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posted by janrinok on Wednesday April 02 2014, @05:06AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the no-not-nuclear-war-but-baseball dept.

Brayden King and Jerry Kim write in the NYT that a team studying more than 700,000 pitches into the strike-zone during major league baseball games found that umpires frequently made errors behind the plate about 14 percent of non-swinging pitches were called erroneously. Using pitch-location data compiled by high-speed cameras , the team found that many of those errors occurred in fairly predictable ways. For example, umpires tend to favor the home team by expanding the strike zone, calling a strike when the pitch was actually a ball 13.3 percent of the time for home team pitchers versus 12.7 percent of the time for visitors. Other errors were more surprising. For example, analysis suggests that umpires were 13 percent more likely to miss an actual strike in the bottom of the ninth inning of a tie game than in the top of the first inning, on the first pitch.

However the research team also observed that there are other errors that are not deliberate that may reflect an unconscious and biased decision-making process. In general umpires tend to make errors in ways that favor players who have established themselves at the top of the game's status hierarchy (PDF). For example, an umpire was about 16 percent more likely to erroneously call a pitch outside the zone a strike for a five-time All-Star than for a pitcher who had never appeared in an All-Star Game and an umpire was about 9 percent less likely to mistakenly call a real strike a ball for a five-time All-Star. Finally pitchers with a track record of not walking batters like Greg Maddux were much more likely to benefit from their All-Star status than similarly decorated but "wilder" pitchers like Randy Johnson.

"This season Major League Baseball is allowing its officiating crews to use instant replay to review certain critical calls, including home runs, force plays and foul balls. But the calling of the strike zone determining whether a pitch that is not swung at is a ball or a strike will still be left completely to the discretion of the officials," conclude the authors. "Technologically, Major League Baseball is in a position, thanks to its high-speed camera system, to enforce a completely accurate, uniform strike zone. The question is whether we, as fans, want our games to be fair and just, or whether we are compelled to watch the game because it mimics the real world, warts and all."

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  • (Score: 2, Interesting) by Hell_Rok on Wednesday April 02 2014, @05:11AM

    by Hell_Rok (2527) on Wednesday April 02 2014, @05:11AM (#24624) Homepage

    As a person who doesn't mind watching the odd game of baseball I'd say adopt the new technology but keep the same presentation.

    What I basically mean is, have the umpire behind the plate told whether it's a ball or a strike through a small ear piece and have him announce it like he usually would. This way it's completely fair (assuming no false positives) and the crowd still gets the show they usually do.

    This is assuming it takes only fractions of a second for the computer to tell if it's a strike or ball rather than a big delay.

    • (Score: 2) by JeanCroix on Wednesday April 02 2014, @02:17PM

      by JeanCroix (573) on Wednesday April 02 2014, @02:17PM (#24796)
      Interesting, but I have to wonder what the umpires themselves would think of becoming mere mouthpieces for the computerized system. Might we be reaching the point where sports officials (not just in baseball) can be fully replaced by a system of cameras and computers? No more missed penalties, no more controversial calls..? Personally, and especially for baseball, I'm torn on whether that's something I'd want.
      • (Score: 2) by buswolley on Wednesday April 02 2014, @03:24PM

        by buswolley (848) on Wednesday April 02 2014, @03:24PM (#24900)

        Depends on if there only choices were that or unemployment.

        --
        subicular junctures
  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by rbanfield on Wednesday April 02 2014, @05:55AM

    by rbanfield (818) on Wednesday April 02 2014, @05:55AM (#24632)

    According to the machine, the machine is always correct...

    Laterally, I'm sure the machine performs near flawlessly. However the strike zone is defined vertically as well, and varies according to the batter. The batter changes his stance in between the pitcher's wind-up and delivery. The knees, which define the lower limit of the strike zone are not equidistant to the ground. The definition of where the knee begins could itself be a subject of debate--doubly so in baggy uniforms. The batter also has the freedom to position himself forward or backward in the batters box, further complicating matters.

    In other words, there's a lot of variables which the machine does not account for, which in theory the umpire should. In practice of course, umpires are chosen based on the earliest age they lost their vision.

    Then there's the idea of gaming the system that was designed to be played and administrated by humans. Bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, full count, 2 outs, pitcher ready to pitch, and there's the batter in a catcher's squat while the computer calculates the strike zone as 1.5 inches tall. Or the pitcher who is able to nick the lower-outside corner with a seam of the baseball as it dives away in the dirt.

