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


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

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.