the few who don't like the idea of a robo ump. Are they right 100% of the time??? No. I get that. But to make a claim a that a ump or umps are getting together and form a scouting report to stick it to guys like fowler or Soler is incorrect. Maybe u can flip it to certain pitchers get more benefit of the doubt????
    How would one handle a check swing, fair foul, a play at the plate or a foul tip????

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    Numbers say otherwise. Fowler has gotten the shaft more than almost any player in the game on missed calls. Works with pitchers too.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    It isn't because they have a preceived notion that I am gonna stick this guy. Maybe the catchers do a great job in the framing as montero does?? Some guys have bad luck at certain times. If every ump is making a questionable call at some point you have to look at self and rethink the zone???? Number must suggest that.
    Game would take forever if manager challenged 1 pitch every inning. It just hard to believe that majority of umps got worse this year.

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    Think the argument would be balls & strikes continue to be non-reviewable. Shouldn't extend the game at all.

    Your argument presumes Fowler's experiencing this on a one-off basis. Check out the link to Sullivan's article above for the detail behind how bad the calls have been for him this yr.

    And, really, none of your points are fantastic reasons to keep human umpires calling balls & strikes. Like every other industry...when there's been an automated way to do something, it's been adopted and integrated quickly to take advantage of the benefits of greatr standardization, speed, and scale.

  • In reply to ratay1:

    My point is that umps don't target certain players to stick. There are a lot of variables in calling a pitch a half inch outside a strike or a pitch a half inch in the zone a ball. Have to make a sit second call and 99% of time they get it right. So is the zone gonna go back to shoulders to knees??? You will still have as many called strikes as u do now.

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    It doesn't really matter WHY the umps are calling it wrong. Perceived notion, sticking guys, bad day, nose hair - it just doesn't matter. What matters is that they ARE calling it wrong, far too often. The technology already exists to fix that, and MLB isn't using it.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Fangraphs rated him receiving the 4th worse strike zone in all of baseball. That's pretty bad, considering his track record prior to this year was pretty good.

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    In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    You handle those the same way you do now. The home plate ump just has an earpiece that tells him the call for balls/strikes.

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    No one is saying to remove the home plate ump. He should be kept there for all the other calls. Just take away balls and strikes from him. Laser technology and measurement is now more accurate and faster than any human being can be, without any of the inconsistencies and biases of humans. And when a clearly better, more efficient method exists to do something, it is simply ludicrous, moronic, and pathologically stubborn not to use it.
    It would be like continuing to wash clothes by hand instead of using a washing machine. Or traveling by horse and buggy, instead if car, cycle, train, or plane.

  • I've always referred to borderline pitches as a "sometimes strike" and it seems that this year there has been a disproportionate number of guys getting called out on such pitches. Not just Cubs either. The research in the linked article looks at this in relation to specific batters, I am curious on a leaguewide level whether the hitters are getting jobbed more frequently this year.

  • I used to umpire games so I'll give that sterotype out there before you read on. The problem I've always had with Major League umpiring is the lack of consistency on grading umpires from MLB. I think we would all enjoy the game more if the umps were graded on being consistent regardless of the strike zone.

    I see it all of the time where an ump will not be consistent between both teams. That is terrible. It was the first thing I learned when umpiring was to be consistent with both teams.

    I will say the one thing I like about human umps is the variable of a consistent strike zone on both sides. If an ump calls a strike 3 inches on the outer half of the plate for both teams, then adjust or go down! I've always enjoyed that aspect of the human behavior even previous to me umping. If an ump is consistent, both teams can figure it out in the first couple of innings. Which one can adjust the best? I like that part. Maybe it's twisted but it adds a variable that I enjoy when an ump is calling consistently for both teams.

  • In reply to lifelongcubsfan:

    Agreed in that I don't think all umps are like that, but umps at the professional level by necessity have to have strong, type A type personalities. They're not all Joe West or Angel Hernandez out there, but I think they're all pretty territorial with the strike zone. I can live with that. I don't like it, but I can live with it. What I can't abide is when that zone isn't consistently the same for every player. That is a problem. And it will always be a problem as long as you let umps subjectively make calls.

    And lastly, it's not about who adjusts the best when you have different strike zones for different players. You are severely handicapping some and favoring others. And it can be completely random even from one pitch to another. How is that fun? How is thatfair?

    And how do you adjust to a pattern that is random and inconsistent, which can be the case sometimes?

