Getting And Not Getting The Calls

Zack Greinke of the Milwaukee Brewers talks with Jonathan Lucroy during a game against the Houston Astros at Miller Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)

Which pitchers and teams have been given the most favorable strike zones so far? Which pitchers and teams have been given the *least* favorable strike zones so far? We attempt to examine.

Of all the information available at FanGraphs - and there is a lot of it - what I think I like the most is the plate-discipline data. You can look at player pages and leaderboards to see who's chasing the most, who's chasing the least, who's making the most contact, who's making the least contact, and so on. It's newly available data, but it's a lot more accessible than, say, Wins Above Replacement, and it's intuitively meaningful.

I'm just going to skip right by the introduction and tell you what's going on here. I thought I would blend some numbers available at FanGraphs to try and figure out who's been given the most and least favorite strike zones so far in 2012. FanGraphs tells you how many pitches each pitcher and team have thrown, and how many of them have been strikes. With a little number-crunching, you can also figure out how many of them should have been strikes, based on the strike zone and the rate of swings at pitches out of the strike zone.

Now, FanGraphs has two sets of plate-discipline data. They offer data from Baseball Info Solutions, and they offer data from PITCHfx. There are differences between the two, but here I'm proceeding with PITCHfx, because it's entirely automated and not in any way subject to human bias. If you use the BIS data, you will probably get some different results. Actually, if you use the BIS data, you will get some different results. I checked. I don't know why I wrote "probably." I'm more comfortable with PITCHfx, though, so off we go.

We'll begin by looking at the pitchers who've been given more strikes than expected. The top 11:

1. Zack Greinke, +50 strikes
2. Yovani Gallardo, +34
3. Randall Delgado, +28
4. Johan Santana, +26
5. Kyle Drabek, +18
6t. Wade Miley, +17
6t. Mike Minor, +17
8t. Tim Lincecum, +16
8t. Jon Lester, +16
10t. Kyle Lohse, +13
10t. Jamie Moyer, +13

This is all based on PITCHfx's interpretation of the rule-book strike zone. Human umpires, as we know, don't always call according to the rule-book strike zone. With that said, at the top, we have a pair of Milwaukee Brewers, with Greinke blowing away the competition. Greinke has thrown 913 pitches, so this represents more than five percent of his total. What's going on? Presumably, Greinke is good about hammering spots that might not be within the rule-book zone, but that are within most human zones. Additionally, Greinke has been caught exclusively by Jonathan Lucroy. As Mike Fast laid out last summer, Lucroy is among the very best pitch-framers in the league. I don't think it's going out on a limb to suggest that Lucroy has been very good for Zack Greinke's strike rate.

Now we look at the pitchers who've been given fewer strikes than expected. The bottom 12 (out of 124):

113t. Derek Lowe, -20 strikes
113t. James McDonald, -20
113t. Jason Vargas, -20
116. Jason Hammel, -21
117t. Jeanmar Gomez, -22
117t. Derek Holland, -22
117t. Ricky Romero, -22
120. Henderson Alvarez, -23
121t. Blake Beavan, -26
121t. Ubaldo Jimenez, -26
123. Neftali Feliz, -29
124. Justin Masterson, -45

Zack Greinke is running away with the lead, and Justin Masterson will be eaten by lions. Interestingly, these are the bottom 12 pitchers. Four of them are Cleveland Indians. Two of them are Seattle Mariners, two of them are Texas Rangers, and two of them are Toronto Blue Jays. Once you start thinking about a catcher's ability to frame pitches, you can't stop noticing various catchers' abilities to frame pitches.

From Texas Leaguers, here are Masterson's called pitches to righties:

4754162012040120120521raaaastrikezone_medium

And to lefties:

4754162012040120120521laaaastrikezone_medium

Does this help explain Masterson's mediocre numbers? It sure might. Although according to the same methodology, last season Masterson also finished last in the category. By 51 expected strikes, behind Luke Hochevar. Justin Masterson gets a lot of movement on his pitches, and in some ways that works for him, and in other ways that might work against him.

We'll conclude by looking at overall teams. The full table:

Team Strikes Exp. Strikes Difference
Brewers 4037 3920 117
Braves 3941 3871 70
Yankees 3917 3880 37
Reds 3873 3843 30
Angels 3750 3727 23
Rays 4089 4068 21
Mets 3895 3880 15
Nationals 3832 3822 10
Red Sox 4042 4036 6
Cardinals 3760 3758 2
Giants 3922 3922 0
Diamondbacks 3795 3818 -23
Twins 3553 3580 -27
Astros 3876 3904 -28
Phillies 3871 3902 -31
Cubs 3835 3869 -34
Blue Jays 3813 3851 -38
Rockies 3824 3866 -42
Royals 3854 3900 -46
Dodgers 3728 3799 -71
Athletics 3824 3897 -73
Tigers 3896 3974 -78
Padres 3912 3992 -80
Marlins 3754 3835 -81
Orioles 4207 4291 -84
White Sox 3892 3978 -86
Rangers 3928 4024 -96
Mariners 3868 3987 -119
Pirates 3707 3842 -135
Indians 3839 4004 -165


Unsurprisingly, based on the previous individual numbers, we see the Brewers at the top and the Indians at the bottom. If Lucroy is having this kind of impact in the field, then combined with his 151 OPS+, he's an MVP candidate. On the other side of the coin, this could take some of the shine off Carlos Santana. The Pirates' catching situation isn't an awesome one, the Mariners have had Miguel Olivo, Jesus Montero, and John Jaso, and the Rangers know that Mike Napoli provides more offense than defense.

Not that this is all about pitch-framing, but that's probably a big part of it. Now then, don't go taking these numbers too seriously. I don't know how the PITCHfx strike zone is defined, so I don't know how it compares to the average human strike zone. Maybe the Brewers are especially good at pitching slightly off the plate, where humans are forgiving. Maybe this method makes the Indians look worse than they have actually been. These numbers don't prove anything - they just call for further investigation. Somebody might want to start by investigating the Brewers and the Indians.

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