Tag Archives: Umpire

What I’ve Learned as a Fan That I Wish I Knew as a Player

In my youth, I played quite a bit of baseball. Well, actually, I played a number of sports, but baseball was the one I was involved with the most. Baseball is one of those sports where there is some level of subjectivity. For example, when the umpire calls a pitch a strike when you think it’s a ball. Or, when you’re sliding into second and you think you touch the base before the fielder tags you with his glove. Of course, with instant replay now instituted in professional baseball, some of these calls are more likely to be ‘right.’

Switching gears for a moment: this past weekend, the Brooklyn Nets beat the Toronto Raptors — by one point — to advance to the second round of the NBA playoffs. The Raptors trailed for most of the game and by double-digits deep into the 4th quarter. However, they made it really close at the end and, in fact, had a chance to win the game with less than seven seconds in the 4th quarter. The reason I’m bringing up this game and this series is because there were quite a few controversial calls by the officials. And that article only mentions the calls made in the last game.

When I was younger (and playing competitively), I would have stewed for hours after the game because of what I perceived as a “bad call.” I would have blamed the umpires for the part they played in my team “losing” the game. Even as a fan when I was younger, I would blame the officials of whatever sport I was watching for the poor calls that negatively affected the team I was cheering for.

After watching the series between the Nets and the Raptors, there were certainly times when I disagreed with the way the referees saw a play (and on many occasions, so did the announcers). Even still, as any good athlete will tell you, they’ve got to play well enough that a call by an official doesn’t mean a win or a loss. That doesn’t mean that a call from an official won’t disappoint you, but you’ve got to put it out of your mind and move onto the next play. I’m not implying that some of the poor calls affected the Raptors (or the Nets), but I’d be surprised if they didn’t even just a little.

With that being said, as a “fan,” it’s so much more enjoyable to watch a game and not stew about a bad call long after it’s over.

How Big Data Can Make Watching Baseball More Fun

I like baseball. I played it all throughout my youth and my years as a teenager. So, not surprisingly, I also like to watch baseball. Watching baseball on TV has come quite a ways. While baseball was first televised in the 1930s, instant replay didn’t come along until almost 1960. Nowadays, you can’t watch a game without seeing just about every “key play” replayed. From the replay of the last double in the gap to the last pitch that was so close to being called a strike. And on that note about strikes, we can now see a makeshift strike zone on the screen next to the batter/catcher.

My post today is a pitch (pardon the pun) about how to improve the viewing experience in the context of that makeshift strike zone, which on some networks, is called pitch tracker.

On the pitch tracker, we can see a few things that have happened during the at bat. We can see where each pitch crossed the plate and at what height. We can also see if the pitch was fouled off and if the pitch was a ball. While all of this great, in my opinion, there is one major flaw to all of this — the “strike zone” isn’t universal. That is, as many players will tell you, each umpire has a different “strike zone.” Some umpires like to call a “wider” strike zone. Meaning, on the screen, it will appear as though the pitch is quite a few inches outside of the strike zone, the umpire calls that pitch a strike.

To the casual fan this may be confusing, but to a fan who watches baseball frequently, this may be frustrating. Especially as the game wears on, you might hear the announcer state that the last pitch was called a strike earlier in the game, but now it’s being called a ball. I’d like to eliminate the need for the announcer to tell me this. I’d also like to eliminate the confusion of the fan who sees a pitch that appears outside the strike zone, but is called a strike. How can we do this? Big Data.

Umpires go through a rigorous process before becoming an MLB umpire. As a result, their strike zone will probably be pretty much set in stone by the time they get to umpire their first MLB game. I propose that instead of using the “standard” or traditional strike zone on the screen during the game that networks show us the strike zone of the umpire. So, if an umpire usually calls strikes that appear 6 inches outside, we can see that because that’s the strike zone on the screen. We could even using a rolling average of the umpire’s career, such that only the last 3 seasons are taken into account when creating the strike zone on the screen.

The reason I suggested Big Data as the solution to this is because of all the sports, baseball is one of the ones with reams of data. Bill James did an excellent job of using data to allow us to better understand the success and failure of players, I think it’s time we use some of that data to make watching baseball just a bit more interesting.