Getting And Not Getting The Calls, Again

Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann (16) and relief pitcher Anthony Varvaro (38) hug after the final out against the New York Mets during the ninth inning at Turner Field. The Braves defeated the Mets 6-1. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-US PRESSWIRE

Which pitchers and teams have been given the most favorable strike zones so far? Which pitchers and teams have been given the *least* favorable strike zones so far? We attempt to examine, once more.

Toward the end of May, I worked up an article right here titled Getting And Not Getting The Calls. Using data that's readily available at FanGraphs, and using mathematical formulas that are readily available in my head, I tried to figure out which individual pitchers and whole teams were being given the most favorable strike zones and the least favorable strike zones.

It's pretty simple. We know how many strikes are thrown, and we know how many total pitches are thrown. Using PITCHf/x, FanGraphs tracks how many pitches are thrown within the assigned strike zone, and how many swing attempts there are at pitches out of the strike zone. If you add out-of-zone swing attempts to in-zone pitches, you get an "expected strikes" total. That total can then be compared to the actual strikes total. Presto, science!

The methodology isn't absolutely perfect. The big factor here is the assigned PITCHf/x strike zone. If that strike zone is meaningfully different from real-life strike zones, then we could conceivably end up with some problems in the data. For example, say the PITCHf/x strike zone extends lower than normal umpire strike zones. Now say you have a pitcher or a team that throws a ton of pitches down at the lower border of the zone. The data would presumably indicate an unfavorable strike zone, even if that weren't entirely true. We'll live with that and move on.

I'm revisiting this topic because now we have twice as much 2012 information as we had when I wrote this up the first time. A bigger sample size is a more significant sample size, so we can read more into this if we want. We'll begin with the pitchers who've been given more strikes than expected. The top 10, in difference per 1000 pitches:

1. Zack Greinke, +30.6 strikes per 1000 pitches
2. Yovani Gallardo, +26.5
3. Scott Atchison, +25.6
4. Randall Delgado, +24.1
5. Jair Jurrjens, +23.2
6. Andy Pettitte, +22.6
7. Shawn Camp, +22.0
8. Freddy Garcia, +21.5
9. Jon Lester, +21.4
10. Jeremy Hellickson, +20.0

Earlier, we presumed a lot of this has to do with catcher pitch-framing. I don't see any reason to back away from that. Here, in the top ten, we see a pair of Brewers, a pair of Braves, a pair of Red Sox, and a pair of Yankees. Greinke and Gallardo are still atop the leaderboard. Interestingly, Greinke has regressed an awful lot since the first article. At that point, he was up 50 total strikes. Now he's up 57 total strikes. It could just be regression, or noise. An alternate explanation would be that the first article was written right before Jonathan Lucroy got hurt. Lucroy is considered one of the top pitch-framers in baseball, and it stands to reason that losing him would cost a starting pitcher some calls. Gallardo has also regressed, albeit less so.

Now we look at the bottom 10, in difference per 1000 pitches:

1. Justin Masterson, -42.5 strikes per 1000 pitches
2. Neftali Feliz, -39.2
3. Blake Beavan, -36.6
4. Charlie Morton, -36.3
5. James McDonald, -34.7
6t. Nathan Eovaldi, -34.3
6t. Chad Gaudin, -34.3
8. Jeanmar Gomez, -32.4
9t. Henderson Alvarez, -28.7
9t. Luis Perez, -28.7

Good ol' Justin Masterson, still sitting in last. Right where he was last time. This isn't preventing him from having any success, but it couldn't possibly be helping. We look once more at Masterson's called strike zones, from Texas Leaguers. Against right-handed hitters:


Against left-handed hitters:


Masterson throws a lot of sinkers, with a lot of movement, which could be partially to blame. It could be the catchers. It could be nothing! All of this research might be completely misleading and incorrect! Please don't write any letters to your congresspeople complaining about Justin Masterson's strike zone while citing this article or the last one. If you've already begun, and you've addressed a letter to the government, please write about something else instead.

Finally, we close by looking at entire teams. This is probably the most interesting part of the whole article. The full table:

Team Diff/1000
Braves 12.0
Brewers 12.0
Yankees 7.4
Reds 6.1
Rays 1.6
Cardinals 1.5
Nationals 1.1
Giants -0.2
Red Sox -0.7
Mets -1.5
Diamondbacks -1.7
Angels -3.7
Phillies -4.7
Cubs -5.8
Astros -6.1
Blue Jays -7.8
Padres -8.7
Orioles -9.6
White Sox -9.7
Royals -10.1
Marlins -10.3
Rockies -10.9
Tigers -12.4
Twins -13.3
Athletics -13.4
Dodgers -15.1
Rangers -16.5
Mariners -17.5
Indians -19.9
Pirates -23.9

The overall league average is -5.6 strikes per 1000 pitches, indicating a difference between the PITCHf/x strike zone and the real-life strike zones. If you want to put most of this on pitch-framing, Brian McCann has caught the majority of the Braves' innings, while Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado have caught most of the Brewers' innings. Rod Barajas and Michael McKenry have been catching for the Pirates. Carlos Santana has been the guy for the Indians, and the Mariners have rotated Miguel Olivo, Jesus Montero, and John Jaso.

Remember, that's per 1000 pitches thrown. The Braves have thrown more than 13,000 pitches, while the Brewers have thrown more than 14,000. The Pirates are at -302 strikes overall. The Brewers are at +169. Everyone else is in between. Individual strikes generally don't make a lot of difference, but little things pile up to create big things. Have you ever observed literally any big thing? It's all little things! And a surprising amount of air.

Knowing me, we'll probably re-visit this again at the end of the season. I wouldn't expect all that much to change.

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