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Comparing Balls & Strikes Calls - How Do The Diamondbacks Stack Up?

Lots of complaints about the strike zone to start the season... but are they legitimate? Let’s take a deep dive and see what the trend is across the league

MLB: San Diego Padres at Arizona Diamondbacks Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

First, I’d like to thank the creator of @MajorLeagueUmp. All of the data shown below is sourced from their code - taken directly from the Twitter accounts of each team. So thanks creator for being a quality person. That said, there have been a few bugs in the data so it’s not perfect.

Ok so here’s my pitch. Last night’s game against the Nationals drew a lot of criticism of home plate umpire Brian O'Nora. The FSAZ broadcast team loudly voiced their displeasure. The radio crew chided on multiple occasions. And lest we not forget, the Gameday Thread had its usual stream of armchair umpiring. By the end of the game, a total of 12 walks and 21 strikeouts were awarded. I took a peek at @DiamondbacksUmp and noticed, for the most part, the complaints were legitimate. The Diamondbacks were hosed more than they were... not hosed? Whatever the opposite of hosed is.

It seems like situations like that have been amplified this season. Hell, it even drove the ‘pit to begin a weekly column tracking blown calls. I wanted to dig a little bit deeper - how often is this happening and how much are the Diamondbacks suffering compared to other teams? I extracted data from all 30 MLB clubs and filtered by “helps” and “hurts” calls:

All 30 MLB teams ranked by “blown” called strikes and balls that hurt them

click to enlarge

Aaaaaand look at that, the Diamondbacks have the most calls against their favor than any other team in the league. The Diamondbacks far surpass any other team in calls that go against them with a total of 140 - that number is nearly double that of the teams with the fewest ‘bad’ calls. The Yankees and Marlins have the fewest at 71. This is only half of the story though... what about the calls that benefit the D-backs? Wow, smart observation, thanks for asking astute reader. Here is that data as well:

All 30 MLB teams ranked by “blown” called strikes and balls that helped them

click to enlarge

The Dodgers and Angels absolutely dominate this category at 155 and 139 respectively. Only five other teams break triple digits but none of them come close to the LA clubs. If you want to fuel a conspiracy then this is where you start. The D-backs surprisingly made the top-10 with 98. So now we know the worst and the best... but who is benefiting and suffering the most? Great question again reader. Let’s look at the discrepancy:

MLB Teams Hurts/Helps Discrepancy

Team Call Hurts Call Helps Discrepancy
Team Call Hurts Call Helps Discrepancy
Philadelphia Phillies 100 63 -37%
Arizona Diamondbacks 140 98 -30%
Chicago White Sox 78 57 -27%
Texas Rangers 97 72 -26%
Seattle Mariners 97 74 -24%
Colorado Rockies 123 95 -23%
San Francisco Giants 95 73 -23%
Kansas City Royals 82 65 -21%
Milwaukee Brewers 89 72 -19%
Miami Marlins 71 61 -14%
Cincinnati Reds 103 90 -13%
Toronto Blue Jays 97 95 -2%
Detroit Tigers 84 83 -1%
Oakland Athletics 109 108 -1%
New York Yankees 71 71 0%
Baltimore Orioles 86 87 1%
San Diego Padres 105 107 2%
Pittsburgh Pirates 81 85 5%
Tampa Bay Rays 81 86 6%
Boston Red Sox 73 82 12%
New York Mets 76 85 12%
Atlanta Braves 84 95 13%
St. Louis Cardinals 99 117 18%
Chicago Cubs 74 88 19%
Houston Astros 83 100 20%
Cleveland Indians 76 94 24%
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 107 139 30%
Minnesota Twins 75 99 32%
Washington Nationals 75 112 49%
Los Angeles Dodgers 95 155 63%

The Phillies have the worst ratio getting 37% fewer calls that benefit them. Meanwhile, the Dodgers are seeing a 63% swing in favorable calls. That is an insane discrepancy. The Dodgers have nearly 100 more calls that help them than the Phillies, all while having fewer calls that hurt them. Umpires must really hate Philly fans? The D-backs come in at second... not hard to do when they lead the league in unfavorable calls. The complaints are justified; the D-backs have been on the wrong end to start the season. I’m thinking about opening a pitchfork emporium to serve the oncoming fleet of rioters after they read this.

But what does this look like specifically for the Diamondbacks? Let’s go even deeper. It’s easier (for me) to look at situations by pitcher rather than batter so I filtered them out and looked at examples for all 15 of the pitchers used so far:

D-backs Pitchers

Pitcher Call Hurts Call Helps Discrepancy
Pitcher Call Hurts Call Helps Discrepancy
Godley 2 0 -100%
McFarland 1 0 -100%
De La Rosa 3 1 -67%
Bradley 11 4 -64%
Walker 9 6 -33%
Chafin 1 1 0%
Miller 9 11 22%
Greinke 10 14 40%
Rodney 4 6 50%
Corbin 8 14 75%
Ray 7 13 86%
Bracho 0 1 100%
Hoover 2 6 200%
Wilhelmsen 1 4 300%
Delgado 2 10 400%
TOTAL 70 91 30%

Interestingly, the pitchers have benefited quite a bit to the tune of a 30% favor-ability. Another interesting part is that, according to StatCorner, the D-backs catchers aren’t exactly swaying the umpires - only +3 calls each for Mathis and Ianneta and only +5 overall as a team... so the numbers above don’t quite jive with the catch framing metrics. However, teams like the Angels and Dodgers with big surges in favorable calls, show very high rates on StatCorner that check out. This might mean that umpires are actually favoring the D-backs pitchers directly rather than through the catcher. Just a thought.

Most shocking, there is still a balance of 70 “hurt” calls and only 7 “help” calls after filtering the pitching portion. These numbers strongly suggest that the batters are being targeted by the umpires. Again, if you want to work on your conspiracy stories, this is another good place to begin your novel.

Totaling the numbers across the league is eerie at first sight. After only a month, umpires have called a ball or strike incorrectly over 2,700 times. Seems like a lot, right? That is until you look at the total number of pitches this season. 112,012 that qualify. So far - 41,494* balls and 18,899* called strikes for a total of 60,393 called pitches. Umpires have missed roughly 4.5% of those calls. They are correct 95% of the time. Unfortunately, it almost always seems like they miss them at the most crucial parts, calling a strike 3 or ball 4 incorrectly is what burns into your brain. That very minimal 2.5% of the time can be huge in a tight game though, especially if the odds are that the Dodgers are going to get the call.

*I got these numbers by subtracting the number of strikes (70,518) from total pitches (112,012) for ball count and then dividing the percentage of strikes looking (26.8%) from the total number of strikes to get called strikes