The Worst Called Ball of the First Half

A few months ago, Carson ran his broadcaster crowdsourcing project. When the results rolled in, reviews for the White Sox home TV broadcast were mixed. That being said, people had a lot of good things to say about Jason Benetti, who’s a newer presence to the production. I bring this up because I’m about to quote Benetti, and I’m about to quote Benetti because, well, you’ll understand. What did the worst called ball of the season’s first half look like? We’ll get to that. But here’s the White Sox TV reaction:

Benetti: Oh, that’s ball one. And maybe only because Perez dropped it.

Stone: Right down the middle, belt-high.

Benetti: Some folks on the web like to pick out the worst non-strike call of the season. That gets calculated by some baseball fans who watch the game at length. And we — that is a definite possibility for worst ball of the season.

You’re all right, Jason Benetti. You’re all right. And you nailed that son of a bitch.

The regular season is roughly half over, and the worst called ball we’ve seen took place on April 19. The pitch was thrown in Chicago, and it was thrown to Brett Lawrie by Matt Shoemaker, with Carlos Perez behind the plate. Perez was just demoted to the minor leagues, after opening the year as the starter, and while Perez wasn’t demoted because of this one called ball, you could use it as an indication of how so little for Perez has gone right. Not that it was all about Perez. It’s never all about the catcher. Umpire Chris Conroy had to make the decision he did. And, what’s Lawrie doing taking this first pitch, anyway? Responsibility is typically shared. This wasn’t a one-man operation.

It’s no mystery what messed Conroy up. Sometimes you see the catcher suddenly throw to a base. Sometimes you see the catcher drag a pitch out of the zone. In this case, Perez just plain didn’t make the catch. Shoemaker missed by some amount — pitchers usually miss by some amount — but, I’ll remind you, this was a Matt Shoemaker fastball. This pitch wasn’t darting. This pitch wasn’t doing anything deceptive. Perez just got his glove turned around, and then he fumbled the baseball. That’s an unusual event, and umpires aren’t trained well to respond accurately to unusual events. Conroy’s focus immediately went from a ball in flight to a ball on the ground, and when you see a ball on the ground, your brain tells you that pitch was probably low. Why else would it have been hard to catch? This is how Matt Shoemaker threw ball one with a first-pitch fastball that was 1.2 inches from the middle of the strike zone.

Last November, I wrote about the worst called ball of the 2015 season, and that one went against the White Sox. It went in favor of the Angels. Kole Calhoun benefited from a ball on a heater down the middle the catcher couldn’t catch. I’m not saying the universe is necessarily intelligently designed, but that’s at least a hell of a coincidence, and a nice way to even things out without any lingering grudges. Let’s now get back to this individual pitch. Very obviously, the pitch was exceptional, and this is a plot from Baseball Savant showing the location of all of Matt Shoemaker’s 2016 called balls:


Find the worst one! It’s like Where’s Waldo?, where you’re looking inside an empty warehouse, and Waldo is a bright yellow Ferrari. To Shoemaker’s credit, after the pitch, he didn’t try to show up the umpire with any negative body language. And honestly, at that point in the year, a called ball on a pitch down the middle was better than most of the other results Shoemaker’s pitches were getting. But there was nothing at all weird about the pitch. Shoemaker doesn’t throw unusually hard, or unusually soft. If he had a particularly deceptive fastball, his improvement wouldn’t be so closely tied to throwing way fewer fastballs. Here is a necessary screenshot:


For your benefit, some red lines estimating location, just to really drive it home:


The purpose of the red lines is this: You can’t argue the lines. That image isn’t in any other way doctored. You’re seeing the real location, over the middle, at the thigh. It’s only by seeing that image that you can really appreciate the following image, without any hint of suspicion that you’re looking at a Gameday glitch:


That image also includes your happy ending — the Angels didn’t get hurt by the mistake. Not meaningfully, anyway. Maybe Shoemaker had to throw an extra pitch or two, but he struck Lawrie out, and that was that. I can’t tell who actually did the worst here. Perez dropped a fastball down the middle. Conroy called a ball on a fastball down the middle. Shoemaker threw two fastballs down the middle. Lawrie took two fastballs down the middle. Two Matt Shoemaker fastballs down the middle, back when Shoemaker’s ERA was climbing into the 9s. Taking a first pitch, I get. Taking that pitch again at 3-and-1? I’m not sure what Lawrie was thinking. The more I think about it, the more he comes out looking the worst.

But now I’m off track. Lawrie messed up, sure, but this is really about that first call. The White Sox TV broadcast was all over it. They immediately identified that the pitch was right down the middle. Here’s the alternate feed:

Rojas: Lawrie hitless with a strikeout and a fly ball to left. [pitch delivered] That’s low. In the seventh, we’ll have Calhoun, Simmons, and Cron coming up.

So Angels TV didn’t have anything. White Sox radio didn’t have anything. As for Angels radio, here’s Terry Smith. This looks like an ordinary .gif, but there is sound attached, so if you have the chance, turn your volume on.

Listen again, carefully. You get some background, then a call, then a sponsorship message. If you pay attention to the sponsorship message, Smith stumbles over the word “oil.” It happens quickly, and it’s not so garbled you don’t know what he means just from context, but he definitely mispronounces a three-letter word. It’s like he swallows something right in the middle of it. Now, Terry Smith knows how to say “oil.” Terry Smith knows how to talk, and he does it literally for a living. But on the fly, Smith had a little bit of a hiccup. He wouldn’t be able to explain it. It doesn’t make sense that it happened. Yet it happened to him, and it happens to all of us. Every so often, for split seconds, we mispronounce simple words. But, man, inexcusable ball call, am I right?

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Greg Simonsmember
6 years ago

It’s almost like they should start using robots or computers or lasers or something to call balls and strikes.

6 years ago
Reply to  Greg Simons

Seeing as the umps don’t even look at the baseball thrown and instead look at the catcher, I very much agree.