On Monday afternoon, the Royals played a makeup game with the White Sox and the game-time temperature was 88 degrees, but with the heat index it felt like 142. (I may have that heat-index number wrong, but trust me, it was hot.) It was also getaway day, which is the day everybody has a plane to catch.
Why that matters will be clear in a moment.
In the fourth inning, Alcides Escobar was in a 3-1 count when White Sox pitcher Carlos Rondon threw a fastball that Esky considered a ball, but home-plate umpire Toby Basner called a strike. Esky said he didn’t say anything, but his body language spoke for him. Esky thought he should have walked, but he was still at the plate and wound up hitting a fly ball for an out.
Look at MLB.com’s Gameday strike zone and the pitch in question has a microbe or two within the grid, but most of it is out of the zone. So if the grid is accurate, a big if, Basner was technically correct, but by the slimmest of margins. You can see why Esky thought it was a ball.
Cut to the next inning and the exact same thing happened: 3-1 count, pitch mostly down out of the zone, but part of it maybe touching the zone and Basner once again called it a strike. This time Esky spoke up. Apparently Esky told Basner to “clean it up” and Basner told Esky to “get on the bus.” Things escalated from there and Esky was ejected, along with manager Ned Yost.
Which brings up a question: does the strike zone get bigger when it’s hot and on getaway days?
After the game the Royals were packing up for their trip to Cleveland, but I still managed to do a very unscientific poll and the results were unsurprising. The hitters had two responses to my question:
2. Hell, yes.
But the hitters also thought the strike zone was too big in general.
The pitchers and catchers (OK, Drew Butera, Edinson Volquez and Chris Young) thought umpires do a good job. So here are the shocking results of my unscientific poll; hitters want fewer pitches called strikes, pitchers and catchers want more pitches called strikes — which must be very tough on catchers.
It’s hard for a catcher to complain that a pitch should be a ball when they’re hitting, especially if they want that same pitch to be a strike when they’re catching.
So who’s right?
Monday night I looked at all 258 pitches thrown in Monday afternoon’s game … which tells you what a scintillating night I had going.
None of this is all that scientific; plenty of people doubt those grids shown on TV are 100 percent accurate and there’s some chance I missed a pitch, but nevertheless, here are the results.
I looked for borderline pitches — pitches where part of the ball was in the zone and part of the ball was out of the zone — and counted 29 pitches fitting that description. Fifteen of those pitches were called strikes; 14 were called balls. So while Basner wasn’t being consistent on how he called those borderline pitches, he also wasn’t expanding the zone and calling everything on the black a strike.
I then looked for pitches where Basner missed the call entirely; a ball completely within the strike zone or a strike completely out of the zone. (See? I told you I had a boring Monday night.)
I only found three pitches fitting that description; two were balls well inside the zone, one was a strike well outside the zone.
In conclusion, I don’t have one
Chris Young thought umpires do a great job in general, but thought even subconsciously outside factors could play a role when calling balls and strikes. He seriously doubted any umpire would say it’s hot and we all have a plane to catch so I’m opening up the zone.
Drew Butera thought Basner’s zone was fair; the guys who don’t pitch or catch weren’t so sure.
So what have we learned from all this?
I really need a hobby.