Jonathan Papelbon and a generous (human) strike zone

USA TODAY Sports Images

What looks like a ridiculous called strike through technology might not have been so outrageous after all, thanks to the same technology.

Technology has made it pretty easy to bash umpires these days. As we've seen in the past few weeks, you don't necessarily need anything but a pair of working eyeballs to see the umps screw up, but technology has helped with the little things like balls and strikes. Take Sunday's extra inning contest between the Diamondbacks and Phillies, for example, when Jonathan Papelbon punched out Cliff Pennington on a pitch well outside the strike zone in the bottom of the 10th:

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Papelbon-pennington-strikeout

If that doesn't give you a great indication of how far outside it was, this replay with the pitch tracker from the Diamondbacks' broadcast will help, and shed some light on why D'backs announcer Steve Berthiaume called for the introduction of robot umpires following the pitch:

Papelbon-frame

It's worth pointing out here that Carlos Ruiz, who entered the game in the 10th for Erik Kratz, manages to pull this pitch back within range of the strike zone without appearing as if he is lunging or stabbing at it -- it's a bit of a stretch for a frame job, but it might have helped his pitcher out just enough to get the call.

More important, though, than letting umpire Kerwin Danley off the hook because Ruiz is a good actor, is the strike zone used for the whole game. Danley's strike zone to left-handed batters -- Pennington, a switch-hitter, hit from the left side with the righty Papelbon on the mound -- stretched well outside, as this PITCHf/x graph from Brooks Baseball shows:

Danley_lhh_zone

This is from the catcher's point of view, hence things being flipped around from the GIFs above. See that red square to the left, outside the standard strike zone boundary? That's Papelbon's called strike to Pennington. It's not even the furthest outside of the game, and the one that was went against the Phillies.

So, we can be a bit miffed about Danley not calling the standard strike zone that we expect, the one presented to us by PITCHf/x technology during the game. However, we can't be too upset with him, as it's pretty clear he had a consistent and wide zone in place throughout the game for lefties, with the exception of one ball that went in Arizona's favor... and we're able to see this because of PITCHf/x technology after the game.

It's a bit funny that pitch-tracking technology is both the source of our frustration and understanding -- the difference is mostly in the timing -- but that's baseball in today's world.

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