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An in Depth Look at the 2015 Strike Zone

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There is no other aspect of baseball disputed so greatly as the ball or strike call. How much of it is deserved?

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The Setup

It seems every day in every game there are at least a handful of calls by the home-plate umpire which defy reasoning. In Tuesdays game against St. Louis Ender Inciarte checked a bunt attempt for a ball that was in the dirt.  He was given a strike because the umpire thought it hit his bat.  All views of the replay show that Ender didn't just miss the ball with his bat, he didn't come within 2 feet of it.  Even after conferring with another umpire the call stood.  Unfortunately there were no grounds for review under the current system.  Ender was vindicated later when he hit a single back up the middle, but such poor calls do not always go requited.

Probably the worst strike zone ever recorded happened during the 1997 NLCS in game 5.  Umpire Eric Gregg could be considered to have single-handedly been responsible for the Livan Hernandez complete game.  Here is some video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mR3eK5gCChM

It wasn't just bad, it was consistently other batters box bad.

The Pitch

I thought it would be good to go on an excursion to see if there was any data on umpire effectiveness behind the plate.  Most of us breath a large sigh when we hear Angel Hernandez, or CB Bucknor will be straddling the catchers box.  But how warranted are those reactions?  Do Angel and CB truly have 2 of the worst strike zones?  What is the average failure rate for the umpire to recognize genuine balls from strikes?

Using data from BaseballSavant.com I did some minor querying and calculating to see what interesting factoids I could dig up on this years class of umpires.  These numbers do not include pitches swung on for strike.

