The Worst Called Strike of the First Half

When you write up the worst called ball of the first half, you’re set up for a two-part series. You have to write up the worst called strike of the first half, as well, or else it feels like something is missing. Usually, I make my own editorial decisions. Technically, this was my decision. But really, this decision was out of my hands. Once the first post went, the second was guaranteed to follow.

Bad called strikes, I think, are less upsetting than bad called balls. Oh, they’re both annoying, but the worst called balls are on pitches down the middle, and it seems inconceivable that an umpire could miss a pitch down the pipe. It’s easier to see why an umpire might grant a strike on a pitch out of the zone. There’s no such thing as the middle of the out-of-the-zone. We’ve grown accustomed to seeing strikes off the plate, so, what’s another inch or two? When you see a strike out of the zone, you think, ugh, whatever. When you see a ball on a pitch down the middle, you think, how did that happen? This is the long way of saying this post might be less interesting than the first one.

But here we are anyway, and your own curiosity will prevent you from leaving this post until you see the result. What’s been the worst called strike of the first half? I don’t mean the strike with the lowest called-strike probability, adjusting for count and handedness and everything. I mean just relative to the rule-book zone, which is directly over home plate. This pitch was 10.7 inches away from the border of the rule-book zone, as it crossed the front plane:

pestano-valbuena

Pretty bad! Lefty strike, but, pretty bad. Clearly outside. One pitch was worse than this.

The worst called strike of the first half was 10.9 inches away from the nearest border of the zone. Compared to the previous pitch, that’s a difference of just 0.2 inches, which is within the measurement margin of error, but the leader is the leader so I have to go with the spreadsheet. I’ve used the corrected location values available on Brooks Baseball. As I said in the earlier post, sometimes there are PITCHf/x glitches and sometimes there are PITCHf/x misses, so I can’t guarantee with 100% certainty that we’re looking at the worst called strike, but I do like its odds. 11 inches, basically, from the edge of the zone. 11 inches is almost the length of a ruler! A ruler is a fairly substantial item. Wouldn’t want to keep a ruler in your pocket. Not even if you cut off an inch. 11 inches is a pretty big miss.

For the pitch, we go back to April 17. I’m given to understand it was muggy. I don’t know what mugginess does to the umpire strike zone. The pitch was thrown by Max Scherzer, to Wilson Ramos, facing Odubel Herrera. And it was the very first pitch of the game. Behold:

It looks pretty ordinary. I warned you this might be underwhelming. It looks like it could’ve been called a ball, but it doesn’t immediately strike you as being the worst of something. Just looking at this, if this is the worst called strike, that suggests umpires have the strike zone pretty well under control. And, you know, they do, but that doesn’t mean we’ll just stop looking at this pitch closer and closer. Here, let’s slow it down a bit:

This thing is only going to look worse. It’s kind of a textbook lefty strike, and we’re used to lefty strikes, but lefty strikes are called lefty strikes instead of strikes because they’re off the plate, and pitches off the plate aren’t supposed to be strikes. The zone isn’t supposed to shift. Just because it does doesn’t mean the umpires are calling balls and strikes like they would if they could slow the game down. Research has shown the lefty strike is being called less often than before. This is because lefty strikes are balls.

The Gameday view says enough on its own:

scherzer-herrera

Maybe that seems like an exaggeration to you, maybe you think it misrepresents the truth, but here’s an actual screenshot:

scherzer-herrera-no-lines

Adding some lines, to help counter the slightly off-center angle:

scherzer-herrera-lines

The center of the baseball was on the other side of the chalk of the other batter’s box. The entirety of the ball was either over the chalk or over the dirt inside of it. And this wasn’t a breaking ball; this was a fastball, thrown by a righty, so as the pitch approached the plate, it was only tailing further away. This was clearly generous, and while it was too early to argue, and while Herrera is too much of a Rule 5 pick to argue, Herrera did look down to confirm that the chalk is where he thought it was. Not that that made it any better.

herrera-looks-down

A partial explanation: not only is Herrera left-handed, but he stands close to the plate. Because he stands close, the umpire has to change his own position, and the zone shifts away. Beyond that, Ramos set up kind of away, so Scherzer didn’t miss with his location. But there’s another factor: this was the first pitch of the game, and it seems like the first pitch follows different rules from all the subsequent pitches. Pitchers almost always throw fastballs. Hitters almost always take them. And umpires just make up their minds randomly, because nobody cares about the first pitch, except for the way it allows more pitches to happen. It’s not like Ron Kulpa went on to call this pitch all day:

kulpa-scherzer

Sometimes the first pitch just gets a pass. A week and a half earlier, this was Scherzer’s first pitch, of the entire 2015 season:

scherzer-granderson

Called strike. 10.4 inches off the nearest edge. It’s a top-five worst called strike of the first half. So Scherzer is represented twice, doing the same thing. It’s not a bad way to live.

As in the first post, I thought I’d listen to all the broadcasts, to see if anyone made note of the call. As it turns out, this call also got a pass from everybody. It was just too early to talk about umpires. This early in the game, you talk about the starting pitchers and the weather. Everybody’s still warming up. The first pitch is almost a practice pitch, except that it counts for the rest of the game. Phillies TV:

So we’re ready to begin Game 2 of this four-game series on a very nice night, at least right now-
[pitch]
First pitch is…on the outside corner, and the count is 0-and-1.

Phillies radio:

The right-hander’s first pitch is on the way.
[pitch]
And it’s a called strike on the outside corner, it’s nothing-and-one.

Spanish-language Phillies radio:

[Spanish-language advertisement]

Nationals TV:

Escobar’s on the grass at third, Odubel Herrera leads off-
[pitch]
-for the Phillies, and Max Scherzer gets the corner, and we’re underway right on time at 7:05.

Nationals radio:

Scherzer into the wind, and the first pitch-
[pitch]
-of the game is in there, a called strike, the fastball at 91 miles an hour on the National Air Traffic Controllers Association radar gun. NATCA: we guide you home.

“On the outside corner.” “On the outside corner.” “Gets the corner.” “In there.” Only the Spanish broadcast didn’t assume the pitch got the zone, because it was busy trying to sell people food. I’m not saying the broadcasters didn’t adequately do their job. It’s just, on the first pitch of the game, all that matters is getting to the second pitch of the game. No one ever figures anything remarkable is going to happen, so no one’s prepared to remark. It’s okay. We have bigger problems to face.

Because of the pitch, Herrera found himself unfairly behind in the count against one of the best pitchers in the world. On the next pitch, he hit a single. Of course, he was left stranded, but that was always going to happen. And the Phillies lost by five, but that was always going to happen.





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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Hoff
8 years ago

And the Phillies lost by five, but that was always going to happen.

There hasn’t been a more true statement about the 2015 season.

Sorry Hoff
8 years ago
Reply to  Hoff

LFTFY: “There hasn’t been a more true statement about the 2020 season.”