So I invented a stat. There’s a 0.1% chance that this is a groundbreaking new statistic that will revolutionize the way we look at hitters, and a 99% chance that this is just some dumb nonsense I did to pass all the time I have during my winter break from grad school. Look, I was bored, and you’re already here, so you may as well finish. It’s gonna be fun, I promise.
Here’s what I did. Using Statcast data from Baseball Savant, I found the number of called strikes that were out of the zone (O-Strikes), and subtracted the called balls that were in the zone (Z-Balls), thus finding the net amount of undeserved strikes each batter saw. As a rate stat (divided by the total number of pitchers), I call it NoRespect%, and name those who suffer it after the late comedian who never got no respect at all. Here are your 2016 Rodney Dangerfield All Stars (MVP in bold):
C Yasmani Grandal, LAD (5.53 NoRespect%)
1B John Jaso, PIT (7.48%)
2B Ben Zobrist, CHC (6.97%)
SS Eugenio Suarez, CIN (5.51%)
3B Matt Carpenter, STL (5.83%)
LF Christian Yelich, MIA (6.08%)
CF Curtis Granderson, NYM (7.80%)
RF Nick Markakis, ATL (6.55%)
DH Joe Mauer, MIN (6.34%)
What do we take away from this? Well, the next time you see one of these fellas arguing balls and strikes with an umpire, it’d be nice to give him the benefit of the doubt, even if you don’t think he’s got a case on the particular call in question. He’s been dealing with it all his life, and he’s weary, my friend. So very weary.
Let’s look at some charts! Here are your top 10 victims of NoRespect%, as well as the bottom 10 lucky boys who avoided it (min. 1500 pitches faced).
|Name||POS||L/R||2016 No Respect%||Career No Respect%|
|Name||POS||L/R||2016 No Respect%||Career No Respect%|
We know that lefties face a different, larger strike zone than righties, and that’s represented here; you need to drop down to 14th to find a right-handed hitter on the top of the leaderboard (Matt Holliday, 5.76%). This is unfair, but in the same way that it’s unfair to be angry that Brad Pitt didn’t win People’s Sexiest Man Alive award last year. Right-handed people are clearly inferior to southpaws like myself, and it is only right to try to mitigate our superior mental and physical capabilities with a fluid application of the rules.
You didn’t need me to tell you that lefties find themselves on the wrong end of bad strike calls more often, so I dug a tad deeper. I charted a scatter plot to see how the NoRespect% changed as a function of overall Swing%. I assumed that in general, players who were more discerning at the plate would be given the benefit of the doubt more often by umpires, and therefore be on the lower end. As Swing% rose, I expected NoRespect% to rise with it. Here’s what I found:
[Extreme Thomas Jefferson voice after he’s been advised to seek Alexander Hamilton’s endorsement in the Broadway smash hit Hamilton: An American Musical]: Whaaaaaaat. As you can see here, the opposite of my hypothesis is actually true: there was a fairly strong negative correlation (-.455 r, for those who care about such things) between Swing% and No Respect%. Many of our favorite free swingers — Carlos Gómez (2.47%), Adam Jones (2.06%), Salvador Perez (2.65%) — are rarely unfairly penalized by umpires on borderline pitches they lay off of. Perhaps the umpires are merely rewarding their restraint in a Skinnervian attempt to elicit further good behavior, or perhaps they simply assume that if the pitch was a strike, that ding-dong would have taken a hack. Back during his Brewers days, Gómez was famously quoted as saying, “It has to be like, wayyy a ball for us not to swing.” Maybe all the umpires believed him. This could be the new market inefficiency.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t this all a bunch of small sample size nonsense? Are you sure this isn’t just noise? Why are you wasting your life, you exceedingly silly person? Oh ho, dear reader. It turns out there might be something to this! I found that on average, each player’s career NoRespect% (dating back to 2008, the first year for which Statcast has information) deviated from his 2016 rate by just 0.58% (found by using the absolute values of the difference, of course). It seems that the unfortunate ability to have balls called strikes against you is one that follows you throughout the years.
Some more odds and ends I found interesting during this lightly mathematical journey:
- If you add Z-Balls and O-Strikes, rather than subtract the former from the latter, you get the percentage of pitches umpires make poor calls on. The introduction of technology to the evaluation process for umpiring seems to be helping. The overall percentage of bad calls was 6.48% in 2016, down from an average of 7.4% over the span for which Statcast has data.
- While Swing% was inversely correlated with NoRespect%, it appears that defensive distance from home plate is strongly positively correlated. Outfielders riddle the top of the 2016 leaderboard (eight of the top 10), while the bottom of the career leaderboard is populated heavily with catchers (9 out of the bottom 20). That umpires would be reticent to ring up catchers on borderline calls makes some sense, but I’m not sure why they seem to take out their aggression on the poor outfielders instead. You rarely see umpires position themselves on the grass, so it is possible that men who are drawn to the profession hate and fear lawns and those who spend their time on them.
- Matt Kemp, who is always crying about strike zones, has a career 3.76 NoRespect%, which is well below the league average. He should probably quit all that bellyaching.
. . .
Travis Sarandos is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score, a Taylor Swift enthusiast and a very nice person. You can follow him on Twitter at @travis_mke.