2015
Umpire Pitches (In Zone) Percent Called Ball Pitches (Out Of Zone) Percent Called Strike Bad Call Percent
Bruce Dreckman 293 11.6 846 17.61 16.07
Tony Randazzo 250 11.2 805 17.27 15.83
Tim Welke 276 13.41 907 16.32 15.64
Victor Carapazza 219 11.87 708 16.67 15.53
Mike DiMuro 303 12.87 1044 15.9 15.22
Ed Hickox 181 12.15 589 15.96 15.06
Bob Davidson 301 9.63 992 16.43 14.85
Ted Barrett 426 12.91 1375 15.42 14.83
Dan Iassogna 333 8.71 1097 16.59 14.76
Sam Holbrook 323 13.93 865 15.03 14.73
Andy Fletcher 335 10.15 1215 15.88 14.65
Chris Segal 207 7.73 674 16.62 14.53
Lance Barrett 339 7.67 986 16.84 14.49
Dana DeMuth 310 13.23 981 14.88 14.48
Brian Knight 280 11.43 822 15.45 14.43
Bill Miller 318 7.23 911 16.9 14.4
Hunter Wendelstedt 240 9.17 804 15.92 14.37
Gary Cederstrom 262 9.16 789 16.1 14.37
D.J. Reyburn 167 11.38 538 15.24 14.33
Ron Kulpa 329 8.81 982 16.09 14.26
Dan Bellino 305 9.51 944 15.68 14.17
John Hirschbeck 338 6.51 1163 16.34 14.12
Rob Drake 279 14.7 855 13.92 14.11
Jerry Layne 257 13.23 822 14.36 14.09
Al Porter 225 12.44 621 14.65 14.07
Tom Hallion 320 12.5 967 14.48 13.99
Kerwin Danley 195 15.38 594 13.47 13.94
David Rackley 281 11.39 905 14.7 13.91
Mark Ripperger 258 9.69 693 15.44 13.88
Larry Vanover 359 11.7 1033 14.62 13.86
Adrian Johnson 249 8.43 799 15.52 13.84
Sean Barber 293 12.63 880 14.2 13.81
Paul Nauert 185 9.73 670 14.93 13.8
Brian ONora 221 9.5 750 15.07 13.8
Mark Wegner 372 11.02 1202 14.64 13.79
Dale Scott 312 11.54 932 14.38 13.67
Mike Winters 400 10.25 1169 14.8 13.64
Angel Hernandez 342 5.56 1135 16.04 13.61
Chris Conroy 302 11.92 881 14.19 13.61
Joe West 387 13.7 1050 13.52 13.57
Laz Diaz 309 13.27 994 13.48 13.43
Jeff Nelson 292 6.85 1012 15.32 13.42
Brian Gorman 316 8.86 1015 14.78 13.37
Jim Wolf 299 9.03 887 14.77 13.32
Marty Foster 388 8.25 1325 14.79 13.31
Manny Gonzalez 342 8.48 1063 14.86 13.31
Jordan Baker 380 12.37 1120 13.57 13.27
Marvin Hudson 360 10 1049 14.3 13.2
Todd Tichenor 300 11 883 13.93 13.19
Adam Hamari 363 6.06 913 15.99 13.17
Mike Everitt 285 7.02 928 14.98 13.11
Cory Blaser 297 9.43 885 14.35 13.11
Paul Emmel 289 9.34 925 14.27 13.1
Doug Eddings 321 5.92 838 15.75 13.03
James Hoye 355 12.96 1045 13.01 13
Clint Fagan 296 5.07 873 15.69 13
Alfonso Marquez 332 11.75 985 13.4 12.98
Gerry Davis 323 12.69 921 13.03 12.94
Bill Welke 343 11.95 1056 13.07 12.79
Quinn Wolcott 142 6.34 492 14.63 12.78
Jerry Meals 424 12.26 1291 12.94 12.77
Mike Estabrook 269 10.41 767 13.56 12.74
Greg Gibson 311 13.83 1030 12.33 12.68
Jim Joyce 392 12.76 1102 12.61 12.65
Mike Muchlinski 311 8.68 937 13.87 12.58
Gabe Morales 323 7.12 1027 14.22 12.52
Pat Hoberg 92 9.78 324 13.27 12.5
Eric Cooper 290 4.14 910 15.05 12.42
Phil Cuzzi 312 6.09 964 14.42 12.38
Ryan Blakney 202 10.89 604 12.75 12.28
Chad Fairchild 367 8.72 1087 13.43 12.24
Scott Barry 348 8.33 1066 13.51 12.23
Ben May 28 3.57 95 14.74 12.2
CB Bucknor 374 10.7 1013 12.73 12.18
Mark Carlson 334 10.18 1086 12.8 12.18
Jeff Kellogg 301 11.63 926 12.31 12.14
Fieldin Culbreth 181 11.05 552 12.5 12.14
Toby Basner 279 6.45 916 13.86 12.13
Chris Guccione 284 11.27 878 12.19 11.96
John Tumpane 347 11.53 1039 11.93 11.83
Paul Schrieber 265 10.19 846 12.17 11.7
Tripp Gibson III 261 8.05 843 12.34 11.32
Will Little 245 6.53 768 12.76 11.25
Jim Reynolds 293 6.48 916 12.66 11.17
Tim Timmons 310 8.71 973 11.92 11.15
Lance Barksdale 292 5.48 878 12.76 10.94
Tom Woodring 44 4.55 132 8.33 7.39

It seems the worst offenders are getting about 15-16% of their ball and strike calls wrong, while the best with at least 500 pitches seen get 11% wrong.  That makes about 1 out of every 9 pitches called incorrectly at the highest level of competence.  That would also mean there is at least one call for every half inning being called incorrectly on average.

Also from the data we can see which umpires tend to have a bigger strike zone, and which have a smaller strike zone.  Though, this information doesn't tell us if it's a wider or taller strike zone, just that it is bigger.

Kerwin Danley appears to have the smallest strike zone of any umpire in the game with a percentage of 15.38 strikes being called ball.  On the flip side Bruce Dreckman appears to have the largest strike zone with a whopping 17.61 percent of balls being called strike.  Not far behind Bruce is Tony Randazzo who's missing 17.27 percent of ball calls.

But who are the best at calling a ball a ball, and who is the best at calling a strike a strike?  Eric Cooper has the best eye for calling a strike a strike with a clean 4.14%, and probably most surprising Angel Hernandez has only gotten 5.56% of strike calls wrong.

It's not all roses for Angel though as his strike zone is quite horrendous with 16.04% of pitches out of the zone being called a strike.

The Call

As a result of Angel's 10% differential I realized that the average percent of incorrect calls might be a good way to determine just how often an umpire gets a ball or strike call wrong, but we can now also determine their bias toward strike or ball calls.

