March 21, 2020

Umpires: Inconsistency And Bias - & Robots

[Draft Post, June 1, 2014]

Etan Green, fivethirtyeight:
Consider a forgotten game in April 2010 between the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago White Sox. The White Sox were up a run with two outs in the eighth. Their set-up man, Matt Thornton, was on the mound, protecting a lead with a runner on first and the right-handed Jhonny Peralta at bat. Ahead in the count with one ball and two strikes, Thornton froze Peralta with a slider on the outside half of the plate, a couple inches below the belt. For a pitch like that, the umpire, Bruce Dreckman, would normally call a strike — 80 percent of the time, the data shows. But in two-strike counts like Peralta's, he calls a strike less than half the time.

Sure enough, that night Dreckman called a ball. Two pitches later, Peralta lashed a double to right, scoring the runner and tying the game. Neither team scored again until the 11th, when Cleveland scored twice to win the game. Had Peralta struck out to end the top of the eighth, Chicago almost certainly would have won. ...

These mistakes are frequent — pitchers tend to pitch to the borders of the official strike zone. And they are consequential — they happen in the most pivotal calls. When a 50/50 call becomes a 60/40 call, as it does with three balls, umpires are mistakenly calling strikes on 10 percent of borderline pitches. When a 50/50 call becomes a 30/70 call, as it does with two strikes, umpires are mistakenly calling balls on 20 percent of borderline pitches.
KenTremendous, SoSH:
There are quite literally thousands of blown calls every year in baseball, some of them through incompetence, some of them because things happen too quickly to judge correctly. Thousands upon thousands. The idea that the league should not try to reduce those thousands to hundreds, or tens, or none, using every available method, because it sometimes takes longer before you know the actual truth of the event that occurred is criminally strange, to me. ...

Baseball should not go backwards. It should go forwards, towards accuracy and enlightenment. The sport will survive. Tennis survived, soccer will survive, baseball will survive, and they will all be better for it.
MentalDisabldLst, SoSH:
Nothing saps my enjoyment of a sport (the appeal of which, in general, is that it can't be "faked", it's all honest performance) like blown calls. They take away your belief in the players' agency - that the players can determine who wins or loses by their actions alone within the context of the rules. That the game is honest. ...

That cynical mistrust is what we're combating with replay. Combating it has value, and it's worth going through growing pains and even the occasional ambiguous situation, because it reinforces that the game is honest and that only the players' actions - their real actions, which we can all see in super slow-mo - are what determine the outcome. Officiating blunders, much like gambling and the Black Sox and Pete Rose in decades before, are risks to the fundamental premise of why everyone watches sports: an uncertain outcome, with surprises every night. I'll take combating that over a little impact to someone else's definition of "drama", any day of the week.

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