    If it were as you say, a consistent zone, it's tolerable. Still bad, but tolerable. The game and the rules do NOT belong to the umps. They are not there to make rules, they are there to enforce them. It is not there call to see who can adjust to their personal interpretation of the rules. What makes them think the game is about them? The strike zone is not for them to personalize. It just isn't and we have to stop pretending it's ok.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    You just named 2 of the umps Id rate in the topo5 of worse ball/strikes umps out there. Dale Scott is real inconsistent also. Maybe the 2 most consistent (to me) are Tim McClelland and John Hirshbeck. You see few playters complain when those 2 are behind the plate.

  • In reply to lifelongcubsfan:

    No. There is no reason to cling to that variable and the need to adjust when a better method exists.
    When there wasn't a better method, then it was the challenge of who could adjust better, but still had issues with biases and inconsistencies. Simply makes no sense to continue with that when a faster, more accurate method is now available.

  • I too curse the darkness of umpire inaccuracy, but don't believe that MLB will change. The union contract was just renewed through 2019. The reality is that they are going to call balls as strikes about 15% of the time and strikes as balls about 10% of the time: http://baseballsavant.com/apps/umpires.php?sort=percent&year=2015.
    The other takeaway from the Fangraphs analysis was that the players getting the benefit of the doubt are largely all-stars, with Trout, Adrian Gonzalez, and Prince Fielder at the top. Reminds me of the Michael Jordan effect, as he almost never was called for travelling, just as LBJ of course never commits a foul.
    At the risk of building another lamppost, I'm inclined to lay some of the blame on Mallee. The Cubs have seen the most pitches per game yet are below average in plate appearances. There are two ways to extend an at-bat, either take close pitches and work the count, or waste pitches that are "too close to take." The Cubs are clearly in the first camp and will get wrung up on occasion. I'm not bashing Mallee because it makes sense to teach the young ones not to chase and when they grow into wily veterans they will be better able to spoil pitches.
    As for a petition, there is a better chance of getting a Joe West call overturned on review by the umpires in NY.

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    First, no, because you can't put it in at all levels. I have the same problem with replay, but at least understand, because this is my job, that we can't always get in position because of the ball bounce. We CAN ALWAYS be in proper position to call balls and strikes. Next, The people like to bitch about the ego of the Umpire's Union. Look, The Umpire has been the keeper, the defender of the integrity of this game for over 100 years. It is tougher to make it to the Show as an Umpire, than it is as a player. There are very few truly great Umpire's. Even those of us in the business who are dialed in know that. We can also be honest and say that not ALL MLB Umpire's are good Umpire's. We'd be full of it if we tried to say that they were, and we know it. Each player, has a different size, weight, stance, step when they swing.. and these factors ALL come into play when an Umpire calls a pitch. EVERY player is different, let me say it another way to be clear..... NO TWO PLAYERS HAVE THE SAME ZONE. It is absolutely relative. Ump's get most of the call's right, no matter what the guy at the end of the bar eating pretzels and slurring his words has to say. And that goes for the baseball fan who thinks they know the game, and the rule book better than the Umpire's. That is partly the fault of the moronic announcer who tosses some phantom rule out there that doesn't exist... 45 degree step to first base for a left handed pitcher anyone........ guess what, there is no such rule, but you have ALL heard that idiot line before. Why would the rule be different for a lefty than it is for a right hander? Bottom line is, we ARE excellent at what we do, and yes, we miss one every so often, but not nearly as much as one might think.

  • In reply to Shay McGhiey:

    It's not always about the different player strike zones, especially when we are talking about pitches off the plate. The thing is we fans have access to technology to see what umpires are unable or unwilling to see. We see it standardized and we see that they miss calls. We know that it affects the game. Many of us have also played the game on some level, so we know the rules too.

    And we know that umpires create their own personal strike zone. Why? What makes them think they can alter the rules to fit their preferences?

    And why do umpires have the propensity to intentionally make bad calls just because a player starts trotting to first early? To satisfy their ego and beat their chest...let everyone know they're the boss? Is that more important than just getting the call right?

    If umps are great at what they do..and I do think that is true in the overall scheme, then they should be good enough to call the strike zone as it is defined, not some personalized version. And they should be consistent from player to player. That is all we ask. It's not that much.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Umpires follow the rule book, the strike zone has been changed three times in the games history. Each players is simply different. Umpire's want to call every pitch they can a strike, we certainly don't want to be in that 95 degree heat wearing all that gear watching 40 walks, not to mention the League's emphasis on improving game speed. All Umpire's, EVERY ONE OF THEM, want to get every call right... and they know they don't, but like I said, we get most of them (and some of us get more right than others). You THINK you know that Umpire's create their own personal strike's zones... guess what... the strike zone is the strike zone, it is ALREADY created. Your next two paragraphs are ridiculous, not even going to offer a response... you are beginning to sound like the guy at the end of the bar with the pretzels.

