The Worst Called Strike of the Season

The worst called ball of the season was literally a fastball in the middle of the strike zone. That makes it genuinely the worst called ball imaginable, with the consolation being that it at least didn’t matter very much. When I’ve written these posts in the past, I’ve noted that the bad called balls look worse than the bad called strikes. There is no called-strike equivalent of a ball on a pitch down the middle. You’ll never see a called strike on a pitch at the eyes. You’ll never see a called strike on a pitch in the dirt. I think the default is to call a ball, unless the pitch does enough convincing, and there are limits to that. Still, one post has to be followed by the other. Writing about the worst called ball means I have to write about the worst called strike. That’s below, and I’m sorry it isn’t more visually hilarious, but this is still the worst of something, over seven months of baseball, and the devil is in the details. The devil loves details.

The second-worst called strike of the season? I’ve already written that up, because it was the worst called strike of the season’s first half. It was a lefty strike, thrown by Max Scherzer to Odubel Herrera to open a ballgame. The pitch measured 11 inches away from the nearest part of the strike zone.

Unsurprisingly, the worst called strike of the whole season is similar, in that it’s a lefty strike away off the plate. Over time, we’ve grown kind of used to the lefty strikes getting called, but the thing about this is lefty strikes are balls. The zone shouldn’t extend off the plate in either direction, for anyone, but it has and it does, and hitters have to live with that. The second-worst called strike was 11 inches away from the zone. The worst called strike was 12 inches away from the zone. That’s 9% worse. Pretty big gap when you’re at an extreme.

The good news is nobody cared.

Earlier this week, I don’t know where, I saw a brief news item about Shane Peterson. I don’t recall what it said, and I’m sure it wasn’t important, but when it flashed on my screen I realized I didn’t know who that was. It’s unusual for me to not know a baseball player. It doesn’t feel good, but there’s typically a good enough reason. Momentary call-ups. Role players on go-nowhere teams. I looked Peterson up. I came to understand why I didn’t know him. And then, that easily, I knew him. In that instant, I knew of Shane Peterson. I didn’t know I’d shortly be writing about him.

I’d like to extend to Peterson a dual apology. I’m sorry for not knowing who you were — there was no intent there, but I see how that could feel hurtful or disrespectful. That reflects more on me than you. I’d also like to say sorry, on behalf of Major League Baseball, for your having been the victim of the season’s worst called strike. Someone has to be the victim of the season’s worst called strike, but it should be someone rich. Someone who’s doing just fine. It shouldn’t be someone fighting just to get an opportunity. You already have enough working against you. You don’t need the umpires to get involved. Sorry for the bad break.

The bad break took place on August 28. Peterson was hitting. Sam LeCure was pitching. It was the eighth inning, and the count was 0-and-1. I said above that nobody cared. That was an exaggeration — I’m sure Peterson cared. And LeCure presumably cared. But, this was a game with the Brewers playing host to the Reds. The Brewers were 29 games out of first place. The only team in baseball further away was the Reds, 29.5 games out of first place. The Brewers’ playoff odds rounded to 0%. The Reds’ playoff odds rounded to 0%. At this point in the game, with the Brewers up five, the Reds’ odds of winning rounded to 0%. Those were the circumstances. The game itself was of no meaning, the meaningless outcome was no longer in question, and anyone watching to see interesting young players was just waiting on Domingo Santana, standing on-deck. Peterson’s at-bat was one of the least significant of the year. It included this significant pitch:

The very worst called strike of the season. A full foot away from the edge of the rule-book strike zone. Do you know how much a foot is, in terms of measurement error? Go to an area sub shop and pick up a foot-long sandwich. Hold it up in front of you. That’s the margin by which the pitch observed missed the plate, but still, Tom Hallion gave it to LeCure, maybe in part because the pitch wasn’t too far from its target, and maybe in part because strikes make the game go faster. It’s easy to make up one of two stories. Hallion’s attention could’ve just been waning, because, ugh, so dull. Alternatively, he could’ve wanted to get things over with, because while umpires generally don’t have better places to be, Hallion very well could’ve by that point.

In all seriousness, Hallion is a professional, so I doubt he just takes at-bats off, but this call stood out on the evening:


That already makes him seem somewhat generous around the outer edge, but the pitch to Peterson is still exceptional. There are pitches called balls in the same neighborhood. You can see Peterson respond in the .gif — the pitcher and catcher are just business as usual, trying not to call attention to anything, but Peterson froze for a few seconds. He took a pitch that’s been a ball his whole life, then he heard it called a strike, then he looked back to see the hand signal confirm it before he stared off into the distance. It’s always hard to say whether these things have effects. When Ben Revere took that strike from Wade Davis, he had a very animated response, and it’s possible his frustration led to his then quickly striking out. Peterson didn’t respond like Revere, but he did strike out, on a pitch that was in almost the same place:


That’s the 0-and-1 called strike. Two pitches later, LeCure threw a curveball to the same spot, and Peterson swung and missed. Maybe Peterson swung and missed at a pitch away because he’s not actually that good, relative to other major leaguers, and this is why he’s still fighting to establish himself at the highest level. Or maybe he swung and missed at a pitch away because even though he knew it was a pitch away, he had to act against his instinct because he’d just seen a pitch like that called against him, out of nowhere. Bad calls mess with hitters. This is why they want consistency. How are you supposed to respond to a bad call on a pitch out of the zone? Some part of your brain will register that pitch as a strike. And then that interferes with the development of your understanding of the zone.

Because of the off-center camera angle, this screenshot is a little tricky to read:


Adding lines helps maybe a little bit:


But for a different kind of reference, I looked up a virtually identical pitch, thrown and observed in a ballpark with a better angle. Here’s a fastball to Alejandro De Aza. It was in the same place as the fastball to Peterson. (It was a ball to De Aza.) (That’s why the call on Peterson was bad.)


The perfect angle reveals that a lot of the baseball flew inside the chalk in the opposite batter’s box. The height? The height was just fine. Thigh-high pitch. No problem. But, one problem. Hence Peterson’s reaction:


Credit to Bob Uecker — as irrelevant as everything was, he was still locked in and enthusiastic on the broadcast. For Uecker, the worst baseball game is still a baseball game.

Now from the stretch, here it is…Peterson took — on the outside corner, at the knees. Two strikes and nothing on him.

Uecker didn’t realize how far outside the pitch was, or maybe he didn’t care. But Uecker at least responded to the pitch having been thrown. He called the action, as he saw it. The Brewers TV broadcast said nothing about the pitch, and just talked about Sam LeCure’s time in the minors. The Reds TV broadcast featured 16 seconds of uninterrupted silence. Maybe they recognized exactly what happened, and didn’t want to report it in fear that somehow the call would be reversed. Or maybe they just zoned out and thought about dinner. Given the circumstances, I couldn’t blame them. Bad baseball is okay. But there are some really good dinners.

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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Bo Knows
8 years ago

“The good news is nobody cared.”

Gonna have to say you are 100% wrong about that, I guarantee you the players care. Even when you are getting calls in your favor you secretly know that the ump is inconsistent and that you will likely pay the price the next time.

Players want the game to be called the right way. Good outcomes don’t excuse shitty umpiring.

Bo Knows
8 years ago
Reply to  Bo Knows

I do see that you acknowledged this, my brain must have glazed over in the middle of the article :p

Well-Beered Englishman
8 years ago
Reply to  Bo Knows

Ah, another victim of Tom Hallion’s Disease.

8 years ago

Well played, sir.