Thursday, May 3, 2018

Todd Frazier - "These Umpires Have Got to Get Better"

Mets player Todd Frazier called for umpire accountability after New York's 7-0 shutout loss to Atlanta Wednesday night, claiming ball/strike calls were a habitual problem for "everybody around the league," stating, "These umpires have got to get better."

Todd Frazier is not a fan of umpires right now.
To answer the question of whether Frazier has a point or whether he is exaggerating, let's turn to some numbers.

First is league accuracy. Though precise numbers are tight-lipped, 95% seems to be a sufficient low-end benchmark. For instance, Angel Hernandez in his 2017 lawsuit against Major League Baseball claimed an accuracy of 96.88% for the 2016 season.

These are post-processing figures that take into account various properties of the strike zone that make it difficult for computers to consistently call in real-time, or even game-to-game.

For example, factors such as the radius of a baseball, operator error relative to batter height (sz_bot and sz_top estimates), Pitch f/x (or StatCast) manufacturer margin of error, calibration error, or issues with lighting, etc. don't show up on the immediate zones put out by a number of outlets from ESPN to Bloomberg to Brooks Baseball. When MLB developed Zone Evalution technology to score its umpires post-game, for instance, the purpose was to correct for pitches that were too borderline to call or whose raw numbers would otherwise show as excusable "misses" due to the fact that one couldn't conclusively say whether they were missed calls in the first place. Then there's that whole "3D strike zone" thing...
Related PostDude, What Happened Last Night? About Pitch f/x Error (8/30/16).
Related PostAnalyzing Strike Zone Analysis - Not So Easy or Simple (10/27/16).

Accordingly, take Angel Hernandez's post-processing score of 96.88% in 2016 and compare it to Bloomberg Businessweek's raw unadjusted score of 86.75% for the same season—that's a statistically significant difference of more than 10%!

Example: Raw K-zone data is misleading.
To Frazier's point that "these umpires have got to get better," even though their scores have remained in the mid-to-upper 90s per the adjusted numbers, there has been consistent improvement year-over-year even within that narrow range. In 2018 (thus far), the Bloomberg raw scores average a correct call percentage of 87.71%. In 2017, it was 87.66%. In 2016, 87.06%. In 2015, 86.58%. Based on the 10%+ difference for Hernandez's score, it wouldn't be too farfetched to conclude that umpires now call games at an average accuracy of somewhere between 96 and 98%.

The problem, then, as another Frasier would say, is psychological. Frazier is engaging in the time-honored tradition of umpire scapegoating. Even so...does he have a point? It's no secret that the most common reason for ejection—even prior to the replay era—is arguing balls and strikes. Even so, let's run some recent numbers to see if Frazier is suffering from a case of recency bias.
Related PostGil's Call: The Blame Game (Umpire Scapegoating) (8/8/14).
Related PostLet's Talk - Mental Health in an Abusive Environment (10/10/17).

Frazier finished 0-for-4 Wednesday, including one strike out, in front of HP Umpire Lance Barrett. Replays indicate that during his four at-bats, Frazier saw six callable pitches, four of which were accurately officiated. The two missed calls both concerned called strikes off the edges of home plate (one inside, one outside), and both were the first called pitches of their respective at-bats. Accuracy: 67%.

In Tuesday's loss to the Braves, Frazier fared better, with a 2-for-4 performance. Of the nine callable pitches Frazier saw during that game, HP Umpire Mike Everitt officiated all nine correctly. Accuracy: 100%.

Frazier stated he met with umpires in San Diego on Sunday—that would be Joe West's crew. HP Umpire Mark Ripperger called all 13 callable pitches to Frazier accurately during New York's resounding 14-2 victory that day. Accuracy: 100%.

Strike zones are not as simple as static boxes.
The day before, when San Diego trounced New York 12-2, HP Umpire Marty Foster went eight-for-eight during Frazier's three fruitless plate appearances (100%), while HP Umpire Doug Eddings was 11-for-12 on Friday, when Frazier struck out three times; the one miss was a called second strike off the plate (92%).

To round out the six game set, HP Umpire Jansen Visconti called Frazier's 1-for-5 performance on Thursday at a 16-for-17 clip, with the one miss a ball call that saved Frazier from striking out in the 12th (94%).

As such, we're looking at a 93.8% (61/65) accuracy rate over Frazier's last five games—given the sample size, there is no statistically significant difference over the aforementioned league average (p-value of .011 at the 95% confidence level); categorizing the helpful ball as an "acceptable miss" would increase accuracy to 95.3%, greater than the accuracy lower benchmark, and further render the difference statistically insignificant.

If anything, this just goes to show that just one missed call to one batter has the effect of dropping the umpire's accuracy score relative to that batter to below the lower benchmark level for that game, which would give the batter the impression that the umpire has performed poorly for everyone (or, alternately, that the umpire is "picking on me"). Barrett's miss of two pitches further exacerbated the trend.

Blaming the umpire is steadily in season.
In Frazier's case, his comments suggest displeasure with Barrett's pitch calling on Wednesday: he was hitless, and although Barrett's strike three calls were accurate, two missed strikes on the first pitch of two at-bats "set the tone," which Frazier was unable to overcome; thus, he simply blamed the umpire.

Only he happened to turn it into a systemic problem that, per the numbers, it really isn't. The bigger issue lies within the dissonance between perception and reality: the Bloomberg numbers are the perception, while adjusted scores such as Zone Evaluation are reality. When the difference between these numbers is so significant, it's no wonder that problems arise.

SIDEBAR: For what it's worth, Frazier has been ejected once in his Major League career, by Sam Holbrook, in 2017, for arguing a correctly officiated Replay Review that found Frazier's wide throw to first base pulled Jose Abreu's foot off the bag, resulting in an error. Given the nature of this ejection, Frazier has a history of, at least once previously, giving into the umpire blame game.
Related PostMLB Ejection 077-78 - Sam Holbrook (3-4; Frazier, Renteria) (6/24/17).

Video as follows:
Alternate Link: Todd Frazier says "everybody around the league" is having an umpire problem (NYM)


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