October 20, 2021

Plate Umpire Laz Díaz Missed At Least 23 Calls, Including One That Should Have Ended The T9 With A 2-2 Tie; No Surprise That One Of MLB's Worst Umpires (For More Than A Decade) Turns In The Most Incompetent Ball-Strike Performance Of The 2021 Postseason

I'd call Laz Díaz's performance in ALCS Game 4 a pile of hot garbage, but I have a healthy respect for trash. Passan did not tweet out a final number of blown calls, but ESPN's Joon Lee reported:
Diaz ended the evening with 23 missed ball-strike calls, according to ESPN Stats & Information . . . Diaz's night behind the plate marked the most missed ball-strike calls of any umpire this postseason.
Díaz has been one of the worst umpires in MLB for far too long. On my scorecard of the game, I circled the pitches which Diaz called contrary to what Gameday's strike zone showed. I counted 19 missed calls by Díaz, 10 against the Red Sox (six of which came in the first three innings) and 9 against the Astros.

I have seen dozens of comments online pointing out that the breakdown of missed calls was more or less even (12 on balls thrown by Red Sox pitchers and 11 on balls thrown by the Astros) and saying, yes, Díaz is certainly incompetent, but he was the same amount of incompetent for each team.

That is almost certainly not true. You would have to look at when each blown call was made, what inning, what the count was, what the game situation was, etc., and try to quantify how much the call hurt one team and helped the other. Here are two blown calls, one for each team:
1) A blown call on a 1-0 count with no outs and no one on base in the third inning of a 5-0 game

2) A blown call on a 3-2 pitch with two outs and the bases loaded in the eighth of a 4-4 tie
Blown calls are 1-1, so no team got screwed more than the other, right?

Of Díaz's 23 blown calls, none was as important to the outcome of the game as this one:
Díaz's wrong call was especially noteworthy (and newsworthy) because his personal strike zone had been extremely wide for the entire game, for both teams. To suddenly not call a strike on an actual strike after calling strikes on pitches well off the plate all goddamn night makes this particular blown call truly horrible. (I'd call it a fireable offense, but MLB umpires never get fired for gross incompetence.)

A quick sampling of Díaz's career:
July 1, 2011: "Pedroia's at-bat in the seventh is worth noting. He took a 2-1 pitch . . . that was low and away. It was in the exact same place as balls 1 and 2, but home plate umpire Laz Diaz called it strike two. Diaz and Pedroia exchanged several words as [Pedroia] got ready for the next pitch. Pedroia drilled it . . . down the right field line. While sprinting to first base, Pedroia turned around and yelled back at Diaz. Once he was at first, he yelled again at the home plate ump. I'm not sure I have seen a batter continue an argument with the HP ump while running out a hit. . . . And two pitches later, after sliding across the plate on Adrian Gonzalez's double, Pedroia got up and stomped his foot on home plate, to emphasize that he had scored, as Diaz presumably stared daggers at him."

April 15, 2012: "Also, Laz Diaz is just fucking awful, if it wasn't already clear."

April 30, 2012: Better Know An Umpire: Laz Diaz

May 18, 2012: Laz Diaz Blows An Obvious Call, Ejects Bob Melvin In More Time Than It Would Have Taken To Look At A Replay

May 31, 2012: Another Day, Another Umpire On A Power Trip (Diaz "wouldn't let me throw the ball back to the pitcher. He told me I had to earn the privilege. . . . [A]t the end of the game . . . I'm like, can I throw the ball back now? He's still like no. . . . I'm not letting you throw a ball back.")

April 16, 2013: "Home plate Laz Diaz showed why he is one of the worst umpires in major league baseball. In the first two innings, his pathetic attempts to correctly call balls and strikes were essentially a coin flip. High pitches out of the zone were called strikes, and then pitches that came in lower than those were called balls. He judged numerous pitches well outside the zone as strikes. Is Diaz Exhibit A in the fans' demand for robot umps? I don't know (he might be), but he is mentioned prominently in the brief."

May 6, 2014: Terrible Umpire Laz Diaz Taunts Shawn Kelley Into Getting Ejected

May 6, 2014: Umpire Laz Diaz acts like a child leading up to ejection

November 5, 2018: The Worst Called Strike of the Second Half [It's by Diaz]

May 31, 2019: "Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon didn't hold back in his criticism of plate umpire Laz Diaz after what he thought was a missed strike-three call in the 10th inning . . ."

October 24, 2020: "Laz Diaz was ranked 68th out of 89 umpires. In 2019, Diaz was tied for 85th (which was dead last) in correct call percentage. That was who MLB decided should call balls and strikes in Game 1 of the World Series. The worst ball-and-strike-calling umpire in the major leagues."

