Umpires and Technology

Watching the Nats/White Sox game Saturday at Nats Park, I came to the realization that it’s time for technology to replace home plate umpires. Home plate umpire Sam Holbrook was a disaster. He had his own unique strike zone that made the game completely unwatchable. Two average pitching performances were turned into Cy Young auditions with Holbrook’s generous strike zone. Batters on both sides were unable to hit pitches called strikes, leaving the fans to stare at a 1-0 snoozefest.

On June 17th, the Wall Street Journal had an excellent piece (here) discussing major league umpires, Stephen Strasburg, and Pitch F/X. In it David Biderman wrote:

According to a consensus of umpires, a good umpire will make one bad call on a pitch every two innings—or about four or five per game.

(More after the Jump)

There were 247 pitches thrown Saturday. Batters did not swing at 134 pitches, leaving the outcome to the discretion of the plate umpire. Out of those 134 calls, Holbrook called 29 strikes that Pitch F/X noted as outside of the zone, and called 8 pitches balls that were inside the zone. I plotted Holbrook's strike zone on my NatsStats blog here.

The umpire’s union complains that k-Zone’s and the like are unfair because batters come in all sizes. Pitch F/X actually stores the top and bottom of the strike zone with each pitch. Also last time I checked, the plate didn’t widen and shrink with each pitch. There shouldn’t be any discussion whether a ball catches part of the plate or not. Clearly Holbrook had his own rulebook Saturday.

I can almost live with Greg Gibson’s botched call at first against Nyjer Morgan. I can’t live with an umpire making up his own strike zone. With MLB attendance down this year, the league needs to do as much as they can to make the game enjoyable. Watching batters struggle with an extra wide strike zone is not my idea of enjoyment. Listening to announcers tell me that the players need to adjust to an umpire’s strike zone is nonsense. The umpire needs to call the strike zone according to the rules. If he can’t do that, get another umpire, or better yet, use Pitch F/X live to call the zone.

The league could turn Pitch F/X on tomorrow for balls and strikes if they wanted. I know the league cowers at the feet of the umpire’s union, but at this point, a change needs to be made. Even lifelong baseball fans are going to stop watching games like these.

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