Umpire Differential
Ben May 11.17
Eric Cooper 10.91
Clint Fagan 10.62
Angel Hernandez 10.48
Adam Hamari 9.93
John Hirschbeck 9.83
Doug Eddings 9.83
Bill Miller 9.67
Lance Barrett 9.17
Chris Segal 8.89
Jeff Nelson 8.47
Phil Cuzzi 8.33
Quinn Wolcott 8.29
Mike Everitt 7.96
Dan Iassogna 7.88
Toby Basner 7.41
Lance Barksdale 7.28
Ron Kulpa 7.28
Gabe Morales 7.1
Adrian Johnson 7.09
Gary Cederstrom 6.94
Bob Davidson 6.8
Hunter Wendelstedt 6.75
Marty Foster 6.54
Manny Gonzalez 6.38
Will Little 6.23
Jim Reynolds 6.18
Dan Bellino 6.17
Tony Randazzo 6.07
Bruce Dreckman 6.01
Brian Gorman 5.92
Mark Ripperger 5.75
Jim Wolf 5.74
Andy Fletcher 5.73
Brian ONora 5.57
Paul Nauert 5.2
Mike Muchlinski 5.19
Scott Barry 5.18
Paul Emmel 4.93
Cory Blaser 4.92
Victor Carapazza 4.8
Chad Fairchild 4.71
Mike Winters 4.55
Marvin Hudson 4.3
Tripp Gibson III 4.29
Brian Knight 4.02
D.J. Reyburn 3.86
Ed Hickox 3.81
Tom Woodring 3.78
Mark Wegner 3.62
Pat Hoberg 3.49
David Rackley 3.31
Tim Timmons 3.21
Mike Estabrook 3.15
Mike DiMuro 3.03
Todd Tichenor 2.93
Larry Vanover 2.92
Tim Welke 2.91
Dale Scott 2.84
Mark Carlson 2.62
Ted Barrett 2.51
Chris Conroy 2.27
Al Porter 2.21
CB Bucknor 2.03
Paul Schrieber 1.98
Tom Hallion 1.98
Ryan Blakney 1.86
Dana DeMuth 1.65
Alfonso Marquez 1.65
Sean Barber 1.57
Fieldin Culbreth 1.45
Jordan Baker 1.2
Jerry Layne 1.13
Bill Welke 1.12
Sam Holbrook 1.1
Chris Guccione 0.92
Jerry Meals 0.68
Jeff Kellogg 0.68
John Tumpane 0.4
Gerry Davis 0.34
Laz Diaz 0.21
James Hoye 0.05
Jim Joyce -0.15
Joe West -0.18
Rob Drake -0.78
Greg Gibson -1.5
Kerwin Danley -1.91

* Positive value shows bias toward calling strikes.  Negative values show bias toward calling balls.

Based on this list, it seems the most unbiased umpires out there are James Hoye, Jim Joyce, Joe West, and Laz Diaz.  They incorrectly call balls and strikes about an equal percentage of the time.  Eric Cooper, though having a stellar track record of calling a strike a strike, looks to only be that good at strike calling because he's willing to call so many balls strikes as well.

Lastly, there appears to be a strong bias among the majority of umpires to call more balls strikes and thus "pitcher friendly".  I thought it would be interesting to compare these statistics to an earlier year, lets say 2008.

