Shift. Robot. Umpires. Now.

I saw an interesting stat line a few days ago that caught my eye:

Bryce Harper’s batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentages:

Through July 27th:  .253/.366/.465

Since July 28th:  .250/.423/.650

Now there are two matters worth noting here:

First, stop using batting average as a benchmark of a player’s offensive ability.  Those two stretches for Harper have an almost identical BA, but needless to say, the production and value are significantly better in the second group.  Batting average and batting titles are a fun thing for the fans and Luddite announcers, as they sell hot dogs and ad space.  But it tells you little about player performance, in spite of what Paul O’Neill says every damn broadcast.

Secondly and perhaps more importantly, with regards to Harper, it begs the question – what changed?

Mike Petriello did some research and wrote a great article about it so I’ll spare you the math and charts and bottom line it for you (but if you want the breakdown, check out Mike’s work, it’s very good):

Bryce Harper simply stopped worrying about hitting the ball the other way against the shift and started blasting the baseball to the pull side, with a big middle finger directed at the shift.  And like Jose Ramirez before him, it’s working big time.

With more and more evidence piling up that the effect of shifts is small (even the best teams in baseball at shifting have only prevented about one hit per every six games on average this season), it’s becoming clear that the shift can be effective as a “mind F” as Petriello put it.  Players like Joey Gallo and Rhys Hoskins never bothered to change and continued to pull and elevate the ball with great success.  Players like Ramirez and Harper got it in their heads that they needed to change, when in fact they did not.  Again, not everybody is Rod Carew, not everybody is Ichiro – players need to stick with their strengths.

Robot.  Umpires.  Now.

If it ain’t a mess it’ll sure do until the mess gets here.” – Tommy Lee Jones’ character in “No Country for Old Men”.

Before the umpiring crew in yesterday’s NY vs. CLE game turned the game into a shit show, it was already a shit show.

In the 3rd inning, with a 1-2 count and Thairo Estrada on first base, D.J. LeMahieu took a fastball middle-low, just above the knees, clearly a strike.  However, home plate umpire Ben May did not, in fact, call the pitch a strike.  Why?  Because Estrada took off for second on the pitch and Cleveland catcher Kevin Plawecki moved to throw as he received the ball.  A few pitches later, Estrada scored on a single and an error.

Then in the 5th inning with 2 out, Yankee pitcher James Paxton had Carlos Santana struck out on a pitch up and in, but clearly in the strike zone.  That pitch also was called a ball because Yankee catcher Austin Romine did his best Jorge Posada impression and awkwardly moved his whole body while stabbing at the ball instead of just letting it come to him and receiving it.  Within a few minutes, the Indians had scored two runs instead of being back out in the field with zero runs scored.

This is the part I cannot get past no matter how hard I try:  The pitch should be seen and called a ball or a strike before it ever gets to the batter or catcher.  What they do has nothing to do with the position of the ball as it crosses the front of home plate.  And still, game after game, umpires do not call pitches that are clearly in the strike zone strikes for no other reason than the catcher moved before catching the ball.  And in the above cases, the non-calls led to 3 runs in the game – this is not a negligible issue that we can dismiss.  Game outcomes are literally being altered by something that is easily preventable.  I don’t want to hear how hard the umpires’ job is, I get that.  But just explaining to them to disregard the catcher when watching the ball cross the plate shouldn’t be that difficult.

Robot.  Umpires.  Now.

Did I miss something?  Let me know.

*I didn’t have the time to check if that was Tommy Lee Jones’ exact quote, I pulled it from memory.  My apologies if I’m off a little and you’re the kind of person that would upset.

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