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Washington Nationals: Umpire Paul Schrieber and the PitchF/X Strike Zone

Monday, Manager Jim Riggleman was ejected for arguing balls and strikes with plate umpire Paul Schrieber. To those watching the game, it appeared that Schrieber was favoring the Phillies, and squeezing Nats Pitcher Jason Marquis. I pulled the PitchF/X data from the game to check the facts.

The problems behind the plate started in the bottom of the third inning. Jason Marquis threw a change-up to Carlos Ruiz on a 0-2 pitch. According to PitchF/X the ball crossed the plate 4 inches above Ruiz' knees. The center of the ball was 8 inches from the center of the plate, meaning the entire baseball was over the white part of the plate. Schrieber called this pitch Ball 1 instead of Strike 3, and Ruiz ultimately walked. Fortunately for the Nats, Cole Hamels grounded into a double play and the Nats got out of the inning without letting up a run. Still, it set the tone for what followed.

The real frustration set in 22 pitches later. In the top of the fourth, Josh Wilingham was at the plate with runners on 1st and 2nd. The count was 3-2. Willingham took a fastball that, according to PitchF/X, was thigh high, and 2 inches further from the center of the plate than the pitch Ruiz took the prior inning. Of course, umpire Paul Schrieber called this strike 3 on Wilingham. The Nats still scored 3 that inning, but the out kept a big inning from becoming a blowout inning.

In top of the fifth inning, an illegal pitch was called on Marquis for going to his mouth without rubbing his hands on his pants. Coincidentally, this resulted in ball four to Chase Utley, bringing Ryan Howard to the plate with runners on first and second - one out. With a 1-2 count on Howard, Jason Marquis threw a slider. PitchF/X shows this pitch to over the white part of the plate, approximately 2 inches below Howard's knees. This pitch was called a ball, and Howard ultimately hit an RBI single which moved Utley to third. Riggleman went to the mound, waited for Schrieber to break up the conference, and proceeded to tell Schrieber how much he appreciated his day's work behind the plate.

To be fair, Schrieber hadn't called a low strike all day, and the pitch to Howard was a little below the knees. At the same time, the data shows that Schrieber had been screwing with the Nats for an inning and a half. 

If MLB umpires continue to favor teams, MLB needs to step in and use technology (like PitchF/X) to call balls and strikes. Keep the plate umpire to call fair/foul balls, catcher/batter interference, and outs at the plate.

Of course, it could be that MLB wants the umpires to promote some teams and players over others. So what do you think? Does MLB protect some teams at the expense of others? Do some players get star treatment at the plate? If that's the case, what defines a star?