May 25, 2010

Rays Announcers (and Players) Whine About Davidson's Calls; Were Their Complaints Legitimate?

The Tampa TV announcers -- Dewayne Staats and Kevin Kennedy (and before him, Joe Magraine) -- have been known for years to whine incessantly when calls go against the (Devil) Rays. It's quite unseemly, but in a business in which Hawk Harrelson has secure employment, standards of professionalism are obviously non-existent.

It doesn't matter if, after a replay is shown, the umpire turns out to have made the correct call. Those initial impressions of bias are enough -- and once the Rays broadcasters lock onto a perceived slight or three, they will yap about it all. night. long. And pick up where they left off the following day. (A quick search turned up only this one post in July 2006; maybe my other rants were in comments.)

In 2009, when Kennedy took over for Migraine and began immediately whining in tandem with Staats -- the Red Sox began the season against the Rays and played them again at the end of April -- I figured the behaviour had to have been written into his employment agreement. In addition to crying that the umpires have it in for the Rays, Staats and Kennedy also imply that the AL umps are afraid of angering the big-shot teams like the Red Sox or Yankees.

I was burdened with the Rays feed on Tuesday night, and I learned that even though the Rays have the best record in baseball, Staats and Kennedy still see the team as under chronic persecution. Bob Davidson was behind the plate and the whining began in the booth when Carl Crawford was called out on strikes in the third inning.

The useless Fox Trax (like NESN's equally pointless Amica zone; it's a friggin' insurance commercial, not a valid pitch tracking system!) had all of Lester's "questionable" pitches well outside. Thanks to the great f/x data at Brooks Baseball, however, we can take a more accurate look at Lester's pitches and see how Davidson did. (The view is from the umpire's position.)

[Update: Note: See comment re the construction of these zones. Something on the line may actually be outside. So that gives TB a little more reason to be annoyed. It does not change the unprofessional tantrums thrown by the announcers, however (which was the original reason for the post, though the finished post may not reflect that).]

Crawford in 3rd: Turns away from an inside 2-2 pitch and is rung up. It's the 7th pitch of the AB -- high and inside, but within the strike zone.Aybar in 4th: The 2nd and 4th pitches are called strikes. They seem outside, but Davidson made the correct calls. Aybar singles to left.Pena in 4th: The 5th pitch is obviously ball 3. One angle shows it is over the plate, which it is, so Rays TV begrudgingly says that Tampa got a call "this time". That's surprising, since they usually clam up and pretend not to notice. The pitch was high, well out of the strike zone, and not a gift call after all.Kapler in 5th: Called out on strikes on Lester's 2-2 pitch. FSN's overhead camera seems to show the ball travelling over the opposite batters box's chalkline closest to the plate. Kennedy: "That's one heck of a terrible call, Davidson." F/x shows it is borderline and could have been called either way.Bartlett in 5th: Lester seems to have struck Bartlett out (and ended the inning) with a 2-2 pitch (#5). Davidson calls it a ball -- though this one is also borderline -- and Lester ends up walking Bartlett. There are crickets in the Tampa TV booth.Crawford in 5th: Here comes the fun! Lester's first pitch is away and called a strike. Crawford flips out. (He has a reason this time.) He and Davidson are screaming at each other. Crawford gets tossed as Maddon rushes out to the plate and after maybe 5-7 seconds of his yelling, he's tossed as well. Then Maddon and Davidson are going at it, standing so close their noses are nearly touching, each tossing off more f-bombs than I can count.Crawford:
He was like, "That's a good pitch". And I'm thinking to myself, "If the plate is in the other batter's box, that's a good pitch." ... [Davidson] didn't want to back down. I definitely wasn't going to lose a trash-talking contest. It just went from there.
Crew chief Tim Tschida:
Carl gradually started moving closer to the umpire. And Bob's line was, "Now you're coming into my space here, back off." And when he said, "Back off," [Crawford] actually moved closer. That's why Carl was ejected from the game. ... Joe's immediate response was, "You're calling stuff off the plate on our guys". And he's arguing balls and strikes. When a manager leaves his position in the dugout to argue a ball-strike decision, it's [an] immediate [ejection].
Longoria in 6th: Lester's 2-0 is called a strike. The overhead camera has this one coming in over the chalk line as well. That may be a distortion -- the slightly off to the side center field camera certainly can distort pitches -- because it's borderline here.Upton in 9th: Papelbon's 2nd pitch is called a strike. Seems like another outside call for Boston. Is it a gift? Nope. Upton waves at the next one (SASAHE!) and the Red Sox win.Here is Davidson's calls with lefties batting.And with righties batting.Here is Davidson's zone against everyone. Green = balls and red = strikes.The give and take of getting/not getting calls is about equal, except for Boston getting nine strikes called that were outside the zone to Tampa's right-handed hitters. So Tampa Bay definitely had something to gripe about. However, I'm not sure which batters those nine calls were made on, because they were not the ones that got the Rays' announcers so worked up.