2008
Umpire Differential
Doug Eddings 4.3
Phil Cuzzi 2.39
Bill Miller 2.36
Mike Muchlinski 2.29
Laz Diaz 2.21
Jim Wolf 1.92
Jeff Nelson 1.16
Brian Runge 0.72
Dan Iassogna 0.62
Damien Beal 0.54
Eric Cooper 0.45
Bruce Dreckman 0.35
Jim Reynolds 0.15
Brian Gorman 0.13
Gary Cederstrom 0.02
Mike DiMuro 0
Rob Drake -0.09
Mike Everitt -0.2
Ron Kulpa -0.67
Jim Joyce -0.75
Chuck Meriwether -0.76
CB Bucknor -0.83
Paul Emmel -0.9
Angel Hernandez -1.14
Bob Davidson -1.21
Dana DeMuth -1.48
Bill Welke -1.58
Marty Foster -1.6
Delfin Colon -1.67
Mike Reilly -2.08
Tim Welke -2.26
Fieldin Culbreth -2.26
Charlie Reliford -2.3
Lance Barksdale -2.38
Brian ONora -2.38
Paul Nauert -2.4
Gary Darling -2.43
Ted Barrett -2.48
Andy Fletcher -2.75
Ed Rapuano -2.85
Greg Gibson -2.91
Chad Fairchild -2.95
Mike Estabrook -3
Mark Carlson -3.07
Hunter Wendelstedt -3.13
Wally Bell -3.22
Alfonso Marquez -3.22
Angel Campos -3.29
Tim McClelland -3.32
Scott Barry -3.34
Marvin Hudson -3.44
Todd Tichenor -3.48
Chris Tiller -3.51
Jeff Kellogg -3.52
Chris Guccione -3.54
Sam Holbrook -3.67
Mike Winters -3.69
Tom Hallion -3.87
Dale Scott -3.93
Joe West -3.97
Ed Montague -3.97
Kerwin Danley -4.15
Kevin Causey -4.34
Derryl Cousins -4.35
Bill Hohn -4.55
Mark Wegner -4.83
Jerry Meals -4.83
Brian Knight -4.9
Tim Timmons -5.04
Adrian Johnson -5.27
Ed Hickox -5.43
Tim Tschida -5.74
Gerry Davis -5.8
D.J. Reyburn -5.8
Jerry Layne -5.82
Larry Vanover -6.77
Randy Marsh -7.51
Casey Moser -7.8
James Hoye -7.93
Paul Schrieber -10.39
Rick Reed -11.16
Jerry Crawford -11.19
Shawn Rakos -11.42

* Positive value shows bias toward calling strikes.  Negative values show bias toward calling balls.

Well that's quite a bit different now isn't it.  7 years ago the strike zone was much more hitter friendly with a 2.85% bias towards calling a ball, versus a 4.51% bias towards calling a strike today.  That's a full 7% shift in mentality to be more pitcher friendly.

These values seem to indicate pitching may have not gotten better as many commentators have stated, but rather the umpires have adjusted the strikezone on a national scale to favor the pitcher.

Just to round out the statistical data for your viewing, here is the 2008 data for incorrect ball and strike calls.