    I prefer the old system, where when the ump screws up you call him a bum as you toss your beer at him from the stands.

    • (Score: 2) by isostatic on Wednesday April 02 2014, @01:34PM

      by isostatic (365) on Wednesday April 02 2014, @01:34PM (#24755) Journal

      I prefer the old system, where when the ump screws up you call him a bum as you toss your beer at him from the stands.

      Is american beer really that bad?

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 02 2014, @02:20PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 02 2014, @02:20PM (#24799)

        American beer is known for being eerily similar both entering and exiting a person's body.

        By which I mean it tastes like piss.

      • (Score: 2) by JeanCroix on Wednesday April 02 2014, @02:22PM

        by JeanCroix (573) on Wednesday April 02 2014, @02:22PM (#24803)
        It used to be. But the quality of stadium beer has been getting better, although the Bud/Miller/Coors crap triumvirate is still fully ensconced. The bigger question is, who would chuck any beer that cost them $12?
  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by sjames on Wednesday April 02 2014, @09:49AM

    by sjames (2882) on Wednesday April 02 2014, @09:49AM (#24676) Journal

    There's a very simple explanation for the pitchers. The five time all-star got where he is because he has mastered the art of making a ball look like a strike. It shouldn't be much surprise it fools the ump sometimes. He will also often be paired with a catcher who is skilled in the art of framing the picth. It's part of the game and it would be a shame to lose it to automation.

    • (Score: 1) by Hawkwind on Wednesday April 02 2014, @10:47PM

      by Hawkwind (3531) on Wednesday April 02 2014, @10:47PM (#25224)

      Agreed! There was a point where the Atlanta team had this art approaching science. The umpires are generally pretty good about calling a consistent strike zone. Atlanta's pitchers were able to use this to their advantage by throwing precision pitches slowly more and more outside the strike zone, thereby getting the umpire to expand the zone. After all, someone with precision wouldn't be missing ... Being a fan in another NL West city it was not pleasant, but it was impressive.

      And yes, I meant 'West'.

      • (Score: 2) by sjames on Thursday April 03 2014, @09:19AM

        by sjames (2882) on Thursday April 03 2014, @09:19AM (#25420) Journal

        As a kid I thought it was very strange that the Braves were in the western division. But yes, it was fun to watch the strike zone expand.

        Of course, that leads to the other interplay where the batter tries to crowd the plate and the pitcher tries to back him off without actually hitting him. It's the unwritten rules of baseball that make it interesting.

  • (Score: 1) by CoolHand on Wednesday April 02 2014, @02:24PM

    by CoolHand (438) on Wednesday April 02 2014, @02:24PM (#24808) Journal

    Of course humans are not perfect. Only being wrong 14% of the time on small balls coming in at 90Mph isn't too shabby really. I wonder what percentage little league umpires are wrong, and how biased they are to the "star players." Sometimes those parents that blow there tops have some pretty good reasons (although nothing justifies the actions that some have displayed).

    It seems that baseball should have the technology now to put an RF transmitter in the ball and uniforms (at knees and chest), to take away this area of judgement from the Umpires and have a more "level playing field."

    Also, in regards to "star player treatment", I would LOVE to see that analyzed with NBA referees as I believe the problem is MUCH worse there. Unfortunately, there are so many judgement calls in the NBA that makes that sort of scientific analysis near impossible.

    --
    Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job-Douglas Adams
  • (Score: 1) by scruffybeard on Wednesday April 02 2014, @05:33PM

    by scruffybeard (533) on Wednesday April 02 2014, @05:33PM (#25042)

    How is it surprising that more errors are made in the 9th inning? Umpires can get tired too, especially if the game is "dragging".

  • (Score: 2) by efitton on Wednesday April 02 2014, @10:15PM

    by efitton (1077) on Wednesday April 02 2014, @10:15PM (#25201) Homepage

    Think it would be interesting and a good idea to standardize the strike zone (wasn't there a little person who got an at bat and drew a walk, uniform number of 1/2) and go technology to call strikes and balls. That said, I would have guessed the error rate to be higher and the bias towards the more renowned pitchers to also be higher. Not ideal, but not too shabby.