The Fightins'
Playoff Diary: Sleepwalking Umpires
Posted by at 2:19 pm ET 35 Comments


Check out the pitch locations of Matt Stairs’ at-bat last night in the eighth inning. He only swung at one of those pitches, a 2-2 pitch, yet pitches that were essentially in the same location were called strikes or balls depending on what the umpire felt like. No wonder Stairs ended up striking out on a pitch out of the zone; what was he going to do, let it go and hope the ump decided that, nah, this time this same pitch will be a ball? (The TBS announcers, naturally, made no mention of the ridiculousness of this strike zone on this at-bat.) The umps were apparently just as tired as we all were watching the game last night, as the strike zone was all over the place.

How does a player (on either team) approach an at-bat when the strike zone is so unpredictable? Sure, players get information on the tendencies of each umpire and know (generally) what each ump’s strike zone is like, but last night was just silly. It’s not that the Phillies got screwed or anything — they won, and even ended up catching a break next inning, of course, when Chase Utley fouled a ball off his leg and somehow ended up beating it out for a single — but the badness of the umpiring throughout the series has really detracted from the enjoyment of the game. Plenty of people have written plenty of columns about the bad umpiring in this year’s playoffs so far. The question is: Is Major League Baseball going to do anything about it?

Each day(-ish) during the postseason, Dan McQuade will write about the Phillies’ chance at a second straight World Series title. You can usually read his thoughts on baseball at Walkoff Walk. He actually called for replay and a computerized strike zone back in July. So ahead of the trends!

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  • Lynniemac

    Okay, now I’m angry all over again.

  • Alexander

    Thank you for pointing this out. LA was pissed on the radio last night, but it’s time to take this stuff online and make sure people know what’s going on.

  • Ryan

    what really fucking pisses me off is all the rockies fans bitching about how that call on utley’s hit “cost them the game.” bull. shit. the rockies had every fucking call go their way until that one, but they won’t stop harping on the ONE call that went against them. yeah, i admit that utley’s was a foul ball, but it was still a damn dribbler and the rockies easily could have made that play, probably should have. and i guarantee if they had made the play then no rockies fans would have cared that it was a foul ball. all the rockies fans need to pull their heads out of their asses and realize that both teams had bad calls go against them

  • Mr. Bryan

    uh, I’m tired. I hope Cliff pitches a two hour 30 minute game tonight so I can get some sleep.

  • Phylan

    I posted this before but check out the normalized strike zone graph for this game, showing called strikes and balls for each team:

    Colorado got a ton of calls and Happ was squeezed. Meals is a terrible ump.

  • Phylan

    Oh and here is the strikezone for just Stairs’ at bat (it’s more accurate than TBS’s pitch tracker):

    Bunch of bullshit.

  • Jdashdog

    First off, I want to applaud all the Fightins contributors for the frequency of posts today. I am in no mood to work and with this somewhat nerve racking time upon us its great to have an open forum for us all to vent, comment, and share ideas.

    Anyway, that was some of the worst, most inconsistent home plate umping I’ver ever seen. It was almost as if he was just reacting to whatever the crowd did. Cheers? Oh that’s gotta be a strike.

  • Tug Haines

    Here’s another good graph from last night that will piss people off.


    Good stuff, Phylan. It’s waaay past ridiculous at this point.

    Not just for Phils games either.

  • Jenn

    “The question is: Is Major League Baseball going to do anything about it?”

    I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say, NO.

    I would also like to say thanks for all the posts today. I’m too tired to do anything but click the mouse.

  • Jdashdog

    I’m not for a computerized strike zone though. Part of baseball is that the umpires can interpret their strike zone – and when it’s in reason it’s great. When an ump calls it differently for each team and is calling strikes that clearly missed the plate, that’s just terrible though.

  • Gonzo

    I’ve been Busey’d!

  • Griswold

    it should also be noted that that pitcher Betancourt balked about 10 times during that at bat to Stairs. If you can find a video, watch his feet as he is in the set position

  • Jeffrey

    I don’t know if we should rely on TBS’s strike zone graphic here. Because it sucks. Watching the game last night, the graphic was showing many, many pitches as balls when they were called strikes or hit solidly. There would have been a riot on the field if the umpire were really missing that many calls. I suspect the announcers didn’t refer to the graphic because even they realize it sucks.

  • Jeffrey

    But the other charts people post show the same bad calls during the Stairs at bat so I guess he did get screwed. Anyway, everything about TBS sucks, including their strike zone graphic.

  • Lynniemac

    Tug, I’m pissed off.