2008
Umpire Pitches (In Zone) Percent Called Ball Pitches (Out Of Zone) Percent Called Strike Bad Call Percent
Shawn Rakos 1136 24.68 279 13.26 22.4
Delfin Colon 1302 22.22 219 20.55 21.96
Rick Reed 1231 25.46 1287 14.3 19.74
Mark Carlson 1400 19.35 129 16.28 19.1
Tim Welke 49 20.54 3874 18.28 18.3
Brian ONora 1238 20.05 3627 17.67 18.27
Kerwin Danley 1199 20.66 3035 16.51 17.69
Mike Winters 1297 20.4 3681 16.71 17.68
Hunter Wendelstedt 1256 19.98 4035 16.85 17.6
Doug Eddings 1305 14.36 3998 18.66 17.59
Todd Tichenor 1204 19.2 1336 15.72 17.36
Alfonso Marquez 229 20.36 4271 17.14 17.31
Wally Bell 970 19.85 4102 16.63 17.25
Brian Gorman 164 17.08 3625 17.21 17.21
Bill Hohn 1208 20.41 2969 15.86 17.19
Damien Beal 1291 16.98 742 17.52 17.17
Bruce Dreckman 1226 16.86 3894 17.21 17.13
Paul Emmel 1365 17.74 3700 16.84 17.08
Angel Campos 1274 19.36 2888 16.07 17.08
Paul Nauert 1374 18.8 3780 16.4 17.04
Rob Drake 926 17.02 4163 16.93 16.96
Charlie Reliford 1275 18.56 3044 16.26 16.95
Mark Wegner 1110 20.67 4079 15.84 16.86
Gary Cederstrom 1278 16.82 4067 16.84 16.84
Scott Barry 1308 19.19 3343 15.85 16.79
Brian Runge 826 16.17 3612 16.89 16.76
Randy Marsh 1007 21.93 2289 14.42 16.72
Ed Hickox 1273 20.76 3738 15.33 16.7
Jeff Nelson 818 15.72 3530 16.88 16.67
Tom Hallion 1373 19.51 3818 15.64 16.66
Jerry Meals 1304 20.27 4002 15.44 16.62
Andy Fletcher 1263 18.69 3839 15.94 16.62
Bob Davidson 1268 17.51 4073 16.3 16.59
Bill Miller 1193 14.76 4065 17.12 16.58
Jim Joyce 1191 17.16 3822 16.41 16.58
Tim Tschida 1216 20.91 3810 15.17 16.55
Ed Montague 1377 19.13 2704 15.16 16.49
Ron Kulpa 1260 16.99 3683 16.32 16.49
Ted Barrett 1253 18.34 3822 15.86 16.47
Tim Timmons 1144 20.39 4027 15.35 16.46
Bill Welke 72 17.86 4048 16.28 16.31
Jim Reynolds 1257 16.17 4161 16.32 16.28
Chuck Meriwether 1266 16.86 3819 16.1 16.28
Paul Schrieber 1316 23.88 3596 13.49 16.27
Adrian Johnson 1360 20.23 4110 14.96 16.27
Larry Vanover 1328 21.21 3678 14.44 16.24
Laz Diaz 1171 14.53 3900 16.74 16.23
Ed Rapuano 939 18.52 4053 15.67 16.21
Dale Scott 1513 19 3796 15.07 16.18
D.J. Reyburn 1253 17.68 463 11.88 16.14
Marvin Hudson 1276 18.7 3859 15.26 16.12
Marty Foster 77 17.68 3720 16.08 16.12
Jerry Crawford 1249 23.7 2645 12.51 16.1
Dan Iassogna 886 15.59 3647 16.21 16.08
Dana DeMuth 1158 17.22 3654 15.74 16.08
Mike Everitt 1339 15.93 3866 15.73 15.77
Mike Estabrook 1373 17.73 2552 14.73 15.77
Sam Holbrook 1254 18.57 4061 14.9 15.77
Brian Knight 1212 19.47 3856 14.57 15.75
Jerry Layne 249 21.12 3771 15.3 15.67
Casey Moser 1320 16.33 129 8.53 15.67
Kevin Causey 725 18.23 1073 13.89 15.63
Chris Guccione 1270 18.31 4144 14.77 15.61
Angel Hernandez 212 16.57 3811 15.43 15.49
Mike Reilly 427 17.33 3883 15.25 15.45
James Hoye 1187 21.74 4556 13.81 15.44
Greg Gibson 1316 17.65 4275 14.74 15.42
Derryl Cousins 1263 18.69 3885 14.34 15.4
Mike Muchlinski 1193 14.46 758 16.75 15.38
Mike DiMuro 1278 15.33 3652 15.33 15.33
Gary Darling 1280 17.1 3674 14.67 15.3
Phil Cuzzi 1252 13.51 3611 15.9 15.28
Joe West 1139 18.3 3825 14.33 15.23
Jim Wolf 1271 13.75 4001 15.67 15.21
Jeff Kellogg 1239 17.74 3825 14.22 15.09
Chris Tiller 1309 16.16 656 12.65 15.01
Fieldin Culbreth 1275 16.7 3886 14.44 15
CB Bucknor 1305 15.53 3618 14.7 14.93
Chad Fairchild 1296 16.97 4209 14.02 14.71
Lance Barksdale 436 16.47 3924 14.09 14.33
Eric Cooper 373 13.86 3739 14.31 14.28
Tim McClelland 1202 16.2 3829 12.88 13.68
Gerry Davis 31 18.35 3792 12.55 12.61

I'd have to say it's a good thing the league didn't keep Shawn Rakos and Delfin Colon around too long.

I'm Out

So what type of conclusions can we draw on this data?  Well I'd say there's been a dramatic shift at the MLB level to be more pitcher friendly.  I find it very hard to believe that collectively all umpires have just changed their tendencies without some sort of outside influence.  I guess I'll leave that up to the reader to decide what that influence was.

What might have gotten missed by everyone is how much better the calls have gotten.  In 2008 the average of incorrect calls was 16.42%, this year it's 13.32%.  That's a 3.1% improvement from 2008.  Whatever the league is doing it seems to be doing it right.