November 21, 2019

Schadenfreude 264 (A Continuing Series)

December 4, 2013

November 21, 2019

Jacoby Ellsbury had a decent first season in New York (2014), but that was it. His last major league game was in September 2017.

The Yankees paid him $21,142,857 in 2018 for doing nothing.

The Yankees paid him $21,142,857 in 2019 for doing nothing.

The Yankees will pay him roughly $26,000,000 in 2020 just to get rid of him.

(Sure beats workin' at the gas station . . . ding ding.)

Sorry, Sox!

I should give Bill Madden of the Daily News some credit, though, admittedly, it did not exactly require a Mensa IQ to know signing Ellsbury for $152 million would not ultimately work out in the MFY's favour.

Back in 2013, Madden wrote:
Jacoby Ellsbury's Yankees Deal Won't Look Good In A Few Seasons

How long until the Yankees are regretting giving Jacoby Ellsbury a 7-year contract? ...

[A]s history has proven, contracts of more than six years for players 30 or older have proven time and again to be disasters ...

I'm just not sure what the Yankees are trying to prove here. Now they've agreed with Ellsbury on a $21.8 million per year deal that will almost certainly be another financial disaster three or four years down the road, while giving them another "legs" player in the outfield when what they really needed there was a power bat. ...

Whatever, this reckless, show-their-financial-might signing by the Yankees makes no sense, other than being another example of the Yankees' intention of buying their way out of a situation in which their player development department has been bankrupt for years.
Ellsbury played four seasons with the MFY ... and was off for the final three years.

November 20, 2019

Manfred Wants Everyone To Believe Sign-Stealing Scandal Does Not Extend Beyond Astros

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred stated on Tuesday that he sees "no reason to believe" the sign-stealing scandal extends beyond the Houston Astros. So the other 29 teams should be as clean as a whistle. Whew. That's good news for MLB.

There may be one little problem, however. Manfred's statement is contradicted by numerous media reports, as well as common sense, the entire history of sports, and a rudimentary understanding of human beings.
Any allegations that relate to a rule violation that could affect the outcome of a game or games is the most serious matter. It relates to the integrity of the sport. In terms of where we are, we have a very active – what is going to be a really, really thorough investigation ongoing. But beyond that, I can't tell you how close we are to done. ... Right now, we are focused on the information that we have with respect to the Astros. I'm not going to speculate on whether other people are going to be involved. We'll deal with that if it happens, but I'm not going to speculate about that. I have no reason to believe it extends beyond the Astros at this point in time. ...

I'm not going to speculate on what the appropriate discipline is. That depends on how the facts are established at the end of the investigation. The general warning I issued to the clubs, I stand by. It certainly could be all of those [past disciplinary actions], but my authority under the major league constitution would be broader than those things as well. ... I certainly would hope that we would be done [with our investigation] before we start playing baseball again.
That's what Manfred said. What he meant (knowing some serious labour-related shit will be hitting the public fan when the current CBA expires after the 2021 season) was: "I have no desire to believe it extends beyond the Astros."

[I have four words for Manfred re his first sentence: Inconsistent. Incompetent. Biased. Umpires.]

The original article, written by Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich and published eight days ago at The Athletic, stated quite clearly the Astros' system was created by a player who had been stealing signs (presumably in a somewhat similar manner, not with his keen eyesight) with his previous team.
Early in the 2017 season, at least two uniformed Astros got together to start the process. One was a hitter who was struggling at the plate and had benefited from sign stealing with a previous team, according to club sources; another was a coach who wanted to help.
The article includes three mentions in the first four paragraphs (and before the word count passes 95) that "illegal sign stealing, particularly through advanced technology" is everywhere in MLB.

There is a broad story about this era of baseball that has yet to be told.

To this point, the public’s understanding of sign stealing mostly rests on anonymous second-hand conjecture and finger-pointing. But inside the game, there is a belief which is treated by players and staff as fact: That illegal sign stealing, particularly through advanced technology, is everywhere.

It’s an issue that permeates through the whole league,” one major league manager said. “The league has done a very poor job of policing or discouraging it.”

Electronic sign stealing is not a single-team issue.
MLB's investigation will be a worthless whitewash. I don't think anyone expects anything else. But, at the very least, it may distract Manfred from coming up more shitty ideas that will only alienate long-time fans and create more problems for the game.

November 18, 2019

Happy 44th Birthday, David Ortiz!

Big Papi turned 44 years young on Monday.

November 16, 2019

Babe Ruth Hit A Lot Of Home Runs, Against Everyone

Most Career Home Runs Against Original AL Teams
Athletics        Babe Ruth   108   (17 more than Ted Williams)
Browns/Orioles   Babe Ruth    96   ( 4 more than Lou Gehrig)
Cleveland        Babe Ruth    92   (13 more than Ted Williams)
Red Sox          Babe Ruth    90   (20 more than Lou Gehrig)
Senators/Twins   Babe Ruth    89   (17 more than Mickey Mantle)
Tigers           Babe Ruth   123   (30 more than Jimmie Foxx)
White Sox        Babe Ruth    98   (21 more than Lou Gehrig)

Most Career Home Runs Against Any Team
 1. Babe Ruth    123    Tigers
 2. Babe Ruth    108    Athletics
 3. Babe Ruth     98    White Sox
    Willie Mays   98    Dodgers
 5. Hank Aaron    97    Reds
 6. Babe Ruth     96    Browns
 7. Hank Aaron    95    Dodgers
 8. Jimmie Foxx   93    Tigers
 9. Babe Ruth     92    Cleveland
10. Willie Mays   92    Cubs
Ruth is also at #14 (90, Red Sox) and #15 (89, Senators), giving him 7 of history's top 15 spots.

Most Career Home Runs For Each Month
May       Ken Griffey Jr.  134   ( 1 more than Babe Ruth)
June      Hank Aaron       150   ( 9 more than Babe Ruth)
July      Hank Aaron       152   ( 5 more than Babe Ruth)
August    Barry Bonds      148   (15 more than Alex Rodriguez; Ruth hit 124 (#6))
Sept/Oct  Barry Bonds      128   ( 7 more than Babe Ruth)
While Ruth does not hold the record for any single month, but he is #2 in 4 of the 5 full months in which games have been played.

November 15, 2019

Astros' System Of Stealing And Relaying Signs In 2017 Is Confirmed By Four People, Including Pitcher Mike Fiers; Numerous Videos Of Astros Home Games With Tell-Tale Banging Before Off-Speed Pitches Have Surfaced; Alex Cora, After Being Questioned In MLB's Investigation, Declined To Comment

NOTE: Correction/clarification added to first paragraph.

Sign-stealing via electronic (illegal*) means has suddenly dominated the hot stove season, as four people who worked for the 2017 Astros, including pitcher Mike Fiers, have confirmed the team illegally stole signs in real time during home games via a camera positioned in the outfield. The Astros won the 2017 World Series.

*: The sign-stealing the Astros are accused of doing in 2017 was not against MLB's rules at the time.

MLB had already been investigating the Astros after an assistant general manager made comments expressing support for an alleged woman-beater to three female reporters during the postseason, and MLB is now investigating the sign-stealing allegations.

The Astros stated this week that they have "begun an investigation in cooperation" with MLB. Knowing the Astros blatantly lied for days only last month about their "investigation" into the locker-room comments of Brandon Taubman means you should probably take everything that organization says with a pillar of salt.

ESPN's Buster Olney agrees, and cannot imagine any reason to ever trust either Astros owner Jim Crane or general manager/head of baseball operations Jeff Luhnow. Olney says the Astros' announcement has overshadowed other breaking news:
• Pete Rose declared that he's going to look into the question of whether he bet on baseball.

• Ryan Braun announced he's investigating why he accused a urine collector of tampering with his sample tainted with performance-enhancing drugs.

• Hunter Strickland has hired detectives to determine how it came to pass that he threw a fastball into the middle of Bryce Harper's body in 2017.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred:
We want to make sure we understand everything that went on, who was involved, how far up in the organization it went. And at that point in time, we'll make a decision as to what, if any, discipline is appropriate.
Manfred's quote was not meant to continue the comedy of the Olney snip, but it can certainly be read that way. I'm doubtful that MLB, which is about as transparent as a brick wall, will (a) conduct a wide-ranging investigation of the illegal sign-stealing activities throughout the major leagues and (b) report fully and honestly on its findings. MLB would prefer to avoid the publication of any bad news that could have a further effect on decreased attendance.

If illegal activities are widespread throughout both leagues, MLB's conduct will likely mirror its actions regarding the news of widespread steroid usage throughout both leagues (for years). Still, Jeff Passan of ESPN reports "if the league can prove wrongdoing, the severity could be unlike anything seen in the sport's recent history".

"That's not playing the game the right way," said Fiers, who pitched for Houston from 2015-17. "They were advanced and willing to go above and beyond to win."

Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich, reporting for The Athletic, state that "inside the game", everyone accepts that "illegal sign stealing, particularly through advanced technology, is everywhere." One major league manager admits: "The league has done a very poor job of policing or discouraging it."

MLB prohibits clubs from using electronic equipment to steal signs and convey information, but it has not publicly punished any team since the Red Sox were fined an undisclosed amount in 2017 after MLB determined the team had stolen signs through instant-replay monitoring and transmitted the information with Apple watches or Fitbit devices.