(I was going to add some of the more whiny quotes from TV, but it's too late. Maybe in the morning.)


FenFan said...

Calling balls and strikes has its challenges -- I should know from doing it for a few years. Granted it was Little League but those coaches and parents can be just as fiery if they aren't happy with the calls. :-)

The only thing I look for is that the home plate umpire keeps the strike zone consistent. From what I saw, Davidson did so last night. The F/X data only confirms what I believed.

As usual, nice work, redsock!

SoSock said...

I for one hope they never switch to a computerized calling system, and this will always be part of the game as long as they don't. So his strike zone was imperfect, they all are. There didn't seem to be any bias. If you ask me the Sox pitchers just did a better job of hitting corners and edges and got some of those calls. Exactly what I teach my Little Leaguers to do. If they see the ump is calling low, or outside a bit, go with it. Use it.
Bring the brooms tonight for JL-2!

Benjamin said...

Just so you know, Allan, Dan Brooks draws a bigger strikezone on those uncorrected plots:

I draw the strikezones slightly differently on the strikezone plots for the entire game and the individual AB ones. The reason is because people often use the individual AB ones to draw conclusions about entire games, and that annoys me, and so it seems prudent to give the umpire the benefit of the doubt there. I figured it would lead to fewer angry emails.

But, the textbook strikezone is drawn on the complete game plot. Maybe I should change it so that they're both equivalent. I don't know.

If it's outside the drawn strikezone, it's really outside. If it's inside, it may really be borderline outside.

Jim said...

God, where to start with this? Firstly, thanks for the reminder that your graphs are from the ump's perspective. Those insurance zones have done their job--have me brainwashed so that every time I see one of these I think "center field cam". Anyway, I didn't think it was possible to find someone more obnoxious than Staats, but, lo, enter Kevin Kennedy. I also thought that constantly playing the victim card was written in their contracts, since the CW is that despite the Rays absolutely shitty home attendance their TV ratings are supposed to be good. What with all the geezers in FLA, what better way to get them riled up? But then I thought--wait, I'm a geezer and these two are so transparently full of shit, surely no one takes them seriously. I'm sure that if MLB ever did an honest survey, they'd find that the vast majority of their local telecasts are watched by regular baseball fans. IE, people that have more than just a passing interest and know when they're getting played. As for the plate umps and their personal strike zones, I keep thinking of laser technology, where the zone could be "painted" by lasers and 'beeped' when the pitch breaks it. You know, like the security systems in all those "caper" flicks. The plate ump would hold the beeper and still make the call. Just a rambling, early morning thought.

allan said...

Benjamin: Thanks for that.

SoSock: I have seen pitches right down the middle of the plate at a batter's belt and the Amica zone has it on the top line of the strike or even a little bit too high. At the belt!

Benjamin said...

To elaborate, the home plate is 17 inches wide, so 8.5 inches to either side (about 0.7 feet). Brooks draws the zone 1.0 feet to either side on those individual at-bat charts. You can see it's much smaller on the normalized game plots. But even there, I think he's drawing it at around 0.8 feet.

So it looks like pitch #2 against Aybar was still a strike, but #4 should have been a ball.

Anonymous said...

Thank god I am not the only person who thinks this. I am a Yankee fan and was subjected to these two morons bitching and whining.... truly as ignorant as their fans