As I mentioned in my first piece of this series, I miss the semi-season articles that Jeff Sullivan used to do for FanGraphs on the worst called balls and strikes. In the last piece we looked at called balls and this time we are going to be looking at called strikes.
I didn’t have a clear defined shortlist for these terrible called strikes as I did for the called balls. Thankfully for MLB, but regrettably for me, there was not a called strike on a pitch thrown in the waste zone. Which is outside an area whose sides are twice that of the normal strike zone.
There was however 564 pitches, from 300 pitchers, which were called strikes in the chase zone, which is outside a normal zone increased by 33% and inside the waste zone. These were whittled down to the four I am about to show you. The four are the winners of separate categories, furthest from the centre, furthest above the zone, further below the zone and furthest horizontally away from the centre.
Side Note: If you were wondering Zach Eflin had the most pitches fall into this category with 10.
Also, in stark difference to the called balls pitches, where the pitchers didn’t really react, we get some reactions from the batters to these pitches.
Candidate 1 – 2019-03-30 – Joe Biagini to Nicholas Castellanos, HP Umpire – Ed Hickox
This was an important plate appearance in the context of this game, the Tigers were down 3 runs with one out left remaining in the seventh. But they had a man on first with the heart of the order coming up. This was their chance to rally. Castellanos had swung and missed on pitches well out the zone for pitches 1 and 3 but followed it up with great patience to work it up to full count.
He then took an 86 mph curve ball from Biagini and was called out looking. This pitch was 21.5 inches away from the centre of the plate, which won it the furthest from centre of the zone competition. As you can see Nicholas Castellanos has very upright position when he comes up to bat, which means he has one of the tallest zones (roughly 1.9ft to 4.2ft of the ground).
This pitch was over half a foot below his enlarge strike zone and, even though Danny Jansen did his best framing job for the pitch, the called strike was met with pure shock by Castellanos. He already started he walk to first, when he heard the called, turned and faced the umpire. He had a few words but kept it professional and walked away from it.
Candidate 2 – 2019-04-09 – Matt Barnes to Brandon Drury, HP Umpire – Chris Guccione
Leading 7-5 in the top of the 9th, Drury was looking to add on another safety run as he has Freddy Galvis on 2nd. He had been patient so far in the at bat, taking high and low balls after fouling of a low first pitch. He then took another low pitch, this one is 8.7 inches below the plate and was livid when a strike was given. He says something and then takes a long walk away from the plate. If we look at the pitch before we might see why he was so livid about the call.
The previous pitch was almost identical as that and was called a ball, it was about 1 inch lower and 1.5 to the side.
If we compare the two pieces of framing by Christian Vazquez you can see that he was off balance on the first pitch, goes down on one knee when catches it and takes the pitch to the ground when he catches it. This was called a ball.
But on the second pitch he has gone down on one knee before catching the ball and has the opportunity to frame the pitch to the corner of the zone. In doing so he gets the call.
But we are not done with this plate appearance, as you may have realised from the pitch location chart. The next pitch is a lovely 96 mph fastball on the outside edge and was not called for a strike. This time it is Vazquez who shows his frustration. The Blue Jays commentary team immediately call it a make up call.
Finally with a full count Barnes gets Drury to swing and miss on 96 mph four seamer. Drury doesn’t make anything of the at bat as he walks off probably down to the make up pitch.
Candidate 3 – 2019-05-12 – Dakota Hudson to Bryan Reynolds, HP Umpire – Mike Muchlinski
This one comes early into an encounter between the Cardinals and the Pirates. Hudson with his third pitch of the game loops an off speed pitch 7.5 inches above the plate and the home plate calls strike. The Pirates commentary make a remark about a high call and everyone moves on. No amazing framing on this pitch just an umpire who had yet to calibrate his zone.
The plate appearance lasted a total of 11 pitches with Reynolds fouling off 8 pitches before flying out to Marcell Ozuna. That being said, Reynolds might have been swinging on those high pitches because of the first call.
Candidate 4 – 2019-06-08 – Jon Gray to Amed Rosario, HP Umpire – Mike Winters
In isolation that was a bad call but to fully understand the frustration of Rosario and the Mets we need to go back two hitters to when Wilson Ramos was at the plate. Gray threw a beautiful 98mph fastball which may just about have clipped the edge of the zone but you can understand why a player could be annoyed by that call.
Ramos hit a single off the next pitch. Next up was Todd Frazier and Jon Gray did what any top level pitcher should try and do, expand the zone. After having the strike call against Ramos he threw one even further off the plate, this time at 97mph and got the called strike.
Frazier, who didn’t look best pleased with the call, drove in a go-ahead run with single and lobbed his bat sideways giving the evil eye to the home plate umpire when he was on 1st. That meant that up stepped Amed Rosario. He would have been closely watching these previous at bats and when he took a first pitch strike which was probably just above the zone he showed his frustration bouncing up and down after the call.
Next pitch he went even higher, which Rosario chased. That put the count at 0-2, Gray had options of going high again or to the slider which he had stuck out Rosario during the last at bat. However, Tony Wolters, the Rockies catcher, makes a clear signal to throw the ball on the outside. This is with a man on second who should be able to clearly pick that signal up.
The pitch is thrown 6.5 inches off the side of the plate, Rosario doesn’t swing, Wolters makes little to no framing attempt to bring it back in and somehow the umpire calls a strike. All the Fox commentary team can say is “Oh my goodness” and “That was outside” and as the Mets walk off the field Frazier is giving his piece of mind to some off-screen official. The Mets go on to win this game 5-3.
Here are the 3 pitches in sequence (2, 1 & 3 respectively) which show the expansion of the zone which Gray and Wolters managed. I have to give some credit, where it is due, here to them but that was a terrible call.
There was a reason I didn’t grade this pitches like I did for the called balls because once I watched this pitch I knew I had a winner.
So there you have it, for me the worse called strike of the first half was by Mike Winters.
Do you agree with my decision or have found a worse candidate comment it here or on twitter.
All of these videos were search for and taken from MLB Baseball Savant, All rights reserved to MLB Advanced Media, LP.