  • Chris

    I’ve been Busey’d yet again…

  • Tony

    I aggree with the umps not calling games correctly… It’s happening all over the league. Just look at the Yankees series and the breaks they got with balls being called foul in left field.. something needs to be done.

  • Shawn

    Pay back is a bitch. Remember that bad call in the 2007 playoffs that went in favor of the Rockies. Well that “base hit” by Utley is just karma, the universe righting itself if you will.

  • Ed

    @griswold: I noticed that too! I was screaming at the tv. Stairs had to try to catch up to one pitch cuz he got faked out a bunch of times by the stutter steps the guys was doing.

  • dlhunter

    Here’s a little devil’s advocate argument:

    Q: What is the No. 1 thing sports fans have complained about since time immemorial?
    A: Referees, umpires, and officials of all sorts.

    Q: Does anyone ever say “Wow, refereeing has really improved recently” ?
    A: No, because people like to bitch about things getting worse.

    Q: Was Jerry Meals bad last night? And didn’t that guy blow the foul call in the Twins series?
    A: Yes.

    Q: So aren’t referees being especially bad recently?
    A: Maybe, or maybe Jerry was really fucking cold last night and had trouble not shitting his pants, let alone stop shaking long enough to call balls and strikes. And maybe that guy in the Twins series blinked for the wrong half-second.

    Q: Is it Bud Selig’s fault?
    A: Yes. Fuck that shriveled turd right in the ass.

  • Lynniemac

    I like the bottom line there, dlhunter.

  • Phylan

    Nothing will ever happen because the umpire’s union is very strong, and they say shit like “nobody feels worse than the umpire now.” Great, I’m glad you feel bad, you should also be fucking demoted, like the players do when they fuck shit up.

  • James Fayleez

    I like that Dmac made an entire post about something I mentioned earlier. I might be his muse.

  • Rich

    “Q: So aren’t referees being especially bad recently?
    A: Maybe, or maybe Jerry was really fucking cold last night and had trouble not shitting his pants, let alone stop shaking long enough to call balls and strikes. And maybe that guy in the Twins series blinked for the wrong half-second.”

    While I agree with your overall point, I wouldn’t bring up the guy in the NYY/Twins game. Even if he blinked for a half second, he still would have seen either a) the ball hitting the glove in fair territory or b) the ball LANDING in fair territory.
    The fact that he somehow missed BOTH is obscene.

  • maria

    Does anyone have any idea who’s going to the be home plate umpire tonight?

  • Lynniemac

    I believe it will be Ron Kulpa, if they’re rotating the way I think they are. You’ll know it’s him the first time he calls a strike. It’s very…distinctive.

  • maria

    I don’t mind his strike call if it’s a Phillies pitcher that throws one but I want to punch the TV when it’s the opposing team (that throws a strike).

  • Andrew

    This is only tangentially related but did anyone notice that dude in the ignatious reillyesque hunters cap in like the second row going nuts after Every. Single. Pitch. It would be a like wild pitch and this douche would go nuts when the ump called it a ball. Did anyone else see that or was I just trippin balls due to sleep deprivation?

  • philsfan24

    @Andrew: hahaha that was pissing me off too!

  • philsfansince64

    the kid with the goofy hat that was jumping up and down is Bud Selig and Phyllis Diller’s illegitimate son

  • wfcnick

    The TBS “Pitch Trax” is pretty much a load of bs. It has more than a few problems. As far as I can tell it’s run by a computer based off of the camera coming out of the outfield. Since that camera is shifted slightly towards the right handed batters box balls that hit that side of the plate tend to look as though they miss outside. Notice on the pitch tracker how many pitches edge to that side of the tracker, yet you nearly have to hit a lefty to have it register as an inside ball on that part of the plate. Also, the zone does not adjust to the varied heights of different players, compromising the high-low aspect of the system.

  • philsfansince64

    I was comparing the pitch locations on “pitch trax” and Game Day on and there was that discrepancy you’re talking about. What amazes me, is that, I’m assuming the no name TBS broadcasters were looking at the same graphic that was shown on the screen and they were still agreeing with the ump’s calls. How many pitches did Lee throw that were showing up as being in the low portion of the zone and yet, were called balls? Absolutely freakin’ amazing.

  • wfcnick

    If you watch when they review the pitch by replay, they throw that circle up over a pretty accurate spot regarding where it crosses the plate. In addition to being based on an diagonal camera angle, the pitch trax also seems to register the location where it hit the catcher’s glove.

  • VICTORYno8

    The pitch trax doesnt mean a thing. Its even less reliable than rockies fans’ reactions to the pitch.

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