According to Rosenthal and Drellich, at least two Astros - a coach and a struggling hitter who had benefited from sign stealing with a previous team - hatched the plan early in the 2017 season.
A feed from a camera in center field, fixed on the opposing catcher's signs, was hooked up to a television monitor that was placed on a wall steps from the team's home dugout at Minute Maid Park, in the tunnel that runs between the dugout and the clubhouse. Team employees and players would watch the screen during the game and try to decode signs — sitting opposite the screen on massage tables in a wide hallway.

When the onlookers believed they had decoded the signs, the expected pitch would be communicated via a loud noise — specifically, banging on a trash can, which sat in the tunnel. Normally, the bangs would mean a breaking ball or off-speed pitch was coming.

Fiers, who confirmed the set-up, acknowledged he already has a strained relationship with the Astros because he relayed to his subsequent teams, the Tigers and A's, what the Astros were doing.

"I just want the game to be cleaned up a little bit because there are guys who are losing their jobs because they're going in there not knowing," Fiers said. "Young guys getting hit around in the first couple of innings starting a game, and then they get sent down. It's (B.S.) on that end. It's ruining jobs for younger guys. ... We had a lot of young guys with Detroit (in 2018) trying to make a name and establish themselves. ... I had to let my team know so that we were prepared when we went to go play them at Minute Maid."

Two sources said the Astros' use of the system extended into the 2017 playoffs. Another source adamantly denied that, saying the system ended before the postseason.
While it stretches credulity that a team cheating during the regular season would decide to stop giving itself an advantage just as the most important games of the year were beginning, it's possible there may have been a problem hearing the bangs over loud October crowds. (I'm sure someone is re-watching the games right now and will report. ... Someone did! See below.)
If the system was halted prior to the postseason, it was not stopped long before it, based upon an incident recalled by both an opposing pitcher and an Astros source.

Pitching for the White Sox in 2017, Danny Farquhar made two mid-September appearances at Minute Maid Park, just before the playoffs. One Astros source recalled that Farquhar appeared to visibly notice what the Astros were up to.

Farquhar, the source remembered, pointed to his ear on the mound.

"There was a banging from the dugout, almost like a bat hitting the bat rack every time a changeup signal got put down," said Farquhar, who is now the pitching coach with the White Sox's High-A affiliate in Winston-Salem, N.C. "After the third one, I stepped off. I was throwing some really good changeups and they were getting fouled off. After the third bang, I stepped off."

Farquhar said he and his catcher changed the signs to the more complex kind used when a runner is on second base — a situation where base runners have long been able to legally relay signs, using their own eyes.

"The banging stopped," Farquhar said. "My assumption was they were picking it up from the video and relaying the signs to the dugout. … It made me very upset. I was so angry, so mad, that the media didn't come to me after."
Here is footage from that game (and two others in the replies), with Jimmy "Jomboy" O'Brien pointing out the bangs.
Jomboy has other videos with obvious banging (here, here, here, here, here (hmm ...), here, here), but he's skeptical about the whistles (here, here). He writes: "if you search "AT HOU - 2017" on youtube and click any random game you'll find some banging on off speed pitches".

Michael Baumann of The Ringer notes the
hilarious juxtaposition [of that video clip] when held up against the rest of Houston's enterprise. The Astros have become one of the most successful teams in baseball through use of the very latest in biomechanical research, statistical modeling, and late capitalist management techniques. They believe they win because they're smarter than everyone else—and they're more than a little smug about it. But when push comes to shove, even the Astros were reduced to having a highly skilled, world-class athlete stand in a hallway, watch a TV screen, and beat the fuck out of a trash can with a baseball bat.
Max Wildstein has footage from August 1, 2017, with the Astros signals: no bangs for a fastball, one bang for a slider, and two bangs for a changeup.

There is also at least one Astros clip from 2018 with the banging sounds.

Paranoia is the default setting for most teams in general, but especially when dealing with the Astros. During the 2018 postseason, two teams (Cleveland and Boston) discovered a person connected to the Astros (Kyle McLaughlin) taking pictures near their dugouts. The Astros stated McLaughlin was only making sure the other teams were not cheating. MLB accepted that excuse (and the incident disappeared from the sports pages).

Rosenthal and Drellich:
[In the 2019 postseason,] the Nationals during the World Series employed a sophisticated set of signs against the Astros that they did not use in previous rounds of the postseason. During the American League Championship Series, the Yankees believed the Astros were whistling from the dugout to communicate pitches. ...

At least once [in 2017], some on the Astros were worried enough that they would be discovered that, in the middle of a game, someone in the dugout ordered the screen hauled out of the tunnel and hidden.
MLB's investigation has included an interview with Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who was the Astros' bench coach in 2017. Cora has declined to comment publicly. Carlos Beltran, one of Cora's closest friends and a member of the 2017 Astros, has denied any involvement. MLB has also spoken with former Astros bullpen coach Craig Bjornson, who joined the Red Sox in 2018, along with Cora.

Cora prides himself on his sign-stealing ability, recognizing tipped pitches, etc. Matt Vautour of MassLive noted that in 2018, the Boston manager discussed taking advantage of anything his team sees on the field:
"I talked about it in my first press conference with the Red Sox. We're going to win some games, and we will steal some games because the game will dictate what we do. And if we have a chance to steal a game, we'll do it. We'll do it."

He was asked what the Astros did while he was there and his memory got fuzzy fast.

"Honestly, I don't remember too much about it. One thing for sure, us, as a staff, we prepared. And I'm not talking about cameras or whatever people were thinking," he said.
Sign-stealing has been a big topic at this week's GM meetings in Arizona.

Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey: "Part of me wonders if some of the competitive advantage is in a team making you think you're doing it, and the other team is freaking out all the time about it."

Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman: "[Y]ou have to be pretty brazen to do certain things. And when you do, people are going to find out about it."

The Dodgers lost to the Astros in the 2017 World Series and Friedman said it would "sound like sour grapes" if he complained about the Astros' alleged behavior (though he had certainly heard all the rumours).

Last month, the Washington Nationals' advance scouts were extremely concerned about any possible Astros shenanigans. One Nationals official: "Everyone in the game was calling with little tidbits. We were tipped off to all of it."

The Nats operated as if there was a runner on second base at all times, often changing their signs batter-by-batter. Sean Doolittle: "This was the first series all year where we used cards, so that we had five sets of signs that we could rotate through. ... That was something we worked on during the break, after the NLCS."

Joe Posnanski (The Athletic) is unsure "which sports rules matter to the general sports fan":
The backlash to steroids in baseball has been enormous. ...

Meanwhile, I know almost no one who cares about steroids in football.

I also know almost no one who cares about amphetamines in baseball. ...

I never know what cheating is supposed to enrage us and what cheating isn't. ...

I've heard people describe it as the Astros "using technology to steal signs," but it really wasn't too technical ["if they saw a change-up or curveball or some slow pitch coming, someone would bang on a garbage can"]. ...

It's exhausting to try and figure out where gamesmanship ends and cheating starts, where "part of the game" becomes "out of bounds." There are already reports, and there undoubtedly will be more, that this kind of sign-stealing is widespread throughout baseball. And, let's face it: Of course it is. Teams cheat. People cheat. Always have. Always will. ...

This Astros cheating seems pretty blatant and aggravating.

But is it? Now we find out just how much people care.
Whether people care is also probably (sadly) dependent on which team is caught. The Astros have been in the news recently for acting like dicks, so this could have some resonance.

Trevor Plouffe, who played in the majors for nine years, tweeted yesterday:
Anybody curious to know how the Astros relayed signs in the 2017 WS when banging a trash can couldn’t be heard?? A very reliable source just let me know...

Ok I’m glad I waited because it looks like this is already out there. So not exactly breaking news, but confirmation on something already reported.

According to @Carson_Smith39 and now confirmed by my source, the Astros had someone watching a live feed and then relaying the pitch calls via ear piece to the bullpen catcher. Hands up on fence for FB and hands down for offspeed.

ALLEGEDLY (I think im supposed to say that) I don’t have the footage in front of me but apparently you can see the Astros hitters looking toward right center before the pitch is thrown (where their bullpen is).

If you’ve seen anything else that I’ve posted I’ve stated numerous times that this isn’t an isolated event and that it’s happening (in different ways) all around baseball.
Red Sox pitcher Carson Smith's current Twitter feed has nothing after November 12, so either he deleted a tweet to which Plouffe is referring or Smith told him by email or phone. Smith does mention the bullpen catcher in this tweet, but it is not as specific as Plouffe's reference ("they forgot to mention the bullpen catcher also relaying in signs for specific batters specific ways").

Rob Arthur tweeted:
The Astros' trash can banging/sign stealing system left a clear signature in the audio data, which I then used to track when/how they were doing it.
Arthur's findings are at Baseball Prospectus. His article is behind a paywall, but he posted a few tweets:
A couple of interesting things: one, they started the sign-stealing almost immediately in each game, usually by the fourth or fifth pitch or so. Also, they were very accurate, like maybe suspiciously so--they never seemed to make a mistake.

