When preparing for the baseball season we will practice by playing intersquads to ensure we get as many live at-bats and innings as possible. Since it would not be affordable to hire umpires for our daily practices our assistant coaches will rotate umpiring behind the pitching mound. We have a big squad, I am talking 31 pitchers alone on the team, so in the interest of not playing until the sun rises the strike zone will expand quite a bit. It is easy for me to look great when our coaches will call strikes the hitters normally take. Offense can be limited during these practices as pitchers tend to dominate and hitters often are walking away frustrated.
Following the Nationals and Dodgers matchup on Sunday, Bryce Harper expressed his displeasure with umpire Bill Miller’s strike zone. In a recent ESPN article Harper explained “when you’re getting 6 inches off the plate, its tough to face” (Zack Greinke). Was Harper just trying to downplay the performance that Greinke put on or is there merit to the comments Harper said?
During the July 19th game between the Dodgers and Nationals, Zack Greinke had 10 pitches called for strikes outside the strike zone.
Here is Greinke’s pitching plot courtesy of Brooks Baseball:
So Harper is not incorrect by saying that Greinke was the beneficiary of some balls being called strikes. This year, Greinke has thrown 1905 pitches according to Baseballsavant.com and of those 142 pitches (7.45%) have been called strikes outside the strike zone. Currently, Greinke has the 5th most called strikes outside the strike zone only behind Dallas Keuchel, Jon Lester, Yovani Gallardo and Mike Leake.
Looking at the man behind the plate, Bill Miller, he has the highest percentage of called strikes outside the strike zone at 17.5%. Since 2010 Bill Miller has ranked in the top two for umpires in called strikes outside the strike zone four times with an average of 16.9%.
Well if that wasn’t enough to convince you that Bryce Harper was on to something, let’s look at Yasmani Grandal. Grandal, according to StatCorner.com, and taking catchers who have caught over 2000 pitches, has the 3rd highest percentage of strikes called outside.
Possibly Greinke and catcher Yasmani Grandal game-planned knowing Miller was behind the plate so they exploited his tendency. It could possibly be that on that day Greinke was a beneficiary of his normal game plan. This year of the 1905 pitches 1262 of them have been outside the strike zone. An umpire with a large zone, a fantastic pitch-framer behind the dish and a pitcher who lives outside the zone sounds like a recipe for strikes being called outside the zone.
In the end, sorry Bryce, that is just how baseball works — the zones are never the same.
I am a Senior level student, in The Harry F Bryd School of business, studying Sports Management who aspires to work in baseball analytics. I also, am a currently member of the nationally ranked Shenandoah University baseball team. My interest lies in studying, analyzing as well as projecting professional baseball players success through data analysis.