Kicking and Screaming: Introducing Pitch F/x for WoWies

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nerdshirt.jpgThere comes a time in every baseball nerds life where he says to himself:

Am I quite nerdy enough? Perhaps there is a new level of geekdom to which I can ascend to ensure my endless reserves of vitriol and self-loathing are properly directed.

Enter Pitch f/x, the laser guided pitch tracking system installed in every big league park. We here at Walkoff Walk are dipping our collective lily-white hand in the pitch f/x bag and seeing if we can't pull out something interesting or at least informative.

If you recall the first entry in the Walkoff Walk Book Club was As They See 'Em, a popular and informative umpiring tome. The takeaway from this study was a great deal of umpire sympathy for the scrutiny they face. Luckily for us (and the umps) Pitch F/x tracks each and every pitch, providing its speed, location, break, spin, and all manner of quasi-interesting tidbit.

With keeping everyone awake in mind, we'll forgo most of the dizzying glut of information provided and just hone in on the stuff everyone thinks they know: balls and strikes. After the jump is a graph of some select pitches from a Saturday afternoon game between the Blue Jays and Red Sox. The Sox came to bat in the top of the eighth inning trailing 6-2. Jays set up guy/emergency closer Jason Frasor entered to face Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, and Jason Bay. Youkilis watched ball one high, took two strikes at the knees (that he absolutely HATED) and struck out swinging on pitch inside. Ortzi quickly flew out, bringing Bay up with two out.

In the middle of Bay's at bat, home plate umpire Laz Diaz called time and proceeded to dress Youkilis down from behind the plate. Youkilis took obvious exception to the strikes called down in the zone and let Diaz know it from the dugout. Diaz warned Youkilis "that's the last time" or something to that effect, essentially telling him to shut his trap and move the hell on. Bay took a few balls and fouled a few off before Diaz wrung him up on a fastball down in the zone. Bay stood at home plate and stared off dejectedly as only a vanilla white BC boy can. The question is this: did the Sox have a case? Find out after the jump!


A few notes:

  • The green square represents the average strike zone. We are looking from the umpires/catchers perspective. Because both Bay and Youkilis are right-handed batters, they stand on the left side of the diagram.
  • The dots represent the center of the ball, meaning borderline pitches can cross the zone 2.5 inches on either side and still be strikes. The measurements on the graph are in feet. The standard strike zone starts about 3.5 feet high at the top to about 1.6 feet off the ground. The plate is 17 inches wide.
  • Ortiz flew out on one pitch so I've excluded that entry, the dots you see are from Youk & Bay's hotly contested at bats.
  • The red dots are balls
  • The blue dots are strikes to Bay, the Xs are pitches he fouled off
  • The purple dots are Youk's called strikes
  • Youk's big dumb head is the ball he flailed at and missed, invalidating his entire complaint.

What does this mean then? Youkilis and Bay are full of it. The only complaint they COULD have is one of inconsistency, based on the gift ball given to Bay. All the pitches are clearly within the strike zone by a good margin. Youkilis has a bad reputation for chirping umpires and generally being a ornery glory hog, so this is no surprise.

What do you think? Is this interesting? Does this help? We're going to try to dabble in F/x'd arts every Monday, getting into (a little) more depth in future. For example why can't people hit Mariano Rivera? What makes Tim Lincecum so damn awesome and cute? What the crap was that umpire thinking? Email me ( if you have any beefs you need quashed or requests for "analysis."

Pitch F/x data courtesy of Brooks Baseball and know-how from the excellent Mockingbird.

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My request: do a post showing how umpires give Joba Chamberlain a smaller strike zone because they are jealous of his super-awesomeness.

That does sound interesting, though it doesn't fit my anti-Youkilis agenda. I'll look into it.

Maybe if he didn't flail like a retard on speed before the pitch he would be able to judge the strike zone better.

Why didn't Youk take one for the team on that one horrible pitch? Chase Utley does it, like, every game.

Pitchf/x is awesome and can be highly instructive in analyzing a pitcher's success or lack of success. We are no longer beholden to blind trust of pitchers/managers/broadcasters who explain success or failure via bon mots like, "He had something extra on his slider today". Might be true, might not--but, with the f/x tool, we can verify one way or the other.

I agree Gorge, in time we'll get more into movement and velocity and stuff. I'm still figuring out how to make sense of it all so we'll all learn together.

Good feature.
But if you do one on the home run tracker I'll punch a puppy.

Holy crap, the little dipper.

Does the average strike zone listed change for each batter? Or is that average for the whole league?

How does the strike zone differ from umpire to umpire? Also, how does a specific player's stike zone differ from ump to ump?

There could be serious gambling implications here!!!

+1 Captain Calm Eyes.

I'd like to know the velocity, accuracy, and consistency of Nick "Gasm" Blackburn's pickup lines. Can Pitch F/X help me?

Blackburn's only pick up line is "don't I look like Joe Mauer?" It works every time.

The particular strike zone changes from batter to batter, the average strike zone is just that - averaged over the entire league.

As we learned in As They See'Em, the modern strike zone is very consistent across the board. They call it more uniformly than ever these days.

In this example, I could have adjusted to the strike zone to reflect the two hitters. Yook's is slightly shorter (3.3 feet roughly) but they're both almost 1.5 feet on the number at the bottom.

When we look at a pitcher's outing, we'll just use the average one as it varies over the 9 or so batters he faces.

What's 3.3 feet? Drew needs to stick to the metric system

My boy Jon @ the Mockingbird did a lot of work on umpires until, I'm fairly certain, he was told to stop.

Read the piece on Slate re. the centerfield camera skew and how it changes our perception of the strike zone. The umps are good.

thanks for the Slate article, LtB.

Sometimes when I sit in the last row of the upper deck in right field, I scream and claw my eyes out when the umpire blows an easy balls-and-strikes call.

/typical Yankees fan

The balls and strike umpire should sit next to me whenever I am at the game. I always have the best angle no matter where I am sitting.

"My boy Jon @ the Mockingbird did a lot of work on umpires until, I'm fairly certain, he was told to stop."

Now THIS is something, too, I want to hear more about.

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