And I also heard/saw in the audio some trash can banging in multiple playoff games. But they certainly weren't using the exact same system as in the regular season, because there wasn't a one-to-one correspondence between banging and breaking balls.

In retrospect, it's kind of stunning they went with such a clear and obvious audio signal. Given how devious the overall system was and how they knew there'd be more attention on the playoffs, I'd be very surprised if they didn't switch to something more sophisticated.

the banging was SO loud it increased the average noise level significantly before each non-fastball when the Astros were batting.

If MLB really wanted to thoroughly investigate the cheating (I suspect they don't), I would suggest going to the raw audio data and coming up with a way to systematically detect trash can bangs or other suspicious noises correlated with the next pitch.
Brad Lee replied: "Using analytics to identify Astros cheating is super ironic and satisfying."

November 13, 2019

A "Stick To Sports" Mandate Is Absurd And Profoundly Dishonest

This is a scene from the "Salute to Service" military appreciation ceremony, held last Sunday before the Tennessee-Kansas City NFL game. This is the way the world works: Expressing support for such a ceremony is not political, but expressing a negative opinion is. Only the latter fan will be told: "Stick to sports!"

Barry Petchesky, former deputy editor of Deadspin, expands on the circumstances surrounding his firing, in an op-ed for The New York Times:
Two weeks ago, I was fired as acting editor in chief of Deadspin, where I'd worked since 2009. The entire staff resigned, following me out the door after we had refused a new company mandate to "stick to sports." Jim Spanfeller, installed as chief executive of G/O Media by the private equity firm that bought the company seven months ago, called me into his office, pointed to some offending stories on our home page and had me escorted from the building. ...

[M]y stance remains the same ... sports don't end when the players head back to the locker room.

We refused to "stick to sports," because we know that sports is everything, and everything is sports: It's the N.B.A. kowtowing to its Chinese business interests; it's pro sports leagues attempting to become shadow justice systems for publicity reasons; it's the opioid epidemic roiling N.F.L. locker rooms at least as hard as anywhere in Appalachia, even as the league refuses to relax its marijuana policy; it's racist fan chants chasing black players off the pitch in Italian soccer matches; it's Washington Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki wearing a "Make America Great Again" cap at the White House. ...

Reporting sports with integrity requires knowing that there's no way to wall off the games from the world outside. To anyone who knows anything about sports or cares about the world outside the arena, the notion that sports should or even can be covered merely by box scores and transaction wires is absurd. ...

It's hard to understand why Great Hill Partners demanded that we "stick to sports" — especially at a time when the site was driving the conversation in sports coverage and had the highest traffic in its history — until you realize that this was most likely their plan. It's the private equity model: Purchase an asset, strip it of everything of value, then turn around and sell the brand to someone else before they realize that what made the brand valuable in the first place has been lost and can never be recovered ...

In recent years, we've seen the deaths (and to varying degrees, the troubled rebirths) of the likes of Newsweek, The Denver Post, LA Weekly, Playboy and just last month, the granddaddy of all sports media, Sports Illustrated. ...

It's going to keep happening ... Unique voices will be muted, or drowned out altogether. ...

[Deadspin saw] its entire mission statement detonated in an instant by the whims of private equity. ...

Sticking to sports, pretending that sports can take place in a vacuum, would have been profoundly dishonest.

November 8, 2019

I've Changed My Mind: Keep Marvin Miller Out Of The Hall Of Fame

I have not changed my opinion on Marvin Miller, of course. As Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association from 1966 to 1982, Miller is one of the most important figures in baseball history. If baseball had a Mount Rushmore for the 20th Century, Miller would unquestionably be one of the four faces.

Miller was always a man of principle, a constant and unforgiving critic of those who exploited working people and deprived working men and women of their deserved rewards.

After Miller had been passed over by the Hall the first few times, he stated he did not care. He had a point: Why accept an honour from an institution that still despised him decades after he fought and beat them? ... I still think he deserved the recognition, but I've changed my mind on his possible Hall of Fame induction. Keep him out.

On Friday, The Athletic published an essay by Joe Posnanski. Pos notes Miller is once again up for induction, on the Modern Era ballot. Posnanski says it's "unconscionable" that Miller has been so long excluded, and asks: "What is the right thing to do here?" At the end of his essay, he comes down in favour of inducting Miller ... despite quoting the labour leader's often-stated (and crystal-clear) desire to not be inducted.

Not long before Miller died in 2012, he told writer Allen Barra:
If they vote me in after I'm gone, please let everyone you know it is against my wishes and tell them if I was alive I would turn it down.
From Posnanski:
Miller offered some version of [this comment] to many writers he spoke with, including me. This wasn't anger: Miller famously and repeatedly put down his own emotions his entire life. No, his refusal to go the Hall of Fame was at the core of Marvin Miller's belief about the people who ran baseball: They would never elect him to the Hall of Fame while he was living because to do that would be to admit, in even the most subtle way, that he was right, that he and the union had forced justice and, yes, that he had won. ...

Shortly [after Miller was rejected by the Veterans Committee in 2008] he wrote letters to the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Baseball Writers Association of America asking that they never put him on the ballot again. ...

So what's left to do now? Do you elect Marvin Miller to the Hall of Fame and right a wrong that has been going for 20 years? Or do you respect his wishes and refuse to vote him in? ...

[H]ere's why I think it's not that easy: Miller is gone. Voting for him now is easy. It's safe. It's sanitized. Voting Marvin Miller in while he was alive, well, that was dangerous — because that would have given him the chance to take the stage. What do you think he would have said in Cooperstown? There is no doubt: He would have railed against the owners, stood up for the players, reminded the fans that they had always been against the players. ...

So elect him now, what happens? ... [I]t's likely there will be a somewhat antiseptic history lesson about how Marvin Miller fought to change things and how it all ended happily and how generous it is for the good people of baseball to put that stuff behind them and finally embrace the man.

That's not how Miller saw the story, not ever. And for that to happen would undoubtedly have made him sick. ...

Miller belongs in the Hall of Fame … but he belongs on his own terms. For me, in the end, I'd vote in Marvin Miller ...

At the same time, I can hear Miller's voice echoing in my head. He had an unforgettable voice. ... "I thought I had made myself clear." And he had. He always made himself clear.
Miller has been gone for seven years. He can no longer be inducted "on his own terms". As Posnanski rightly noted, if Miller is inducted, the Lords of the Realm will emit a few empty platitudes - much as they do every April 15 on We Are So Enlightened For Being Pro-Integration Day, celebrating that sun-splashed day in 1947 when baseball woke up and realized (as per their wilted propaganda) excluding blacks simply wasn't right.

Posnanski includes more Miller quotes:
The reason we spoke in 2002 — one of my favorite interviews ever, by the way — was that there were whispers about another player strike. I asked him if he was worried about the fans' horrified reaction to players making millions of dollars striking.

Spoiler alert: He was not.

"When people tell me that fans are against the players now," he began, "I say, 'Who cares?' They have never given a damn about the players. As is their right. But they didn't care when the players were getting peanuts. They didn't care when the players were pieces of property the owners could throw around. Nor was there any fan movement whatsoever when baseball, for I don't know how long, wouldn't hire non-white players, no matter their ability. ... Fans have absolutely no right to have any say in the terms and conditions of players."

Miller never softened. Ever. People kept telling him to give a little bit, to relax, look at how much the players had won, look how much money they made, look how the game had grown. He'd won the fight, they told him. He didn't buy any of it. His fight was still raging. ...

In 2002, many people who had long supported Miller — such as Bob Costas — thought him a bit of a dinosaur. The game needed balancing, how could he not see that? There was such a divide between rich teams and poor teams. ... The game needed, yes, competitive balance.

"Competitive balance, hah," Miller said. He all but spit out the phrase. "I remember when we were trying to do away with the reserve clause. I marveled at the fact that something like that could be in the players' contract. But, even more, I marveled at the fact that when I brought it up to players, they gave me a response which, in effect, said baseball couldn't survive without it. They had been brainwashed to believe that the reserve clause was for the good of the game. The words change. It used to be 'the good of the game.' Now it's 'competitive balance.' There's no difference." ...

More Miller on the fans: "Fans don't seem to understand that the largest pocketbook issue that faces them is the tax money being used for essentially free stadiums for wealthy owners. That's hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars in cities where schools are crumbling and highways and bridges need repair. It amazes me. Fans don't complain about the real issues. Mostly, they don't even understand them.

"Players make what they deserve to make on the open market. That's all. And let me say this again: Fans have their rights. But they should have nothing to say on what a player earns. I liken it to an automobile company. Someone might buy six or seven Chevrolets in his life. Automobile companies ought to listen to the things he has to say about how a car looks, how it runs, how it stands up. All important things. But I don't think a car buyer has any right to have any input whatsoever on the wages and benefits of automobile employees."
In 2007, when Marvin Miller was up for election under a revamped voting format. he explained: "In the last vote, the number of management people among the voters was a certain percentage. On the new committee management is completely dominant. Aside from miracles, there's no reason to believe the vote will do anything but go down."

He was right. He received only three of the necessary nine votes.

