Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Mattingly Rips Umpires After Loss in Miami

After losing to the New York Mets Monday night, Marlins Manager Don Mattingly tore into HP Umpire Sam Holbrook's crew postgame, complaining that the umpires' calls hurt Miami, citing a check swing bunt-turned-HBP ruling alongside two pitches called balls early in the game as his rationale. Mattingly also called on MLB to review Holbrook's calls, characterizing Holbrook's performance as "shaky."

Does Mattingly have a point or is the griping misplaced?

Said Donny Baseball, "It was a rough night for those guys. They cost us a run early...I guess I’m not supposed to complain about calls, but the league needs to look at it because it was shaky tonight."

Mattingly Criticizes Holbrook's 2nd Inning Calls: Mattingly first took umbrage with two Holbrook ball calls in the top of the second inning, when Caleb Smith threw two sliders to two Mets with two-strike counts: "Sam misses two pitches, Conforto strike three and McNeil strike three, and it cost us probably 15 pitches with [Caleb Smith], and it cost us a run."

The first was a 1-2 slider from Marlins starter Caleb Smith to Mets batter Michael Conforto ruled ball two. That pitch was located over the inner half of home plate below Conforto's hollow-of-the-knee. According to the computer value of pz 1.62 for a sz_bot of 1.77, we would have graded the 1-2 to Conforto a correct call had an ejection resulted.

Later in the inning, Holbrook balled a 0-2 slider to Jeff McNeil. With a pz value of 1.69 alongside a sz_bot of 1.82, we similarly would have graded the 0-2 to McNeil a correct call.

The attached image depicts strike zone boundary error.
Wait, that's not what the TV box said. No, it's not. The TV box was wrong. That is to say the pitch tracking computer isn't wrong, but the way in which the broadcast represents the pitch graphically is incorrect.

Why did the TV strike zone box "FoxTrax" show the pitches as strikes? This one is simple and goes back to the problem with computer strike zone graphics. In short, we call this conundrum "strike zone boundary error."

What is Strike Zone Boundary Error? The standard "average" strike zone graphic assumes each batter's sz_bot is 1.50 (with a corresponding sz_top of 3.50). We know that batters are of variable heights and stances, such that each player's strike zone height is different. What might be a sz_bot of 1.50 feet for a 5'5" tall player might instead be a sz_bot of 1.80 feet for a 6'4" player.

As we can clearly see, Conforto's sz_bot of 1.77 for his 1-2 pitch and McNeil's sz_bot of 1.82 for his 0-2 pitch are well above the standard 1.50 value, while the two pz values of 1.62 and 1.69, respectively, are in no-man's land—greater than the standard 1.50, but less than the individual sz_bots of 1.77 and 1.82.

The Miami broadcast is one of many that opt for a strike zone overlay, that is a box placed on top of home plate that purportedly dictates the strike zone. The problem with overlays is that they are static entities: a true representation overlay would adjust pitch-to-pitch and even during the pitch itself, as the batter changes stance and hollow/midpoint height as the pitch is delivered. Thus, we're left with an overlay using sz_bot/top values that aren't accurate for any one individual pitch, which allows a hypothetical pitch to display in the overlay as a strike, even if this same pitch were to be deemed a "ball" per the computer numbers.
Related PostUEFL f/x vs K-Zone and the Player-Umpire Disconnect (10/4/18).
Related PostAnalyzing Strike Zone Analysis - Not So Easy or Simple (10/27/16).

Mattingly Criticizes Crew's Non-Bunt HBP Replay Review Call: "That’s a little shaky right there. That’s a shaky call to be honest with you."

Did the pitch first strike Lagares' hand or bat?
In the 9th inning, Mets batter Juan Lagares squared to bunt on a 3-2 count. Marlins pitcher Drew Steckenrider's payoff pitch rode up-and-in and Lagres moved to respond to the pitch sailing toward his head: an act of self-defense as the Marlins TV crew put it. The ball made contact with his hand and/or bat, ruled no swing on appeal by 1B Umpire Dan Iassogna and affirmed via Replay Review as a hit-by-pitch, putting Lagares at first base.

Was this a bunt attempt?

We analyzed this exact issue in 2018—whether a batter trying to get out of the way of a pitched ball, having previously squared to bunt, has indeed offered at the pitch or if moving the bat back, perhaps even into the path of a cutting ball, is said to be attempting to bunt the ball or not.

As we wrote then, the answer is this OBR Definition: "A BUNT is a batted ball not swung at, but intentionally met with the bat and tapped slowly within the infield."
Related PostAsk UEFL - Foul Bunt or Ball Fouled Away? (8/29/18).

30-year MLB umpire Jim Joyce recently stopped by The Plate Meeting Podcast and discussed this very situation: In 2012, Joyce ejected Brad Mills for arguing a similar play in which a batter pulled away his bunt at the last second in an attempt to avoid being hit by a pitch. The crew ruled the play a foul ball, as opposed to a foul bunt with two strikes.
Related PostPodcast - Episode 12 - The Jim Joyce Jubilee (3/27/19, segment at 1:23:30).

This play has happened before.
Did Lagares intentionally meet the ball with the bat with the goal of tapping the ball slowly within the infield? If the answer to both parts of that question is "yes," you have a bunt attempt. If either part of that question is "no," it's not a bunt attempt. In my estimation, Lagares was not attempting to tap the ball slowly within the infield—the self-defense act makes this subject to a "foul ball" but not a "foul bunt" call.

That said, even before we get to the issue of "foul ball," we have to establish whether the ball first hit the batter's hand or his bat.

Even with the benefit of audio and physics, this is a 50/50 call as to whether the ball first made contact with Lagares' knuckle or bat—did it graze the batter's hand before hitting the bat? No matter what the crew called on the field, it would have stood and that's what happened here: HP Umpire Sam Holbrook calls it a hit-by-pitch, appeals to 1B Umpire Dan Iassogna as to the check swing, Iassogna says Lagares did not swing or bunt at the ball, and Holbrook awards Lagares first base. Call stands on review. There's really nothing else anyone could do.

Video as follows:
Alternate Link: Analysis of three calls Mattingly criticized (MIA/UEFL)


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