  • In reply to Shay McGhiey:

    Sorry, but I don't buy they call the zone as it is defined. We have eyes. We know the rules.

    And you can say all you want about umpires call it the same for every player, but the data shows that is not the case. They also change the zone depending on the count, data has shown that as well.

    I get you want to defend umpires because you are one at some level, but dismissing fans, especially when they have access to data and technology that provides us with unprecedented information, just shows me that maybe they do think it is above criticism. That is a problem.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    first, I won't defend bad Umpires... never have, never will. Your eyes aren't trained like the eyes of a Professional Umpire, and the zone changes, because the hitter changes. I've explained that.

  • In reply to Shay McGhiey:

    Well, we can agree on the bad umpires. But the zone should never change when it comes to inside and outside pitches. Doesn't matter who the hitter is. If the pitch is below the knees it shouldn't matter how tall or short the hitter is. Yet, we have seen those things happen. It can't all be blamed on the changing hitter. And like I explained earlier, there is data to suggest that the strike zone changes that have nothing to do with the physical dimensions of the hitter. Changes depending on the count (expands the most with 3 balls and especially 3-0). I just want to see the same strike zone regardless of the hitter (except for the necessary changes depending on his height) and regardless of the situation.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    you're arguing a seperate topic. No Umpire should call a pitch a strike, that isn't a strike..... I've said nothing to suggest they should

  • In reply to Shay McGhiey:

    Then I guess we are mostly in agreement.

  • In reply to Shay McGhiey:

    Then how come 'they' miss between 10 to 15% a game?
    And if, as you say, want the calls to be right - then how in the world can you argue against a 'robo-ump'?
    Sir, I understand that you realize the training an umpire goes thru as well as the dues they pay to move up the ladder of their profession. But your assumptions in your argument, make a good point for exactly why the calls need to be made consistently (much more consistently) by technology.
    I once had someone working for me, that wasn't using a computer to add a large column of numbers. I asked him why he wasn't using one, and his reply was that his way was more accurate. your responses, sound the same to me.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Kris Bryant is 6'5" tall. Jhonny Peralta is 6'1" tall. I see Kris Bryant get called out on ankle high pitches. Those same pitches get called balls on Jhonny Peralta,. Logic says the same pitch in the same spot should be a ball for both, or a strike for both. Umpires have biases also. Whomever they like or dislike can matter.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    also, keep this in mind.....

    Rule 2.00, A STRIKE (b)) define a pitch as a strike "if any part of the ball passes through any part of the strike zone."

  • In reply to Shay McGhiey:

    No. You simply can't be in better position to call balls and strikes than a modern laser measurement system. It is not humanly possible.
    With more current analysis the missed ballls and strikes are in the 10 to 15% range. As John said the strike zone does not belong to the umps and there personalized version of it.
    The technology is now better, faster, and more accurate for determining balls and strikes than a human standing behind the plate could ever hope to be. Use the technology. NOW

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    Professional Umpires train harder, and more often than ANY Professional Official in any sport. We are the best Officials of any Professional Sport... period. we see 200-300 decisions a game, and most of the time, we're right on the judgement and we've applied the rules properly. I'm betting most people don't do their job THAT efficiently. 99 out of 100 people couldn't get a word out if they were tossed behind the plate and had to make the call. But you know what... you're the fans... we already know that. We know that you believe you know the rules better than we do. We already know that you aren't going to make every fan happy on any given call. We already know that players and Managers are going to disagree. You know what... It's the best game in the World... We're ok with all of that.

  • In reply to Shay McGhiey:

    I knew that at some point you would make the "we get most of them right" argument and it's just plain silly. Of course any umpire above little league will get most of them right. A pitch down the middle and belt high will get called a strike 99.9% of the time. It's the called 3rd strike that's 3 inches out that causes the problem. If you don't think that Yadi Molina spends a good share of the game working the home plate umps then you're not paying attention. He learned from one of the best in Matheny. You just can't get me to believe that umps favor certain players and certain teams. It's just not correct.

  • In reply to veteran:

    The Cards start staff has a sub 3 ERA for a reason, and its not necessarily because they are all hall-of-fame candidates. Lance Lynns WHIP should make hima plus 4 ERA pitcher, but he always aseems to get close calls at opportune times. Wainwright is the same way. Yadi does make a difference back there, and its not because hes agreat "framer" of pitches.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    Idk, mutant. That's a pretty charged up accusation.