Jim Bouton was disgusted:
[T]he decision for putting a union leader in the Hall of Fame was handed over to a bunch of executives and former executives. Marvin Miller kicked their butts and took power away from the baseball establishment—do you really think those people are going to vote him in? It's a joke ... I blame the players. It's their Hall of Fame; it's their balls and bats that make the hall what it is. Where are the public outcries from Joe Morgan or Reggie Jackson, who was a player rep? Why don't these guys see that some of their own get on these committees? That's the least they owe Marvin Miller. Do they think they became millionaires because of the owners' generosity?
In July 2008, Miller told the Boston Globe:
I find myself unwilling to contemplate one more rigged Veterans Committee whose members are handpicked to reach a particular outcome while offering a pretense of a democratic vote. It is an insult to baseball fans, historians, sportswriters, and especially to those baseball players who sacrificed and brought the game into the 21st century. At the age of 91, I can do without farce.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame can do without Marvin Miller. Frankly, they don't deserve him.

Mark Your Calendars: Truck Day Is 88 Days Away!

Less than three months to Truck Day!

The Red Sox's equipment truck will leave Fenway Park on Monday morning, February 3, 2020, and drive 1,480 miles – or 2,382 kilometers, for my fellow Canadians – to spring training camp in Fort Myers, Florida.

November 4, 2019

J.D. Martinez Will Not Exercise His Opt-Out Clause (He Could Also Opt Out After 2020)

J.D. Martinez informed the Red Sox this afternoon that he will not opt out of his current contract, Chad Jennings of The Athletic reports:
He instead will return for a third season, earning another $23.75 million before facing another opt-out opportunity next winter. His five-year, $110-million contract has been, thus far, a win-win for both player and organization. Martinez has solidified his status as one of the game's elite hitters, while the Red Sox have won a championship and embraced a Martinez-driven culture of mechanics and analytics. It's been an ideal fit.

But in September ownership declared its desire to trim payroll and improve player development, and trading Martinez would be an opportunity to do both. ...

If he were significantly underpaid, Martinez surely would have opted for free agency, so there's not a lot of excess value in his contract. Any team acquiring him would have to acknowledge the fact he could walk away after a year, so it would need to be a contender, and that team would also have to recognize his defensive limitations, which means the American League is the most natural fit. ...

Just a few hours ago, it seemed the Red Sox could lose Martinez and get nothing in return. Indeed, the team would have owed him a $2.5-million buyout. Now, the Red Sox can explore their options. Even a modest return would better than the opt-out.

Demand For Robot Umps Is Getting Louder, After Dozens Of Wrong Calls In World Series

In the end, advocates of robot umps may have Lance Barksdale to thank when major league baseball finally comes to its senses and institutes an electronic strike zone.

Barksdale made several incorrect calls in the late innings of Game 5 that caused hundreds of thousands of jaws to drop in front of television screens across North America and prompted numerous online and newspaper columns about the increasing problem of games turning on obviously wrong calls. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred needs to accelerate any plans for an electronic strike zone before an umpire's blown call directly results in one team losing the World Series.

Actually, that has already happened. There were so many blown calls behind the plate during the seven games of the 2019 World Series, it's impossible to say which team would have come out on top if all of those blown calls had been properly made. And if it happened in 2019, then it certainly has happened in seasons in which the technology did not exist to illuminate every incorrect call. Umpires have imposed their subjective, distorted, and imperfect reality on professional baseball for more than 120 years. Now that MLB can end what had long been accepted as the best solution to this problem, it must.

Barksdale was not the only villain behind the plate during the World Series, of course. There were six others and every one of them made an excessive and intolerable amount of bad calls. Those bad calls affected the final score of every single game. It's hard to care about baseball games when you know, without a doubt in your mind, that what happens on the field does not necessarily get recognized.

While Game 5 prompted several in-depth articles, it was Game 7 - with Jim Wolf (praised by Fox's Joe Buck as MLB's most accurate regular-season pitch-caller) behind the plate - that was the worst-called game of the series. In a winner-take-all, World Series Game 7, Wolf was wrong on roughly 12% of the pitches he called.

That is not only bad, it's unforgivable. It's outrageous, egregious, preposterous!

(Perhaps you would like to make a cup of tea. This is going to take a while.)

First, the commentary:

Dan Gartland, Sports Illustrated, October 28, 2019:
Bad Calls In World Series Had Everyone Talking About Robot Umps

Is it time for robot umps?

After Game 5 of the World Series there's one thing on every baseball fan's mind. Not the question of how differently things might have gone if Max Scherzer wasn't scratched. Not the Astros being on the verge of a dynasty-making win. Not even the frosty reception of a certain world leader.

It's the umpiring, and specifically whether that job should continue to be conducted by human beings.

Players on both sides took issue with Lance Barksdale's calls behind the plate throughout the night but there were two calls that were particularly egregious.

The first came in the top of the sixth with Tanner Rainey pitching for the Nats. Rainey threw a perfect fastball on the lower inside corner that froze Michael Brantley. Catcher Yan Gomes was just about to start throwing the ball around the horn when Barksdale called it a ball.
The call of note was this one that went against Nationals outfielder Victor Robles, on a Gerrit Cole fastball that sure looked like it missed wide for ball four.
Those examples have two words on everybody's lips: robot umps. ...

I used to be pretty staunchly against robot umps but after last night now I'm not so sure. I thought the need for players to adjust to an umpire who was giving more strike calls on the black on the inside of the plate and fewer on the outside was something that made baseball unique and interesting.

But let's go back to that Yan Gomes play and pay closer attention to the exchange between the catcher and the umpire. You can hear Barksdale say to Gomes, "You were taking off on me." And Gomes replies, "Oh, it's my fault?" What you have there is an umpire refusing to call a strike because he doesn't appreciate that the catcher assumes it's a strike. The ump should never insert his ego into the game like that, and even more so in a World Series game. Electronic pitch-tracking machines don't have egos.
Adam Kilgore, Washington Post, October 28, 2019
Game 5 Umpire Controversy Raises A Question: Should MLB Use An Electronic System To Make Calls?

Barksdale's faulty ball-strike calls ...provide a backdrop as Major League Baseball continues a seemingly inevitable — if potentially misguided — creep toward robot umpires.

All game, the Nationals fumed over borderline calls that went against them. Immediately and decisively, technology allowed them, their fans and anybody with an Internet connection to validate their anger. The combination proved toxic for the sport. On its grandest stage, umpiring decisions became ... a dominant topic of conversation that overshadowed the baseball brilliance on display.

It is precisely that scenario that prompts MLB's consideration of an automated ball-strike system. Players, media and fans have instant access to data compiled by TrackMan and synthesized into binary outcomes. ... The only person without access is the umpire, the man charged with making decisions that games and seasons and legacies hang on. ...

The next logical step, of course, is that if everybody can see clear-cut results immediately, why shouldn't they be used to determine outcomes rather than a failure-prone set of human eyes? Game 5 of the World Series raised the question: Should MLB use an electronic system to call balls and strikes? ...

It may be coming soon. ... This year, MLB formed a partnership with the independent Atlantic League and experimented with robot umpires by using a setup called the automated ball-strike system. It also employed the ABS system this year in the Arizona Fall League.

The introduction of the system in the majors would come with undesirable consequences [JoS: It would?], some of them unintended and some unforeseen. It would change the way the sport looks as we know it. [And? ... So did integration.] For 150 years, a pitcher who missed his spot in the strike zone and made his catcher lunge awkwardly often was punished with a ball; those would become strikes. [Yes, because the ball was, as you said, "in the strike zone".] The three-dimensional nature of the strike zone, and the human eye's ability to recognize how a 90-mph projectile flies through that plot, means balls in the dirt have always been balls, even if they clip the very front of the zone at the knees. Those would become strikes. [If it clips the strike zone, it's a strike. This should not be hard to understand.] It would also eradicate the skill of pitch framing or expanding the zone throughout the game, skills that make baseball richer. [It's far more important to get as many calls right as possible. A game filled with wrong calls makes baseball poorer.] ...
Jeff Passan, ESPN, October 29, 2019:
How One Blown Strike Call In Game 5 Illustrates MLB's Need For Robot Umps

The dawn of the robot umpire is near, and it is time. Game 5 of the World Series exemplified this. Plate umpire Lance Barksdale actually called a decent game by the current standards for umpires [Jeez, that's damning with faint praise.], but the combination of an untimely blown call and a hot-mic video of his rationale behind another poor judgment illustrated why automated balls and strikes must be part of baseball's future sooner than later.

Nobody in the Washington Nationals clubhouse would say as much on the record ... There is baseball left, and so long as there is baseball left, no player will dare draw the ire of the fallible men with disproportionate control of the game. [The fact that players are afraid to acknowledge obvious truths because they fear direct on-the-field retribution speaks volumes about major league umpires.] But one player acknowledged that Game 5 changed his mind about a computerized strike zone -- that having witnessed a bad call rob the Nationals of a potential game-tying opportunity, the arguments in favor of technology over eyeballs are simply too compelling. ...

The logic behind human over technology crumbles upon even the simplest critical analysis. If a system exists that tracks balls and strikes not just accurately but also, more importantly, consistently -- it does not yet, but it is close enough to become a reality over the next few years -- then why stick with something inferior? ... The question for baseball is if the romance [of the human element] ... is more important than right vs. wrong.

