I know, I know ... "WHAT? I WATCHED THAT WHOLE GAME HIS STRIKE ZONE WAS HORRIFIC BLARRRRRGHKFQFOJDF." And maybe you're all right about that. Maybe I was also right about it when I was watching the game and thinking "damn, this strike zone blows." But I want to take a moment to look at this more closely.
When we think back to last night, there's one strike call in particular that stands out in our minds as being particularly egregious -- strike three looking on David Murphy:
So, as sickened by this pitch and by my perception of Larry Vanover's strike zone as I was, I decided to roll over to Brooks Baseball to see whether Vanover was merely bad, or super bad.
Upon arriving, I found a new feature on the umpire strike zone map pages:
New for the 2011 Playoffs! Fastmaps are Strikezone Maps drawn to the specifications of Mike Fast, a writer for Baseball Prospectus. Because strikezones vary for LHH and RHH, these are not available in combined maps.
These plots show the strikezones that Umpires actually call. The dashed lines around the black border show the typical deviations for LHH and RHH.
In other words, Fast determined the strike zones that major league umpires actually CALL for left-handed and right-handed batters (he may be the single best Pitch f/x guru out there, so I'm pretty confident that he did this right and then double-checked his methods), and then uses those observed strike zones as his baseline for comparison, rather than this ideal of a perfectly static strike-zone box that remains within the confines of the plate and that few, if any, umpires actually conform to.
What I found from there surprised me (click to enlarge):
In that top plot, I see two legitimately questionable calls, and in that bottom plot, I see ... what do I see ... one horrendous ball call in the middle of the zone (which screwed Detroit), another bad one on the left zone of the zone, and then a couple of additional iffy calls.
That's not anything to write home about. It's also inconsistent, to some extent, and I think inconsistency is the single biggest generator of anger about the modern-day strike zone. But it's also not nearly as bad as what I thought it was, and it makes me wonder about how some of these other strike zone maps that we've loudly complained about in the past would look like under this revised method.
Now, if you still want to say that umpires should be adhering to the conventional strike zone, and that these revised "actual" strike zones are irrelevant because they're patently wrong ... then, well, that's fine, I guess. But consider this post the next time you feel the impulse to castigate an umpire because he failed your own personal eye test.