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    In reply to Shay McGhiey:

    90% efficient, yes, I certainly do my job that efficiently. http://baseballsavant.com/apps/umpires.php

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    I realize that you want to get every call correct and that you are right a great majority of the time, but why not use the technology to get it right all the time? Every profession has been improved by technology why not baseball? Oh yes, it has, just not behind the plate. It's going to happen sooner or later, why not sooner?
    Don't you think that Armando Gallaraga would have benefitted from instant replay when Jim Joyce called the runner safe at first? A few years later and he would have had a perfect game. Milt Pappas probably would have liked the robo-ump too.

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    In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    because even technology doesn't get it right EVERY time, and replay has also showed that this year. Plus again, it isn't available at all levels.

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    In reply to Shay McGhiey:

    Replay ultimately relies on human beings to make the call using tape. I'd say the rate of bad reversals is pretty low, which is what they were going for.

    But "Roboump" would be completely automated. I get this is your job and it sucks to have technology replace you job but if your real concern is the "integrity of the game," then getting a consistent strike zone to every batter is critical. Even if the automated calls aren't perfect, the real question is will they be better and more consistent than humans. You can't reasonably argue that they won't.

  • In reply to Shay McGhiey:

    Doesn't matter if it isn't available and Cody affordable at all levels. It is available and affordable at the MLB level. That is where the fan has to pay the largest prices and has the right to see as error free and unbiased game as is possible. And while you're right that no method is 100% accurate, the technology to call balls and strikes, is more accurate, faster, and completely unbiased versus even the best of human alternatives. It is simply moronic not to use it now, not to mention being pathologically stubborn and resistant to change. There is no longer any valid reason not to use it.

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    In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    also, baseball has addressed the plays that are tougher to see, by installing video revue..... I welcomed the change, because my goal is to get the call right... I don't need ESPN cam calling pitches for me, I see the pitch just fine.... just sayin

  • In reply to Shay McGhiey:

    You might see the pitch just fine, but is the call right? You may see the pitch as slightly outside, but is that due to the batter standing close to the plate and the catcher setting up way inside and having to reach across his body or is it because it was actually outside? What you saw and what actually gets called can be two different things and the data suggests that it is happening with increasing frequency

  • In reply to Shay McGhiey:

    If umpires saw the pitches just fine, then pitch framing wouldn't a thing...just sayin...

  • In reply to YouCannotBeSerious:

    I'm not sure that what John is talking about has to do with framing, which is related to borderline pitches that can be called either way according to how it is received. That's just a skill. It's not related to inconsistency or umps missing pitches 2-4inches off the strike zone favoring and not favoring players.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Disagree...if umps were able to objectively call balls & strikes, pitch framing analysis would be MUCH less conclusive that the skill has an impact on the calls behind the plate. Directly related.

  • In reply to YouCannotBeSerious:

    #1 argument, right here, folks.

  • In reply to YouCannotBeSerious:

    last year, Russell Martin and Miguel Montero were 2 of the best pitch "framers" in the game. This year they are considered "average"(The Cubs are 2 games over .500 when Montero starts). What happened to there "framing" skills, or did they bioth just go to different teams?

  • In reply to Shay McGhiey:

    No, a human being standing behind the plane if the strike zone cannot possibly see it and call it better than a modern laser measurement and location system. It's no knock on any person, just a scientific fact.

  • Prior to off season I would have been all for this. Our catcher's biggest knock against him was his ability to pitch frame, so this would effectively cancel it out because the catcher wouldn't be able to trick the system like he can the human element.

    Now the Cubs have made 3 moves to take advantage of the human error that would be completely cancelled out. They paid a premium in bringing in two catchers who have skills at tricking the human element. The third was trading away a catcher who was otherwise probably the best or at least close enough to not justify the series of moves.

  • In reply to mikep527:

    Good framing doesn't trick the human element as much to call strikes so much as it allows the human element to get pitches that are strikes not look like pitches off the plate.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Disagree. Framing has to be about both "saving" strikes and "converting" close balls. Never seen anyone argue it's about ensuring the legitimacy of borderline strikes only...

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Agree with Ratay. It is about keeping close strikes called strikes and getting the occasional close ball called a strike. A catcher raises their framing stat by getting balls called strikes, and loses value by getting strikes called balls. Castillo the last several years had negative value while Montero and Ross have been in the positive. Without tricking the human element, again there's not point in the transactions completed as Castillo was at least a decent hitter and good defensively.

  • In reply to mikep527:

    Yes, but an inconsistent strike zone hurts every hitter in their system. The Cubs are trying to develop and train every hitter in their system to be more selective and see more pitches to both get a higher OBP and wear down the opposing starter faster. A more accurate and consistent strike zone would have a much better effect overall on the Cubs organization and roster.