It really is that simple, that binary. A ball is a pitch outside of the strike zone. A strike is a pitch inside the strike zone. There is no gray area, no ball one time and strike another. This makes automated balls and strikes the perfect sort of system to institute -- not one that is up for interpretation, one that can be tricked or fooled, or one that necessitates sleight of hand. A ball is a ball, and a strike is a strike like grass is green and sky is blue. ...

When true, unbridled consistency is an option, rather than a figment of the imagination, anything short of that feels insufficient.

That's what makes glamorizing the human element such a farce. Just because the game itself is full of errors shouldn't give leeway to its arbiters to be judged by that standard. ... Automated balls and strikes are their savior, not their enemy.

Now, a caveat: As the beta testing in the Arizona Fall League this month has shown, the robot ump needs work -- a lot of work. Breaking balls in the dirt that cut through a fraction of the three-dimensional zone have been called strikes. They look ridiculous. Hitters think they're ridiculous. Even the pitchers themselves think they're ridiculous. [But those pitches "cut through" the strike zone! A minute ago, you wrote: "A strike is a pitch inside the strike zone." Everyone is going to have to get used to the new idea that those have *always* been strikes, even if they look odd.] ...

Currently, MLB and the umpires' union are negotiating a new labor contract. An automated strike zone belongs in the center of the discussions. Umpires understand how instant replay has been beneficial to them. Taking balls and strikes out of their hands would be even more so. ...

[W]hether it's two or three or four years from now, home plate in the World Series is going to be run by a computer feeding a call into a set of earbuds worn by the person in blue standing behind home plate. [two pls]
Demetrius Bell, SB Nation, October 28, 2019:
If you've spent five minutes on Twitter during a postseason (or any) baseball game, you've probably heard people saying that MLB needs robot umps, right now. It's been a common thread for most of this season ...

There's a strike zone on the Gameday tracker on MLB's own website. There's a strike zone on most television broadcasts these days. After the game, you can head over to a website like [Actually, it's] and look at the charts for a pitcher in each game. You can either use those charts for research purposes or you can use them to rage about that bad call that you know for a fact torpedoed your team's chances at a win. ...

It's well known that ... things vary from umpire to umpire. It's been an tolerated part of baseball for a long time ... It's the human element that we hear so much about.

With that being said, last night's umpiring was an example of what happens when the human element becomes infuriating and it's also unacceptable. ...

[The call on Cole's pitch to Robles] appeared to be a case of the umpire having an adverse reaction to the players seemingly "showing him up." ...

Of course, this isn't to say that Barksdale cost the Nationals or helped the Astros win. ... The umpiring probably didn't do a lot to move the needle either way, but it was still disturbing to see and it was also the continuation of a trend that's been going in the wrong direction for the umpires as of late.
Oh, god forbid we even hint that umpires are "moving the needle either way". Why do so many writers still feel the need to treat the idea of umpires costing teams games - which has been a proven fact for many years - like a wacky conspiracy theory? They will write that those people over there are all worked up over this issue, but not me. Isn't it clear the frustrated fans from which the writer is distancing himself look completely sane and the writer appears clueless and naive?

Acknowledging that umpires change the outcome of games every single day forces fans to face some uncomfortable truths. Once you accept the reality of this problem, there's no turning back. So what then? Do you stop watching baseball until the problem is fixed?

Ben Walker, Associated Press, October 29, 2019:
With every pitch at the World Series hurtling toward that strike zone box superimposed on TV screens, the call gets louder and louder: Bring on the robot umps! ...

A curveball can clip the front and almost end up in the dirt, or hook down to catch the back part of the dish.

Consider this, too: What is a strike? [The pitch you just described would be a strike.] ...

"You want the strike zone to be consistent. But these guys are human," [Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki] said. "It's part of the baseball game. You've got to deal with it."

[An umpire that is consistently *bad* is not something anyone wants. You want the strike zone to be consistently *correct*? There's only one way to achieve that.]
Katherine Acquavella, CBS Sports, October 28, 2019:
CC Sabathia Speaks Out In Favor Of Electronic Strike Zone After Blown Calls In World Series

Appearing on ESPN on Monday, newly retired MLB pitcher CC Sabathia said he's in favor of an electronic strike zone being implemented in the big leagues.

"Yeah, for sure," Sabathia said when asked if he supports automated-ball-strike system. [Of course. For sure. Obviously. Thanks, CC, for waiting until you retired to speak out. You're such a stand-up guy (who doesn't like to bend down and field bunts).] ... "We just want consistency [See above article] and if you go to the electronic strike zone, we know if you throw it here, it's a strike, you throw it here, it's a ball. That's what we want every time out." ...

As far as the electronic strike zone goes, after initial testing in the independent Atlantic League, the technology was used during MLB's Arizona Fall League games. If MLB wants to take another big step in testing the system, the league could try using it in spring training next season.
Andrew Joseph, USA Today, October 28, 2019:
I know it'll never happen, but if MLB offered fans an uncensored viewing option with live mics, viewership would go through the roof. It would make for compelling TV, and it might also prevent the kind of bush-league umpiring that we saw during Sunday's Game 5 of the World Series. Or … you know … MLB could get with the times and give us robot umps. ...

Traditionalists love the human element of baseball, but that human element leads to oversensitive umpires blowing calls in the freaking World Series because they didn't like how a catcher reacted to an obvious strike. Get out of here with that.

Give us robot umps or live mics. But mostly, give us robot umps. [How about both?]
Andrew Holleran, The Spun, October 27, 2019:
It's time for robot umpires, Major League Baseball. The home plate umpire in a critical Game 5 of the World Series has made several questionable calls, including a devastating one for the Washington Nationals in a key spot. ...

When you're getting calls like this in the World Series, it's time to re-evaluate things.

Figure it out, MLB.
Jason Del Rey, Vox, October 31, 2019:
[Amazon spokesperson Jay] Carney's latest misstep was an offensive tweet during Game 6 of the World Series on Tuesday night in which he called the game's umpiring crew "overweight, diabetic, half-blind geriatrics" after a controversial call that went against the Washington Nationals in its game versus the Houston Astros. Carney, a longtime Washingtonian, is a Nationals fan.

With the "[b]ring in the machines" line — referring to the idea of robot umpires — Carney also hit on the touchy topic of job automation that Amazon officials have worked hard to downplay as it relates to their company. Major League Baseball is also a customer of Amazon Web Services.

Carney tweeted out an apology on Wednesday afternoon, calling his previous night's rant "unnecessarily unkind and personal". He also maintained that the umpire call in question was "horrendous".
While researching this post, I discovered an amazing Twitter account: Umpire Auditor.

Evan Wolff, 12up, October 26, 2019:
VIDEO: Umpire Auditor Twitter Account Reveals Astros Got A Ton Of Help In World Series Game 3

It appears that the Astros had an extra player on the field for Game 3 on Friday night. Umpire Auditor, a Twitter account that analyzes the home plate umpire's performance, took a look at Gary Cederstrom's zone and accuracy. What they found was a bias in which the zone seemed to be favoring the Astros. ...
When these inconsistencies arise, they change the entire complexion of the game. That just can't happen in such high-pressure situations in which the hitters and pitchers, are depending on every call being correct.
Joe Posnanski, August 29, 2019:
The Truth About Balls & Strikes

You have probably seen this chart. It's from a critical at-bat on August 13 between Philadelphia closer Hector Neris and Chicago Cubs pinch-hitter Tony Kemp. The Phillies led 4-2, and Kemp represented the tying run.

You can see where that fifth pitch was, the one that was called strike three. it was a laughably bad call.

Here it is from the indispensable Twitter account @UmpireAuditor ("The worst calls of the day, every day") who we will be quoting many, many times in this piece. Special bonus in this one: Listen to the announcer shout, "No! No! No! No!"
OK, that's one of the worst strike three calls you will ever see …

On the other hand, @UmpireAuditor found this pitch from San Diego's Eric Lauer to slugging machine Cody Bellinger in Monday's Padres-Dodgers game to be every bit as offensive:

... As it turns out, @UmpireAuditor had a busy night on Wednesday. Here are just a few blown calls the account highlighted:

— Charlie Blackmon led off the bottom of the ninth inning of the Boston-Colorado game, with the Red Sox up 7-4. Blackmon worked a 2-2 count against Brandon Workman. Pitch 5 was called strike three:

Blackmon threw his bat, lost his mind, got ejected, Rockies manager Bud Black came out and got ejected too.

— In the tenth inning of the Dodgers-Padres game, facing an 0-2 count, A.J. Pollock took the fourth pitch, which was clearly in the strike zone. If it had been called a strike, the inning would have been over. Instead, it was called a ball and Pollock cracked an RBI single on the next pitch.

— In the Baltimore-Washington game, with two strikes and two outs, Trey Mancini took the fifth pitch here for a ball. He singled on the next pitch, though it caused no damage and the Nationals won big anyway.

In the Mets-Cubs game, the Cubs jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Then in the bottom of the first, with one out, Kyle Hendricks threw a first pitch strike to J.D. Davis. His second pitch was clearly a strike … but was called a ball. ... Davis grounded the ball up the middle for a single on the next pitch.

