Pitch f/x: Comparing the Strike Zones for Pirates, Opponents

Crotta fell victim to a small zone on Sunday

There was quite a bit of discussion regarding the role of umpiring in the Pirates’ 6-5 loss to the Colorado Rockies on Sunday afternoon. In particular, attention was focused on Mike Crotta’s relief outing in the seventh inning of that game. Crotta walked three of the four batters he faced, helping the Rockies score twice and take a lead they would not relinquish. Pitch f/x data collected by Brooks Baseball indicated that several pitches thrown by Crotta were called balls despite possibly being inside the strike zone. In the ninth inning, the frustration of Pirates fans was intensified by debatable strike calls with Steve Pearce and John Bowker at the plate.

To my recollection, this was the second instance of this young season in which the Pirates strike zone did not seem to match that of their opponents. After speculating that I was probably just selectively remembering the events due to my biased fandom, I decided to dig deeper. So I updated my Pitch f/x database for the first time this year and began pulling some data. The graph below shows all 2011 called strikes for Pirates pitchers in blue, and called strikes for opposing pitchers in red. Please note that the height of the strike zone is just an estimate, as it changes for every batter.

(click to enlarge)

It seems clear from this graphic that opposing pitchers are benefiting from a slightly larger strike zone than Pirates pitchers are receiving, particularly on the corners. Most likely, this is just a sample size issue. We are only 11 games into the season, so a game or two of wacky strike zones can really skew the results. If one were to conduct this type of study for other teams, I am sure we would see similar results for several teams.

Update (4/15/2011, 12:05 AM): Per a request in the comments, here is an additional chart. I added pitches thrown by Pirates pitchers that were called balls.

(click to enlarge)

Note: The above charts include data through April 12, 2011.

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Matt Bandi

Matt has covered the Pirates at Wait ‘Til Next Year, Pittsburgh Lumber Co. and now Pirates Prospects. He served as Pirates team expert for Heater Magazine in 2009 and 2010 and has contributed to Graphical Player 2009, 2010 and 2011. Matt was also the editor of the 2011 and 2012 Pirates Prospects Annuals.

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  • Patrick Kelly

    Would it be terribly difficult to put together a chart showing pitches in the strike zone that were called balls? I think that would be a much more telling argument to cite whether or not the Bucs pitchers are getting squeezed this year so far.

    • MattBandi

      I added a new graph to the post. Unfortunately, I was unable to get balls thrown by opponents to show up correctly. Having issues with my computer. Hope this helps.

  • drkfj

    In the latter graph, the Pirates had a few balls right in the middle called balls. That seems very odd

    • MattBandi

      For what it’s worth, here are the at-bats that a few of those pitches were from.

      4/3/2011 – Ohlendorf vs. Castro, 1st inning
      4/5/2011 – Karstens vs. Freese, 6th inning
      4/8/2011 – Karstens vs. Gonzalez, 5th inning

  • Anonymous

    It would really be interesting to know to what degree the pitches that were called strikes inside and outside were to Lefty or Righty batters. The strike zone sure looks wide on the outside for a Righty batter and inside for a Lefty batter. But not near as much for the reverse.

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