  • Can anyone tell me why home late umpires always set up on the inside shoulder (batter side) of the catcher. Does it really give the umpire a better view ? I think they do it for personal protection. They believe there is less of a chance of exposing themselves to a foul tip or a missed pitch by the catcher.
    Back in the day when umpires used the conventional chest protector they typically lined themselves directly behind the plate. This took out to a great degree the guesswork you see today's umpires use on the outside corner pitches. I am appalled by some of the umpiring I see on a daily basis. I totally agree with John's proposal to adopt a computerized system of ball and strike calls.

  • I wonder if Tom Glavine would be in the Hall without the 2-4 inches off the outside corner strike.

  • Two more complaints about the umpires:

    1. Some home plate umpires make unilateral decisions about whether or not the hitter checked his swing, That's the responsibility of the first or third-base umpire, not the home plate umpire. The home plate umpire's job is to decide whether the pitch was a ball or a strike.

    2. The umpires in New York who review disputed calls are never identified, even to the press.

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    After reading the fangraphs article, if I was an MLB franchise, I would want to understand every player's plus/minus for called strikes vs expected strikes. Clearly the players, like Fowler, who are getting screwed will suffer statistically. It reminds me of BABIP - One can predict whether a player's future performance might be likely to improve because it is likely that the player will have a more favorable (closer to league average) ratio of called strikes to expected strikes. If I was the Cubs I'd be targeting buy-low candidates based on this.

    Do you guys think teams are already looking at this. Seems like they must be.

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    And now I just checked other players near the top of this list with Dexter Fowler. Alexei Ramirez is really having a down year statistically, and maybe we can chalk some of that up to his very unfavorable ratio of called strikes to expected strikes (just like Fowler). However, if you look at all eight other players from that list, they aren't having down years statistically (Yunel Escobar is actually having a great year, while most of the others are pretty close to their career averages).

    Having a bad ratio of called strikes to expected strikes could be explained in other ways, such as batters who take a higher volume of borderline pitches are more susceptible to having a ratio that is out-of-whack. While on the flip-side, a hitter that tends to foul off a lot of borderline pitches probably doesn't even give the ump a chance to make numerous bad calls over the course of a season. Still, my gut tells me that ratio of called strikes to expected strikes must have some kind of impact on a player's statistics, and would have some predictive value in the same way BABIP is used to "predict" future performance.

    I'd love to hear what other people think about this.

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    Robo umos would completely disregard the ability if a catcher to frame strikes. Interesting. I like it.

  • In reply to Brian Steiner:

    Why? It's an important skill.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    It's an important skill for a flawed obsolete method of calling balls and strikes. Now that a better, faster, more accurate method is now available, it should be adopted, thereby negating the need for that skill.

  • Earlier, a poster said that computerized ump may not always be accurate. I tend to agree. However, it should always be consistent, and that's really what pitchers, hitters and most fans want. The strike zone shouldn't change from one batter to another. I'll admit the height will vary from batter to batter, so that could be something that would need to be addressed, but the width will always be the same, so there should be no complaints with robo-umps regarding off-the-plate pitches.

  • I think MLB is shooting themselves in the foot with this. They allow the broadcasts to show their little "K Zone" which just shows us at home how subjective the strike zone really is. They either need to use that technology to actually determine balls and strikes or get rid of it altogether.

  • In reply to stop2wonder:

    Is K-Zone absolute? How does that work?

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    I don't think we will have robo umps for at least a decade if at all. I do think they should give the umpire to a button to call on for immediate help( someone w the appopriate technology at the park) on a close pitch, HPB, check swing, ect.

    I think this could really help the umpire as their job is tough esp w the stuff some pitcher have, the flame throwers, and sneaky pitch framers.

    The real question comes, will the umpires be man enough to press that button when in doubt? ( or egos gets in the way again)

  • I'm for the robo ump, but with that out of the way, how about a transition like this....

    Each home ump gets two vibrators, the left pocket vibrator indicates a ball--the right pocket vibrator indicates a strike. The ump retains the absolute abitity to call balls/strikes, but the vibrators give him immediate feedback on the correctness of the call. This immediate feedback would allow umps to "learn" the correct zone, as well as giving the league data with which to evaluate the ump. I don't know what kind of feedback MLB routinely gives umps, but it is certainly delayed, not immediate, feedback. My long experience as an experimental psychologist provides clear preference for immediate (not delayed) feedback as a learning tool, and I am assuming that virtually all umpires want to call an accurate game. This would be a way to assist them in doing that.

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