In the Atlanta-Toronto game, the Braves led 5-1 in the bottom of the fourth inning. With a runner on third and the count 1-1, Braves pitcher Mike Foltynewicz threw what the chart shows to be an obvious strike to Bo Bichette. It was called a ball. ...

There are a couple of points to be made here, one obvious and the other, perhaps, less obvious. The obvious point is that all these happened on Wednesday and that's not unusual because this sort of thing happens every night in every game — pitches that register as strikes are called balls and pitches that register as balls are called strikes. We're not even talking about those really, really close pitches. None of the above pitches are borderline. These are clear umpire misses. Some have significant impact on the game. Some have little-to-no impact. But they happen and again and again. ...

None of this is sustainable, by the way. I've made this point again and again about instant replay — even though, as most of you know, I don't like it: Once there is an obvious gap between what we see at home and what is called on the field, technology will fill that gap. You can bet on it. It might take a year or several years or even longer, but you can't have balls consistently called strikes or strikes consistently called balls anymore than you can have fumbles missed or touchdowns called when the player stepped out of bounds. It's a matter of credibility.

You just can't consistently have games altered by ball-strike calls that go against what our eyes and minds see. ...

Take this pitch from Trevor Bauer on Sunday against the Pirates. The bases are loaded and the oft-maligned C.B. Bucknor is behind the plate and this second pitch to Bryan Reynolds looks an AWFUL LOT like a strike:

Had that been called a strike, it would have made the count 0-2, changing the whole situation. [Exactly! Every blown call has an impact. I think deep down Joe knows this, despite what he wrote above: "little-to-no impact").] As it turned out, it was a ball, Bauer wouldn't get Reynolds to chase on either of the next two pitches and on the 3-1 count, Reynolds smashed a three-run triple. That was a game-changing call. ...

To quote Umpire Auditor figures, there's a 10 or so percent disagreement between what umpires see and what technology tells us. One out of ten or so pitches would be called something else if we go with the robo-umps. That would fundamentally change the game.

For the better? For the worse? This is the choice that's coming fast.
A couple of comments under Posnanski's article (some of which touch on things I did not include in my admittedly large snip):
Jason Snell
I think you're right about the unintended consequences of a robotic strike zone and how framing (and pitcher intent) end up getting boiled out of the process, but fans seeing the computerized strike zone in HD and knowing that 10% of pitches are called wrong is inescapable. I feel like we're all going to have to mourn pitch framing and accept it as a casualty of the new precision of the strike zone. ...
Who cares what the catcher does? Who cares what it "looks" like? Who cares what has been done before, for however long? Who cares what the fans think if the fans are wrong?

The strike zone is a clearly defined three-dimensional space (yes, I know it varies with the height and stance of the batter, and technology shouldn't be implemented for this until it can account for that). If a pitch passes through that space, it's a strike. If it doesn't it's not.

The umpire has an extremely hard job: to track a small object moving at almost impossible-to-see speed passing through a space that he can only envision in his mind. That doesn't make a ball a strike or a strike a ball, but erroneous calls are just that - errors. ...

The fact that the pitch and the catcher's reaction to it created an optical illusion that the pitch missed the zone doesn't mean that the pitch missed the zone.

Balls and strikes do have a RIGHT and a WRONG result. It's entirely understandable that a human crouching behind the catcher can't always see it correctly, but that makes it a problem to solve, not a state of things to accept.
Is there any way in which having balls and strikes called reliably is detrimental? I cannot think there is. Will it change the game? We already have individual at-bats affected by the 10% of calls being questionable - so having at-bats not affected by bad calls I guess is a change - but that's good, right? ... [A] computer generated strike zone can be adjusted for different player heights and stances. ... The tech is ready to go.
Ron H
Several of the comments have mentioned that the box doesn't account for the height difference between players. It makes me ask why not. ... Seems to me every major league player can have the appropriate measurements taken (e.g. knee height) which can be input into a database. ... Computers today should be able to handle this easily. A new player comes into the league? Along with getting a new uniform they get correctly measured and that information is added to the database. ... Am I missing something?
The technology is not going away, so anything that needs to be fixed is going to have to come from within the games themselves. ... The pitcher's job is not primarily to throw a ball to the exact spot the catcher wants it. The pitcher's job is to throw a ball that overpowers or deceives the batter enough to either let a strike go by, swing and miss, or make poor-enough contact to make an out. If he misses the catcher's target, that's not great, but that doesn't mean that the pitch isn't still a strike. I mean, if the batter swings and misses, is anyone complaining about it being a strike?
Here are some tweets from Umpire Auditor during September and early in the postseason. When you scroll back through the regular season, you find tons of blown calls on pitches five or six inches out of (or in) the zone. That's a huge amount of distance. It's clear the outcome of numerous games are being affected, sometimes by only a couple of miscalled pitches.

September 3
Absolutely brutal call on the last pitch of the game. Bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, two outs, down one. Umpire Kerwin Danley called strike 3 to Nick Martini on a pitch off the plate to end the game. #Padres v #Diamondbacks
September 12
A NEW SEASON HIGH! Umpire Ted Barrett missed SEVEN calls in the bottom of the 9th. This is the most blown calls in the bottom of the 9th this season and only one short of the all time record! Watch four consecutive calls that Barrett missed in one at bat. #Phillies #[Atlanta]
September 28
"That's a pitch you can almost not reach" --Rays broadcast
Umpire Laz Diaz rung up @KKiermaier39 on a pitch that missed outside by 6.23 inches -- the largest horizontal miss since September 3rd! #Rays v #BlueJays
October 1
Get to know your NL wildcard ump! #Nationals v #Brewers
Name: Mike Everitt
2019 Ranking: 34th of 89
Percent correct: 91.2%
Largest miss: 6.11 inches
Here are a few of his worst calls...
October 2
The scouting report on your AL Wild Card ump is in!
Name: Chad Fairchild
Interests: Long walks on the beach and occasionally missing the outside corners
2019 Ranking: 16th of 89
Percent correct: 91.9%
Largest miss: 5.26 inches
#Athletics v #Rays

Umpire Chad Fairchild missed 14 calls on the night for a correct call rate of 91.1%.
His largest miss was in the final at bat of the game. He called a strike to Marcus Semien that missed by 2.51 inches. #Athletics v #Rays
October 3
Umpire Will Little off to a rough start. He ended the first inning with a full count called strike out to Anthony Rendon. The pitched missed by 2.15 inches. #Nationals v #Dodgers

Umpire Will Little is off his game. He [blew] a second full count strike out -- this one in the second inning to Howie Kendrick. #Nationals v #Dodgers
October 5
"Foul ball" --Umpire Manny Gonzalez #Yankees v #Twins

Umpire John Tumpane rang up Ji-Man Choi on a pitch that missed outside by 2.51 inches. #Astros v #Rays
October 6
"Donaldson takes a ball" Umpire Alan Porter was responsible for largest miss of Friday's games. He called a strike to @BringerOfRain20 that missed by 3.11 inches. #[Atlanta] v #Cardinals

#Rays v #Astros Umpire Recap:
Name: Bruce Dreckman
Correct Call Rate: 91.2%
Total misses: 11
Largest miss: 4.79 inches!
Summary: A slightly above average game for a human umpire ...

#Twins v #Yankees Umpire Recap:
Name: Todd Tichenor
Correct Call Rate: 93.7%
Total Misses 10
Largest miss: 1.52 inches
Summary: Decent game ... It was Tichenor's best game since August 29. ...
October 7
#Cardinals v #[Atlanta] NLDS Game 3 Umpire Recap:
Name: Sam Holbrook
Correct Call Rate: 90.8%
Total misses: 14
Largest miss: 3.59 inches
Summary: Below league average game for Holbrook. Responsible for day's largest miss to @ronaldacunajr24 and a bad strikeout call in the 9th.

#Nationals v #Dodgers NLDS Game 3 Umpire Report
Name: Ted Barrett
Correct Call Rate: 91.7%
Total misses: 14
Largest miss: 1.91 inches
Summary: Barrett ranked 84th of 89 during the regular season so it was nice to see him call a league average game.

Umpire Wegner just rang up Yordan Alvarez on a pitch that missed high. #Rays v #Astros #ALDSGame3
October 8
#Astros v #Rays ALDS Game 3 Umpire Report
Name: Mark Wegner
Correct Call Rate: 89.8%
Total misses: 15
Largest miss: 2.84 inches
Summary: This was a below league average game for Wegner in an elimination game. He was responsible for the largest miss of the day.
October 9
#Astros v #Rays ALDS Game 4 Umpire Report
Name: James Hoye
Correct Call Rate: 96.1%
Total misses: 5
Largest miss: 4.28 inches
Summary: The highest correct call rate of the postseason! ...

