Jose Bautista Thinks the ALCS Is Rigged

Losing is generally not a fun, enjoyable experience. Winning is better, and when you don’t win, sometimes you look for reasons why that coveted win didn’t occur. In baseball, the margin between winning and losing is often very small, and that has certainly been the case in the American League Championship Series: both of the series’ first two games were close, low-scoring affairs won by a Cleveland team that scored a total of runs. While players generally control outcomes, for a high-scoring team like the Toronto Blue Jays to score just one run in two games, the results have been unusual, a little too unusual, per Mike Vorkunov’s twitter account.

I don’t know if I’m lumped in there with “you guys,” but I’m more than happy to discuss the “circumstances” of which Bautista speaks. Bautista’s addressing the strike zone, and he believes that Cleveland pitchers have been getting borderline calls that Toronto’s pitchers haven’t. Let’s work backwards and begin with Saturday’s game. Here’s the strike-zone plot against left-handers hitters for Cleveland and Toronto pitchers care of Brooks Baseball. (View from the catcher’s perspective.)

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Green is a called ball and red is a called strike, with Cleveland represented by squares and the Blue Jays represented by triangles. For our purposes here, let’s break things into categories. We can look at missed calls in and out of the strike zone and borderline calls. Based on the typical strike zone, we find two missed calls going against Blue Jays pitchers. For borderline calls, let’s say anything touching the line of the typical strike zone is borderline. By that definition, Cleveland threw three borderline pitches and got two strikes. Toronto threw two borderline pitches and got one strike.

Now for right-handers:

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Jose Bautista certainly appears right about one thing: Cleveland doesn’t throw a ton of pitches in the heart of the plate, and really pushes the outside corner. As far as misses go, I don’t see any either in or outside of the normal strike zone. For borderline calls, Cleveland pitchers recorded four borderline pitches, three of which were called strikes. Toronto had three borderline pitches and two were called for strikes. Not a whole lot to see from Game 2.

Let’s back up and look at Game 1, first with left-handed batters.

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That green triangle in the middle of the zone jumps out, so I watched re-watched video of that pitch to which it corresponds and it actually appeared to cross the plate on the low, outside corner. The pitch here actually appears to be one at which Carlos Santana swung in the previous at-bat. The error is corrected by the at-bat where Francisco Lindor hit a homer right after the Kipnis walk, which fact provides either (a) greater doubt about the accuracy of the pitch-tracking system or b) less concern about an advantage for Cleveland, as it means the umpire didn’t miss a blatant call.

In any event, we appear to have two missed calls: 1. the actual ball two to Jason Kipnis in the sixth, which was in the normal left-handed hitter strike zone, and 2. a called Cleveland strike that was just above the top of the zone. Cleveland threw four borderline pitches and received four strikes, including the actual ball one to Jason Kipnis. If we want to talk pivotal at-bats in hindsight and the impact of balls and strikes, that Kipnis at-bat in Game 1 is the one to consider. Toronto threw two borderline pitches and received zero strikes.

For right-handers:

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We have some misses here. Cleveland pitchers threw three pitches in the strike zone that were called balls and three pitches outside the strike zone that were called strikes. Toronto had one ball outside the strike zone which was called a strike. Overall, Cleveland threw 10 borderline pitches and five were called strikes. Toronto threw one borderline pitch and it was called a ball.

In sum, we have two missed calls against Blue Jays pitchers and one missed call favoring them. We have three missed calls going against Cleveland pitchers and four missed calls going in their favor. With regard to borderline pitches, Blue Jays pitchers threw eight of them and just three were called for strikes (37.5%). Cleveland pitchers threw 23 borderline pitches and received 14 strikes (60.8%). In all, it seems like Cleveland pitchers have pounded the corners and, to a small degree, have been rewarded for it. That said, getting just a bit over half of borderline calls to go their way hardly constitutes a conspiracy.

For one big counter-example, let’s look at Jose Bautista’s eighth-inning plate appearance against Andrew Miller in Game 1.

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Two pitches that appeared to be located in the strike zone against Bautista were actually called balls on Friday, before Bautista eventually struck out (as one does when facing Andrew Miller). This is not to say Jose Bautista doesn’t have some legitimate beef about the strike zone. The plot below shows every pitch thrown in the first two games taken from our FanGraphs Game Graphs page, with the darker circles representing called balls, the reddish circles representing called strikes and the hollow circles representing swings. (View from catcher’s perspective, again.)

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Take a look at that graph and see if you can locate the most egregious call. I don’t think it’s too hard. Guess who was at the plate when that call was made?

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In the sixth inning of Game 1 against Corey Kluber, Jose Bautista worked the count full.

Jose Bautista was at the plate for perhaps the worst strike call of the series so far. Something like that might stick in a player’s head a bit beyond that game. All in all, the umpires appear to have done a decent job calling balls and strikes. There have been only a handful of misses, and the borderline calls have been pretty close to 50/50 overall. Cleveland pitching has definitely received more borderline calls than the Blue Jays, but they have pitched on the edges three times as often. That isn’t to say they have earned the benefits they have received, but those benefits have not been egregious.

If you have to choose sides between interpretations of “circumstances,” it’s difficult not to concede that there’s a kernel of truth in Jose Bautista’s point about Cleveland’s benefits, but those benefits have been largely earned by the Indians’ pitchers — a point the Cleveland organization makes as part of their rebuttal:





Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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igloo
5 years ago

He didn’t say it was rigged. He disguised his way of saying “the umpires have been bad” without getting fined.

Quotes are from here: https://theathletic.com/22226/2016/10/17/jose-bautista-still-waiting-for-his-pitch-but-time-is-of-the-essence/

In the article, Bautista says he needs to play better: ““They’re pitching me the same,” he said. “I just haven’t been able to get the pitch that I get every three at-bats that’s over the plate. I seem to keep fouling it off, so I need to stop doing that.”

He also says the Jays won’t use the strike zone as an excuse.

Lastly: “Referring to Cleveland, Bautista said: “We both have to deal with the same circumstances.” This “circumstances” is in reference to the bad strike zone. Both teams have to deal with the strike zone of the day that changes as the game progresses.