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posted by janrinok on Wednesday April 02 2014, @05:06AM   Printer-friendly
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: 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.

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  • (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?