Umpire Alfonso Marquez just squeezed @stras37. He incorrectly called two pitches to Justin Turner balls leading to a four pitch walk. #Dodgers v #Nationals #NLDSGame5
October 11
#Astros v #Rays ALDS Game 5 Umpire Report
Name: Jerry Meals
Correct Call Rate: 89.1%
Total misses: 12
Largest miss: 5.02 inches
Summary: This was the lowest correct rate of the postseason and the largest single miss. Very disappointing in an elimination game.
October 12
NLCS Game 1 Umpire Report:
Name: Mike Muchlinski
Correct Call Rate: 92.0%
Total misses: 11
Largest miss: 3.59 inches
Summary: Slightly above the league average. ... #Cardinals v #Nationals
October 13
NLCS Game 2 Umpire Report:
Name: Chris Conroy
Correct Call Rate: 91.5%
Total misses: 11
Largest miss: 2.62 inches
A slightly above league average game for Conroy. This called strike out to @Anthonyrendon_6 was the largest miss of the day. #Nationals v #Cardinals
ALCS Game 1 Umpire Report:
Name: Bill Welke
Correct Call Rate: 90.8%
Total misses: 12
Largest miss: 2.50 inches
Average game for Bill Welke, but this missed strike to Jose Altuve was the worst called ball of the postseason! #Yankees v #Astros
October 14
Brutal sequence for umpire Cory Blaser.
Top 11, 2 outs, 2 runners on, 2 strikes, @ElGarySanchez at the plate. Blaser called a foul ball on pitch that Sanchez didn't even come close to hitting. Then, Blaser made the largest miss of the day -- 2.99 inches -- to ring him up.
October 15
This was umpire Bill Miller's worst call of the night -- a strike 3 to Howie Kendrick that missed the zone by 2.63 inches. #Nationals v #Cardinals
October 16
Umpire Jeff Nelson was forced to leave the game with a concussion, which meant Kerwin Danley (ranked 86th of 93) took over. Danley then called a strike to Brett Gardner on a pitch that missed high by 6.46 inches -- the largest miss of the playoffs. #Astros v #Yankees

Umpire Phil Cuzzi called his second worst game of the season last night with a correct call rate of only 88.4%. This miss to @AdamSpankyEaton was Cuzzi's largest of the night. #Nationals v #Cardinals #NLCS
October 17
Umpire Report #ALCS Game 4
Name: Dan Bellino
Correct Call Rate: 91.9%
Total misses: 15
Largest miss: 3.59 inches
Correct call rate was about league average, but that doesn't tell the whole story. Bellino had some awful calls last night. #Astros v #Yankees

We've got a new worst called ball of the playoffs!
Umpire Dan Bellino gifted Aaron Judge a ball. The umpire's eyes should be aligned with the top of the zone and you don't need to CSI enhance this video to tell Bellino squatted way too low. #Astros v #Yankees #alcsgame4
October 19

In the biggest game of the season, umpire Marvin Hudson called the worst game of the playoffs.
Correct call rate: 87.9%
Total misses: 20
Calls helping Yankees: 6
Calls helping Astros: 14
Watch a few bad ones from top of the second... #Astros v #Yankees #ALCS

Umpire Marvin Hudson blew a pair of strike calls to Brett Gardner, including one to ring him up. #Astros v #Yankees #ALCS
And finally ... we come to the World Series.

It's often said that a pitcher's most important pitch is "strike one", meaning getting the first one over gives the man on the mound a big advantage. That's certainly true. Here are the 2019 batting stats for all hitters after a 1-0 count and after an 0-1 count:
             AVG    OBP    SLG    OPS
After 1-0   .267   .384   .474   .858
After 0-1   .220   .266   .364   .631  (AVG -.047, OBP -.118, SLG -.110, OPS -.227)
But a pitch than is even more important is the 1-1 pitch. Especially in this era of increased strikeouts, there is a bigger divide between 2-1 and 1-2:
             AVG    OBP    SLG    OPS
After 2-1   .246   .393   .436   .828
After 1-2   .174   .228   .289   .518  (AVG -.072, OBP -.165, SLG -.147, OPS -.310)
A pitch does not have to be strike 3 or ball 4 to drastically affect a plate appearance.

Here are the number of missed calls by the plate umpires in each World Series game, according to Umpire Auditor. 60 of the 99 calls benefited the Astros; only 39 calls benefited the Nationals.
                         Benefiting WAS    Benefiting HOU    Correct Call % (Avg = 90.3%)
Game 1 - Alan Porter          6                  8                90.6
Game 2 - Doug Eddings         4                 13                90.1
Game 3 - Gary Cederstrom      3                 11                91.5
Game 4 - James Hoye           9                  6                91.2
Game 5 - Lance Barksdale      4                  5                93.5
Game 6 - Sam Holbrook         6                  5                92.4
Game 7 - Jim Wolf             7                 12                88.9
                             39                 60
The Astros received nearly as many "gifts" from the plate umps in the first four games (37) as the Nationals did in seven games.

Thanks to Brooks Baseball Pitchf/x Tool and Umpire Auditor for the following:

October 22
#WorldSeries2019 Game 1 Umpire Report
Name: Alan Porter

Correct Call Rate: 90.6%
Calls helping #Nationals: 6
Calls helping #Astros: 8
Largest miss: 1.4 inches
His most significant miss was a walk gifted to George Springer in the 1st. Springer would score.

Dan Phillips (Jocular/Bellicose Religious Scholar) @BibChr
Well, missing the catcher-interference was a pretty big miss too. Reddick would have walked.

Good point. This was a very tough break for @RealJoshReddick. Reddick clearly hit Suzuki's glove and Alan Porter even seemed to recognize it. Instead of reaching base on catcher's interference, Reddick would fly out.
Springer, Bottom of 1st (UA says Pitch #7 was a miss, but Brooks has it outside the zone)

Kendrick, Top of 2nd (Pitch #2)

Suzuki, Top of 2nd (Pitch #2)

Alvarez, Bottom of 2nd (Pitch #3)

Bregman, Bottom of 3rd (Pitch #2)

Cabrera, Top of 4th (Pitch #1)

Zimmerman, Top of 4th (Pitch #1)

Bregman, Bottom of 5th (Pitch #4)

Turner, Top of 7th (Pitch #1)

Brantley, Bottom of 7th (Pitch #1)

Gurriel, Bottom of 7th (Pitch #2)

Alvarez, Bottom of 7th (Pitch #1)

Rendon, Top of 8th (Pitch #2)

Kendrick, Top of 8th (Pitch #2)

Brantley, Bottom of 8th (Pitch #2)

Suzuki, Top of 9th (Pitch #1)

October 23

#WorldSeries2019 Game 2 Umpire Report
Name: Doug Eddings
Correct Call Rate: 90.1% (League avg 90.3%)
Calls helping #Nationals: 4
Calls helping #Astros: 13
Largest miss: 3.23 inches
Unfortunate to have a sub par game in the World Series. He squeezed pitchers 11 times last night
Turner, Top of 1st (Pitch #2)

Brantley, Bottom of 1st (Pitch #1)

Zimmerman, Top of 2nd (Pitches #3 and #4)

Alvarez, Bottom of 2nd (Pitch #2)

Correa, Bottom of 2nd (Pitches #2 and #4)

Eaton, Top of 3rd (Pitch #1)

Springer, Bottom of 3rd (Pitches #2 and #4)

Altuve, Bottom of 3rd (Pitches #2 and #3; with Springer, that's 4 missed calls in a span of 5 pitches taken)

Correa, Bottom of 4th (Pitch #2)

Rendon, Top of 5th (Pitch #6; instead of an inning-ending strikeout, Rendon walked)

Brantley, Bottom of 5th (Pitch #2)

Cabrera, Top of 6th (Pitches #1 and #5)

Bregman, Bottom of 6th (Pitch #2)

Correa, Bottom of 6th (Pitches #4 and #5; #4 is borderline, but it's also in the exact same spot as a ball called on Cabrera in the top of this inning)

Tucker, Bottom of 6th (Pitch #1)

Reddick, Bottom of 7th (Pitch #6; instead of a strikeout, Reddick walked)

Brantley, Bottom of 7th (Pitch #1)

Alvarez, Bottom of 8th (Pitch #1)

Maldonado, Top of 9th (Pitch #1)

October 25

#WorldSeries2019 Game 3 Umpire Report
Name: Gary Cederstrom
Correct Call Rate: 91.5%
Calls helping #Nationals: 3
Calls helping #Astros: 11
Largest miss: 1.67 inches
Sorry @Nationals, but a four game sweep isn't good for @MLB's bottom line.
Brantley, Top of 1st (Pitch #2)

Bregman, Top of 1st (Pitch #4)

Springer, Top of 2nd (Pitch #3)

Correa, Top of 3rd (Pitch #2)

Sanchez, Bottom of 3rd (Pitches #1 and #2)

Soto, Bottom of 3rd (Pitch #3)

Chirinos, Top of 4th (Pitch #1)

Zimmerman, Bottom of 4th (Pitch #3)

Brantley, Top of 5th (Pitches #3 and #4; instead of a strikeout for the second out, Brantley hit a single, scoring Altuve, giving the Astros a 3-1 lead)

Eaton, Bottom of 5th (Pitch #1)

Reddick, Top of 7th (Pitch #1)

Rendon, Bottom of 7th (Pitch #1)

Kendrick, Bottom of 8th (Pitch #1)

Gomes, Bottom of 8th (Pitch #1)

Gurriel, Top of 9th (Pitch #3; the strikeout ended the inning)

Turner, Bottom of 9th (Pitch #5; should have been a leadoff walk against Osuna, with the Nats down 1-4; instead, Turner flied out to deep right-center; Astros won 4-1)

Eaton, Bottom of 9th (Pitch #1)

