The Umpire Effect

Today, David Price matched up against Roy Halladay and won as the Rays edged the Jays 3-2. On the heels of a terrible start against Texas, where he walked five and gave up six runs while only getting four outs, seeing Price throwing six innings while only walking one batter had to be a big relief for Tampa Bay fans. However, he had some help. Take a look at the strike zone plot from today’s game, courtesy of Brooks Baseball.


By my count, there are 17 pitches that are clearly off the plate that were called strikes. Plain and simple, Tim Welke had a wide strike zone this afternoon. If it was above the knees and anywhere near the plate, he was sticking his arm in the air. He was consistent about it, giving both pitchers a few inches off the plate on either side, so while he wasn’t biased one way or another, his calls still clearly had an impact on how the pitchers were able to attack opposing hitters today.

Compare the strike zone above with the one that Price faced from Dana DeMuth in his previous start:


Three pitches off the plate that were called strikes in the game against Texas, plus a whole host of pitches down in the zone, but over the middle of the plate, that were called balls. The strike zone that Welke called today was much, much different than the one that DeMuth called five days ago.

You hear a lot of talk about how inconsistent pitchers are, especially young pitchers. From start to start, the variations in performance can be drastic. However, we have to keep in mind that it isn’t just the pitcher’s stuff or command that’s a variable on any given day, but the opposing team, the park, the weather, and yes, the umpire. Did David Price have better command today than he did in his last start? Yea, I’m sure he did. But he got a lot more help from the man in blue today, as well. What would the performances have looked like if Welke had been behind the plate for the Texas game and DeMuth behind the plate for today’s contest? Significantly different, I think. Perhaps instead of one terrible start and one great start, Price would have just looked okay twice.

As always, the moral of the story – evaluating pitchers by their results, even their defensive independent ones, is a great way to reach some bad conclusions. There are just so many things that are out of a pitcher’s control that can have a significant, tangible impact on the final product.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Mariano, Bradenton, FL
14 years ago

I thought Price was gettin’ hosed on the low strike today and from what I read in this chart, he was.