June 4, 2021: "Some umpires are worse than others . . . Last night it was Laz Diaz in the Cubs-Giants game who missed so many calls the outline of the strike zone was closer to a Rorschach test than a box."
Despite showing a clear inability to do his job to even an average level of competency, which has been proven time and time again, year after year after year, MLB has regularly given Díaz assignments to work the sport's most important games:
World Series (2007, 2017, 2020)
League Championship Series (2009, 2015, 2016, 2021)
Division Series (2002, 2006, 2007, 2013, 2014, 2017, 2020)
Wild Card Game (2020, 2021)
All-Star Games (2000, 2010)
World Baseball Classic (2009)
Jeff Passan, ESPN: How The 268th Pitch Became The Defining Moment Of ALCS Game 4
In an alternate universe, or at least one that follows the rulebook strike zone, the pitch was a strike, a strike would have ended the ninth inning and allowed the Boston Red Sox, owners of two walk-off hits this postseason, the opportunity to mint a third. In the real world, where the rulebook strike zone is a castle in the sky, the pitch was a ball, a ball that kept Jason Castro at the plate, a ball that preceded the 269th pitch of the night, which he fouled off, and the 270th, which he whacked for a go-ahead single that opened the floodgates of the Houston Astros' 9-2 victory at Fenway Park on Tuesday night. . . .

A pitch that Eovaldi was so certain was a strike he skipped off the mound, maybe believing he had done his job and maybe trying to cajole the home-plate umpire, Laz Diaz, into punching out Castro, because he, like everyone, knew pitch No. 268 was on the edge of the strike zone, which isn't really a zone inasmuch as it is a concept subject to the execution of the man enforcing it. . . .

"If it's a strike," Red Sox manager Alex Cora said, "it changes the whole thing, right?"

Well, yeah. . . .
Diaz called an objectively questionable zone -- strikes for balls, balls for strikes, two pitches in almost identical locations with one a ball and the other a strike . . . 
Cora was working three levels with his postgame approach. First: He knows Diaz, has known him since he played at the University of Miami and Diaz umpired his games. Next: He doesn't want to get fined for criticizing the umpires, because he is smart and likes money. Most of all: Blaming the umpires -- blaming one pitch -- is a losing mentality. . . .
On the Fox broadcast's pitch tracker, the landing spot of the ball was colored in -- meaning it was a strike. On MLB's website, the pitch landed on the edge of the zone -- a strike. Neither of those matters. The only computer that mattered was Diaz's brain -- and it processed the pitch as a ball.

Edward Sutelan, The Sporting News:

There's missing a strike here and there, and then there's having a total off night behind home plate. . . .

Home-plate umpire Laz Diaz missed [23] calls in the matchup . . . the most of any umpire in the postseason. . . .

Not all of them came in inconsequential moments, either. One was a borderline pitch by Red Sox pitcher Nathan Eovaldi in the top of the ninth: a curveball that hit the top of the zone against Astros catcher Jason Castro. The pitch looked like it might have hit the zone for strike three, which would have ended the inning. . . .

That wasn't the only call that fired up the Boston side. Earlier in the game, another pitch on J.D. Martinez was called a strike when it would have been a walk to put runners on first and second with only one away. This one, however, was less close, according to Baseball Savant.
In the third inning, Díaz called J.D. Martinez out on strikes (pitch #7). Martinez should have walked, giving Boston runners at first and second and only one out. Díaz's blown call gave Boston a runner on second with two outs. Alex Cora was livid.


FenFan said...

You make a great point about calls versus the situation. When a game is on the line in the late innings, you HAVE to make the correct call on a pitch that is clearly a strike.

Even if it's not the case, consider it's the second inning and the starting pitcher has two outs and an 0-2 count on the batter. He throws a strike, inning over... but wait! The umpire misses the call: Ball 1. Now the pitcher must throw one or more additional pitches to that same batter. Let's say the batter then works the count full, fouls off a few pitches, and then draws a walk on a missed third strike call. Now the starter has to face another batter and throw at least one more pitch, possibly more. With managers quick to pull a starter well before reaching 100 pitches, one missed call might be the difference between the starter pitching into the seventh inning versus going only five. All because we want "the human element?"

There's no reason in 2021 that MLB cannot use StatCast to assist umpires in calling balls and strikes, especially if umpires like Diaz aren't held accountable for a poor performance like last night's debacle.

allan said...

The Red Sox did a piss poor job of playing after the blown call, but they never should have been in that position.

Because EOVALDI DID HIS JOB. HE THREW STRIKE THREE. HE ENDED THE INNING. That is a fact. In every news story, no one is saying that pitch was a ball. Except Diaz, who everyone knows has a shockingly long history of being wrong about these things.

How many times are the Red Sox supposed to end the inning? The rules say once. Which they did.