The Worst Called Ball of the First Half

We are a few weeks beyond the half point of the season and on the weekend I went in search for one of my favourite articles of each season. But after a few minutes of searching I realised that it wouldn’t exist this season. The reason for that, is that the author now works for a team and no longer does his writing bless the pages of FanGraphs.

So this series is my tribute to Jeff Sullivan (Geoff Sillyman to his EW friends) and his lost but not forgotten articles on the worst called balls and strikes of the half and full seasons. It will hopefully feel similar but different as I put my own brand on the “Worst” series.

There were 3 strong candidates for the worst call of the first half, they were the only pitches in zone 5 of the diagram below, a 8” x 6.6” square in the middle of the zone that were called balls. I have introduced my own grading system to determine which of these three pitches was the worst call.

Candidate 1 – 2019-05-07 – Antonio Senzatela to Mac Williamson, HP Umpire – Ted Barett

Where do we start with this? Senzatela is 58 pitches into a game against the Giants, he has two on with two outs and is looking to get out of the inning without giving up the go ahead run.

The start of the at bat to Williamson he throws 77 mph change up and it is clear from where the Rockies catcher, Chris Iannetta, sets up and the mound visit after this was not the pitch he was expecting. Iannetta starts middle and inside but ends up going high and inside before taking the pitch low and away, barely getting to it before the hit the dirt. I believe that a cross up most likely occurred due to a man being on 2nd and more complicated signals being uses.

I watched this multiple times and to be perfectly honest, with all the action going on with the catcher, I couldn’t tell where it crossed the plate but it looked like a strike. According to Statcast this crossed the plate just 1.8 inches away from the middle of the zone. Pitch number 1 in the image below.

This to me is a clear sign of bad framing from catcher. As soon as the pitch is thrown Iannetta has no idea where it is going to end up so goes high to receive it as if it was a fastball and then drops down to get it when he realises it is an off speed pitch. His momentum is taking him downwards so he has no chance of framing the pitch to zone.

The second pitch was fouled off and what makes this all worse is that on the 3rd pitch of this plate appearance Mac Williamson took him deep on a 1-1 pitch he probably wouldn’t have thrown if the count was 0-2, as it should have been. Senzatela also gave up 2-run HR later in the inning and in doing so, he took the loss for this game.

Call Grade Card
Location : A – About as middle middle as you can get.
Framing : E – About as bad a framing job as can be done, exacerbated by pitch mix up.
At Bat Impact : A – Ends up as a home run on a 1-1 pitch when should be 0-2 down.
Game Impact : B – Takes game from 1-1 to 4-1, 6-1 by end of the inning. Rockies never get back in it but had time to do so.

Candidate 2 – 2019-05-10 – Tyler Glasnow to Brett Gardner, HP Umpire – Cory Blaser

Our second candidate comes from a top of the table clash in the AL East, at the time of the game the Rays were still 1.5 games ahead of the Yankees with this being the first of 3 game series. An error, a walk, a passed ball and two singles helped the Yankees to a 2-0 lead in the first. Into the second, Glasnow had just walked Cameron Maybin and allowed him steal second, just two pitches before this. Behind 2-1 in the count he threw 82 mph change which is called a ball even though it was 1.9 inches from the centre of the plate.

This was another off speed pitch that was pretty much down the middle but was most likely called a ball due to bad framing. The Rays catcher, Nick Ciuffo starts in the middle of the zone, goes high and then barely picks the pitch off the dirt. On the final picture below you can see the location of the pitch from the Rays broadcast. I suspect again that there was a cross up due runner on second and the complicated pitch signals that ensue.

In this instance, thankfully for the Rays, the missed call didn’t have much impact on the overall at bat, as Gardner struck out on a full count to 97 four seamer to the top inside corner of the plate.

Call Grade Card
Location : A – About as middle middle as you can get.
Framing : D – Not a bad the previous just up and down not all around the zone.
At Bat Impact : E – Ends up as a strikeout.
Game Impact : E – No impact due to strikeout.

Candidate 3 – 2019-05-01 – Collin McHugh to Max Kepler, HP Umpire – Chris Segal

On a cold (46 °F, 8 °C) weekday evening in Minnesota, Collin McHugh was trying to keep his side in the game. He had retired the Twins in order in every inning bar the 3rd in which he gave up 3 runs and had got Byron Buxton to pop out with the first pitch of the 5th inning. He was then to face the heart of the Twins, Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco and Nelson Cruz (136, 155, 149 wRC+ respectively for Mar/Apr 2019).

He did what over a quarter of pitchers do and threw pitch over the heart of the plate. It was an 86 mph cutter that was 4.25 inches from the centre and caught the bottom corner of zone 5. Yet, it was not called a strike.

Twins catcher Mitch Garver does move from high and inside to low and away but his glove is never out of the on-screen zone. This maybe indicates that the pitch wasn’t the one that he was expecting but this isn’t like the other two when the ball is caught clearly out of the zone.

The one thing it does have in common though, is that the momentum of the catcher is taking his hand out of the zone and not into the zone. If you watch the pitch afterwards, besides the inane commentary from the Astros booth (sorry no Twins coverage of the game), you will see that when Garver is in the right position to collect the pitch and bring it into the zone, he gets the strike call for a pitch that was much closer to the edge of the zone.

After Kepler fouled the off next pitch, McHugh left an 80 mph slider over the lower middle of the plate which Kepler duly smacked a double off the centre field wall. He was driven in by Cruz later in the inning.

Call Grade Card
Location : A- – On the corner of zone 5.
Framing : C – Ok, but his momentum is taking him out of the zone.
At Bat Impact : B+ – Ends up as a double.
Game Impact : C- – Batter is brought home later in inning to put Twins 4-0 but game ended 6-2.

For me it was very close for which was worse out of 1 or 3, the location of the first pitch is just so down the middle, but the horror show framing makes me give some leeway to the ump. For me 3 never looked like anything but a strike, however, as it was a little further from the middle and the impact wasn’t as high. So, I choose number 1 as the worse called ball.

So there you have it, for me the worse called ball of the first half was by Ted Barett. Congratulations, or should that be commiserations, Ted and commiserations to Cory and Chris? They came very close in a tight race.

Do you agree with my decision? Or have found a worse candidate? Comment it here or on twitter via @batflips_nerds.

All of these videos were search for and taken from MLB Baseball Savant, All rights reserved to MLB Advanced Media, LP.

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