It’s a cool and breezy April afternoon down by Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, and the mid-rebuild Orioles are taking on the division-winning and record-breaking Minnesota Twins. Trying to salvage the final contest of a three-game series, the O’s — to no one’s surprise — find themselves trailing in the bottom of the ninth. But not all hope is lost. The Twins’ lead is small — two runs — and the Orioles have some of their best players due up. Out of the gate, Twins pitcher Taylor Rogers hits the first Orioles batter, Joey Rickard, in the foot. Then, after a Chris Davis lineout, Jesús Sucre resurrects the inning with a single to left that advances Rickard to third. The comeback is on.
Hanser Alberto then plunges the Orioles hopes back down to earth with a swinging strikeout that gives his team just one more out with which to work. But then comes Jonathan Villar, who rips a double to deep left, scoring Rickard and advancing Sucre to third. The Twins lead is cut in half. After an intentional walk to Trey Mancini that loads the bases, the game now rests in Pedro Severino’s hands. With two outs and the bases loaded, still down by one, Severino manages to work the count to 3-0. His team is one pitch away. The crowd is on its feet. Rogers winds and delivers his pitch. It’s outside! “Ball 4!” the commentator exclaims. The fans cheer, Severino begins to walk towards first, and the tying run starts his trot towards home. But suddenly, the umpire punches his arm through the air. He called it a strike. Severino walks back towards home plate, distraught. He pops up the very next pitch, and just like that, the game is over.
Using data from Baseball Savant’s pitch-by-pitch library, we can begin to understand the role that these incorrect calls play in baseball. By matching up the database’s pitch locations to the calls associated with those pitches, we can see which calls were supposedly correct, and more importantly, which were not. The results are pretty astounding. Last year, by this data, MLB umpires made a total of 33,277 incorrect calls. That’s good for 13.8 per game, or just over 1.5 per inning. While not every bad call is a comeback-killer, these mistakes have the ability to greatly alter an at-bat, a game, and maybe even a season. Read the rest of this entry »