All Pitches

October 26

#WorldSeries2019 Game 4 Umpire Report
Name: James Hoye
Correct Call Rate: 91.2%
Calls helping #Nationals: 9
Calls helping #Astros: 6
Largest miss: 2.75 inches
The rate was fine, but a bad call to Carlos Correa [Correction: Bad call to George Springer! There are too many to keep track of...] turned a strike 'em out/throw 'em out to a grand slam 3 ABs later
Springer, Top of 1st ((Pitch #8; instead of a walk to begin the game, Springer was called out on strikes; the next five Astros reached base and Houston scored 2 runs)

Correa, Top of 1st (Pitches #1 and #5; Correa ended up walking on Ball 6)

Rendon, Bottom of 1st (Pitch #1)

Marisnick, Top of 2nd (Pitch #2)

Turner, Bottom of 3rd (Pitch #5)

Rendon, Bottom of 4th (Pitch #1)

Kendrick, Bottom of 4th (Pitch #1)

Gurriel, Top of 5th (Pitch #4)

Zimmerman, Bottom of 5th (Pitch #5)

Robles, Bottom of 5th (Pitch #2)

Marisnick, Top of 6th (Pitch #1)

Parra, Bottom of 6th (Pitch #4)

Kendrick, Bottom of 6th (Pitch #3)

Tucker, Top of 7th (Pitch #4; Tucker walked on the next pitch (Ball 5))

Springer, Top of 7th (Pitch #6; what should been a strikeout was another walk, moving Tucker to second; both runners scored on Kendrick's grand slam)

Correa, Top of 7th (Pitch #3; count should have been 1-2 instead of 2-1; Correa walked)

Eaton, Bottom of 8th (Pitch #2)

Chirinos, Top of 9th (Pitch #1)

Dozier, Bottom of 9th (Pitch #1)

October 27

#WorldSeries Game 5 Umpire Report
Name: Lance Barksdale
Correct Call Rate: 93.5%
Calls helping #Nationals: 4
Calls helping #Astros: 5
Largest miss: 3.23 inches
The rate doesn't tell the whole story. Barksdale gifted Correa a ball on an 0-2 count. A K turned into a 2 run HR.

Umpire Lance Barksdale is keeping me busy...

Victor Robles was just the victim of another blown call by Lance Barksdale
Springer, Top of 1st (Pitch #8; Springer walked when he should have been called out to start the game; he was erased on a double play on the next pitch)

Rendon, Bottom of 1st (Pitch #1)

Robles, Bottom of 2nd (Pitch #1)

Turner, Bottom of 3rd (Pitch #3; Turner should have struck out for the third out; he lined out to left on the next pitch)

Bregman, Top of 4th (Pitch #4; count should have been 3-1 instead of 2-2; would #5 still have been ball 4?; Bregman grounded out to shortstop; Correa homered later in the inning)

Correa, Top of 4th (Pitch #3; called strike three should have ended the inning for Ross and the Nats; instead, Correa homered on #7, increasing the Astros' lead from 2-0 to 4-0)

Rendon, Bottom of 4th (Pitch #2)

Soto, Bottom of 4th (Pitch #3)

Brantley, Top of 6th (Pitch #5; should have been strike three for the first out; Brantley flied out to left on the next pitch)

Alvarez, Top of 7th (Pitch #2)

Zimmerman, Bottom of 7th (Pitch #6; strike three should have ended the inning; Zimmerman walked)

Robles, Bottom of 7th (Pitch #6; should have been ball 4, putting two on (Zimmerman on second) with two outs and bringing the potential tying run (Gomes) to the plate against Cole; instead, Robles ended up being Cole's last batter of the night)

Springer, Top of 8th (Pitch #1)

Soto, Bottom of 9th (Pitch #1)

All Pitches

October 29

#WorldSeries Game 6 Umpire Report
Name: Sam Holbrook
Correct Call Rate: 92.4%
Calls helping #Nationals: 6
Calls helping #Astros: 5
Largest miss: 3.47 inches
Ump Gary Cederstrom stole the spotlight in this one, escalating an argument with Dave Martinez until Holbrook ejected him

Another 3+ inch miss and strikeout. This can't happen in the #WorldSeries. @Victor__Robles was the victim of this blown call.

We have a new worst call of the #WorldSeries! Umpire Sam Holbrook rang up Michael Brantley on a pitch that missed outside by 3.47 inches!
Eaton, Top of 1st (Pitch #1)

Brantley, Bottom of 1st (Pitch #5; called strike three for the second out instead of a 3-2 count; the next batter (Bregman) would homer)

Chirinos, Bottom of 2nd (Pitch #1)

Reddick, Bottom of 3rd (Pitch #2)

Alvarez, Bottom of 4th (Pitch #1)

Soto, Top of 5th (Pitch #4; count should have been 2-2 instead of 3-1; different count could have affected what Verlander threw next; Soto hit #5 for a home run, snapping a 2-2 tie; Nats went on to win 7-2, setting up Game 7)

Springer, Bottom of 5th (Pitch #1 and #3)

Cabrera, Top of 6th (Pitches #2 and #3)

Robles, Top of 6th (Pitch #6; blown call ends inning)

Reddick, Bottom of 7th (Pitch #1)

Cabrera, Top of 8th (Pitch #1)

Chirinos, Bottom of 9th (Pitch #3)

All Pitches

October 30

#WorldSeries Game 7 Umpire Report
Name: Jim Wolf
Correct Call Rate: 88.9%
Calls helping #Nationals: 7
Calls helping #Astros: 12
Largest miss: 4.43 inches
Worst rate and the largest miss.
Springer, Bottom of 1st (Pitch #4; produced a 2-2 count instead of 3-1)

Cabrera, Top of 2nd (Pitch #4)

Zimmerman, Top of 3rd (Pitch #3)

Altuve, Bottom of 3rd (Pitches #1 and #3; count should have been 3-0 and not 1-2; Altuve hit a leadoff single anyway)

Bregman, Bottom of 3rd (Pitch #2)

Gurriel, Bottom of 3rd (Pitch #1; third Astros batter (out of first four) with a blown call this inning)

Turner, Top of 4th (Pitch #1)

Reddick, Bottom of 4th (Pitch #3)

Altuve, Bottom of 4th (Pitch #2)

Soto, Top of 5th (Pitch #1)

Kendrick, Top of 5th (Pitch #3)

Zimmerman, Top of 5th (Pitch #1)

Correa, Bottom of 5th (Pitch #1)

Chirinos, Bottom of 5th (Pitches #1 and #4)

Robles, Top of 6th (Pitch #1)

Turner, Top of 6th (Pitch #3; ended inning, with Nats trailing 0-2)

Springer, Bottom of 6th (Pitch #3)

Eaton, Top of 7th (Pitch #1 and #2; count was 0-2 instead of 2-0; Eaton grounded out to shortstop to lead off inning)

Soto, Top of 7th (Pitch #4; count should have been 2-2 instead of 3-1; Nats trailing 1-2; Soto walked and scored on Kendrick's go-ahead home run))

Eaton, Top of 8th (Pitch #1)

Rendon, Top of 8th (Pitch #4; count should have been 3-1 and not 2-2; Rendon flied out to center; next batter (Soto) singled)

Correa, Bottom of 8th (Pitch #1)

Zimmerman, Top of 9th (Pitch #1)

Right-Handed Hitters

In five of the seven World Series games, the most common pitch to be miscalled was #1. Since most plate appearance have at least two pitches, it stands to reason that #1 would be the most called. There were only six wrong calls on the #6 pitch of a plate appearance during the World Series because a much smaller percentage of plate appearances include six pitches.

For the sake of argument, say an umpire wanted to influence the game one way or the other. Making an incorrect call on the first or second pitch to a batter would be the way to hide the influence, since a batter does not strike out or walk on the first or second pitch of a plate appearance, so an incorrect call would not draw as much attention. And as noted, far above, a batter is at a distinct disadvantage on 0-1.

From my examination of the plotting of pitches at BrooksBaseball, this is the number of wrong calls in each World Series game, according to pitch # in the plate appearance (I note that I have 134 incorrect calls here and Umpire Auditor noted 99; some of the pitches I pointed out are on the line and could be construed as correct; I included them to show an umpire's inconsistency):
Pitch#   WS1   WS2   WS3   WS4   WS5   WS6   WS7   TOTAL 
  1        6     7     8     7     4     6    12     50
  2        7     8     3     3     2     2     3     28
  3        1     2     5     2     3     3     6     22
  4        1     4     2     3     1     1     5     17
  5        0     2     1     3     1     1     0      8
  6        0     2     0     1     2     1     0      6
  7        1     0     0     0     0     0     0      1
  8        0     0     0     1     1     0     0      2
          16    25    19    20    14    14    26    134
Note: Of course, I have no evidence of any umpire deliberately trying to aid one team over another (though you really have to wonder what was going on with Eric Gregg in 1997 NLCS Game 5). Through the years, I have definitely wondered if some over-the-top incorrect calls can be completely chalked up to incompetence or guesswork (setting aside incorrect calls that seem motivated by anger, spite, etc.). One thing we can know for sure: robot umps can't be bribed, they have no biases (subconscious or otherwise), and their egos are never bruised by being (allegedly) shown up.