Apr 26, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays catcher Dioner Navarro (L) talks to starting pitcher Brandon Morrow (M) as third baseman Brett Lawrie (R looks on in during the second inning against the Boston Red Sox at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Are Blue Jays pitchers being squeezed more than their divisional counterparts?

This is a guest post from long-time reader Joseph Chen. You can catch up with Joseph via Twitter username @aeoran.

There’s been chatter that the Jays pitchers get the shaft vs. their competition when it comes to strike calls. Saturday’s game against the Red Sox was a look at it first hand.

With Brandon Morrow on the hill, a pitcher who had frustrated Blue Jays fans over the years with his control issues, the strike zone seemed to shrink almost as soon as he threw his first pitch of the game. Morrow would proceed to walk eight batters over the course of 2 and 2/3 innings of work, resulting in four earned runs and a quick hook from manager John Gibbons. Oh, and for good measure, Blue Jays pitching coach Pete Walker got tossed for pleading Morrow’s case.

To see if there’s merit to investigating further, I’ve computed some initial results using PITCH F/X data for the 2014 season so far, as of all games played up to and including April 26.

Correlating total number of pitches thrown by pitchers on each team in the AL East vs. the number of strikes called balls by the umpires, we arrive at:

 

TOR – 3729 pitches thrown, 68 strikes called balls – 1.8235%

BAL – 3533 pitches thrown, 49 strikes called balls – 1.3869%

BOS – 3721 pitches thrown, 47 strikes called balls – 1.2631%

TB – 3541 pitches thrown, 42 strikes called balls – 1.1861%

NYY – 3539 pitches thrown, 36 strikes called balls – 1.0172%

 

The data suggests that Jays pitchers are 1.79 times more likely to get an unfavourable call on strikes thrown. It’s not really close; the second most likely team to receive an unfavourable call on strikes thrown is the O’s, and they’re 24% less likely to get an unfavourable call than the Jays.

The Yankees receive the most favourable treatment at only 1.0172% of pitches incorrectly called balls, which is 16.6% less than the next closest team, the Rays.

Now for favourable calls – balls called strikes:

 

NYY – 3539 pitches thrown, 256 balls called strikes – 7.2337%

TB – 3541 pitches thrown, 238 balls called strikes – 6.7213%

BOS – 3721 pitches thrown, 248 balls called strikes – 6.6649%

TOR – 3729 pitches thrown, 240 balls called strikes – 6.4360%

BAL – 3533 pitches thrown, 207 balls called strikes – 5.8590%

 

Once again, Yankees pitchers receive the most favourable rate of calls, with 7.2337% of their balls being called strikes by umpires. the Jays are the second unluckiest, receiving 11.03% fewer of these favourable calls than the Yankees. Baltimore comes out unluckiest, receiving 19.0% fewer calls than the Yankees.

In short: over non-trivial sample sizes, and with good separation, the Jays pitchers do seem like they’re getting screwed, being the most likely by far to have a thrown strike called a ball instead, and being the second least likely to have a ball called a strike.

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  • Wayne Cooper

    I agree, it seems as though the Jays don’t get many favorable calls, but I will take it one step further and say that the bad calls are happening at times when it costs the team runs, or when they already have 2 out and the third guy walks on very close pitches ( I watched it happen to Morrow, McGowan and Dickey. Then the pitcher gets frustrated and loses focus. It was the main reason Morrow walked the bases loaded and walked in a run against Boston. Also McGowan pitched better than his line last time out. A bad ball call, an unlucky bounce on an infield hit. Some luck goes the other way and Dustin get out of that inning alive. Hope he gets a couple more starts.

  • Justin Jay

    This is a very good article and a great look at perception of fans. I was watching this game with the Red Sox telecast on and their perspective on this topic came after Walker was ejected. The summary of Jerry Remy’s and Don Orsillo’s comments were this: Kellog is calling a tight strike zone, but it’s not like Morrow has been really close.

    I don’t disagree with this view point honestly. It was a tight, but inconsistent strike zone for both Morrow and Buchholz, however, the calls that seemed to screw both were mostly at the bottom of the strike zone.

    The other factor you need to consider in all of this is that the Blue Jays are perceived to have a wild pitching staff, with the exception of Buehrle. Pitchers that are perceived to throw strikes, get strike calls they normally wouldn’t. Pitchers that are wild typically get crunched more than most. Morrow, Happ, Romero, Drabek, and Dickey just because he throws a ball that’s tough to pick up, get screwed a lot because of their inability to consistently throw strikes. Check Buehrle’s data because I’m willing to bet the opposite of the others listed above. The person that may truely be getting screwed in all of this is Hutchison. Young pitcher among a group of wild pitchers. I’ve noticed it a few times on his slider, but I’m speaking just from what I see. I have yet to check the stats. I may when I get home.

  • Ewan Brocklehurst

    I was so upset for Brandon after the first three pitches of the game on Saturday. He had to think, “I can’t throw it down the middle or they will hit it hard, I can’t hit the corners or the ump will call it a ball, so what am I to do?” Pitch Trax gets me pretty upset, as I have been noticing this trend regularly. It is a great article to show it was not just a fan’s misconception!

  • Ewan Brocklehurst

    I will take this problem one step further. If you go back to Aaron Loup’s blow up last week, where he gave up the loss due to three straight walks, on one of the first two walks, with two strike count on the batter (Ortiz or Napoli?) he had two balls and the next pitch was clearly high enough according to pitch trax and in the zone, it was called a ball. If the umpire gets that one right, we very well could have won the game!

  • Mike Hradil

    100% clear evidence the Jays are getting #screwed!! #mlb #conspiracy

  • Jonathan Patrick

    A little statistics (hypothesis testing) suggests that the only comparisons between the Jays and other teams that are statistically significant at the commonly used level of significance of 0.05 are the comparison of the Jays to NY on “strikes called balls” and the comparison of the Jays and TB on “strikes called balls”. For all the other comparisons (including all of the comparisons involving “balls called strikes”), a statistician would say that there is insufficient evidence of a true difference between the two teams. That is not to say that there aren’t other real differences but only that the evidence is not very conclusive.