Another left-handed hitter, another game-ending strikeout

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Tuesday night, I went to bed earlier than usual. Much earlier than usual. But with Strasburg and Cain facing off in San Francisco, I hit the DVR's record button in the top of the sixth inning.

I woke up earlier than usual this morning. Much earlier than usual. After putting the dog out, the first thing I did was pick up Strasburg and Cain where I left off, with Cain pitching to lefty-hitting Danny Espinosa. First pitch I saw was an 0-and-2 off-speed pitch, which Espinosa took for a ball. Second pitch was a funky slider on the outside corner that Espinosa took for strike three, ending the inning. Espinosa thought it was actually outside. I thought it was actually outside. Bruce Dreckman thought it wasn't, and so Espinosa struck out. Happens many times every day.

But while that probably-outside pitch merely ended the sixth inning, another probably-outside pitch to a left-handed hitter ended a game Tuesday night. And as Cliff Corcoran points out, this is nothing new: Umpires typically call more outside strikes against left-handed hitters than right-handed hitters. Corcoran:

As I wrote in April in regards to Foster, that should not be allowed to continue. Umpires should not be allowed to regularly call strikes on pitches a half-foot outside to lefties, but per the above, that’s exactly what they are doing. And we’ve already seen two games (and likely more have gone unnoticed by this blog) end prematurely because of it, never mind how many mid-game rallies have been squashed by bad strike calls within that expanded zone.

For whatever reason, umpires have always called too many outside strikes, probably because they simply can't see those pitches real well. And they're probably calling more outside strikes against left-handed hitters than right-handed hitters because of where they're setting up. The problem, in terms of balancing the game, is that they've taken to calling more "high strikes" -- that is, strikes that really should be strikes, but didn't use to be -- which should be a good thing, and would if they were also calling the strike zone correctly on the sides.

But they're not. It's almost as if they stopped calling the high strikes at some point because they knew they were missing the pitches on the sides, and wanted to even things out. But now they're instructed to call the high strikes and are calling it because they can, but are missing the horizontal zone because they just can't see it.

The problem, I think, is that the umpire can't see everything. If he sets up directly behind the catcher, he's going to miss some low pitches. And if he sets up behind the catcher's shoulder, he's going to miss some pitches on the opposite side. It's possible that Baseball has decided the current system will result in the fewest missed calls. But if this really is the absolute best they can do, you've got an argument for someday automating the strike zone.

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