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How the St. Louis Cardinals fared with the strike zone in 2014

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Predictably, Matt Carpenter suffered the most from the strike zones of MLB umpires, but how did the rest of the team fare as well?

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Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

With the incredible advancement in technology, the strike zones of umpires are one of the most debated topics in Major League Baseball—not necessarily by those playing the game, but definitely by those analyzing it alongside readily-available PITCHF/x data. Calls for robotic umpires started many years ago, and similar calls are still present to this day. This post, however, should not be considered a "call" for robotic umpires. Rather, it should merely be seen as an objective look at umpires' strike zones and how they affected the hitters of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2014. Conclusions drawn by this post's readers are more than welcomed in the comments section below.

Called strikes against the Cardinals

Player Inside of Strike Zone Outside of Strike Zone
Matt Carpenter 534 294
Jon Jay 182 68
Matt Holliday 176 123
Matt Adams 187 119
Jhonny Peralta 203 117
Yadier Molina 181 44
Kolten Wong 172 111
Jason Heyward 305 140
Total 1,940 1,016

Predictably, Matt Carpenter, the most patient hitter on the team, if not the entire league, suffered the most from umpires' strike zones in 2014, with 36% of the strikes called against him being out of the zone. The 294 "strikes" called against him more than doubled the count against each one of his teammates. Sure, a large factor for this is the fact that he takes a ton of pitches and this is a counting statistic, but the magnitude of disparity in called strikes is still worrisome. As you can see in the following image, Carpenter was specifically affected by pitches down and away from him. If you listened to our podcast with new Cardinal Ty Kelly from yesterday, Kelly agreed that this zone in particular is sometimes tough for umpires, especially when they are lined up behind the catcher on the inner half of the plate.

Carp strikes

The disparity in calls between the inside and outside zones is something I truly believe Major League Baseball must address with its umpiring crews this offseason. Hypothetically speaking, if strung together, 210 "strikes" in the "down and away" zone would result in 70 strikeouts—a huge number considering none of the pitches are actually in the strike zone.

Called balls against the Cardinals

Player Inside of Strike Zone Outside of Strike Zone
Matt Carpenter 55 1,110
Jon Jay 18 504
Matt Holliday 22 851
Matt Adams 18 565
Jhonny Peralta 32 800
Yadier Molina 30 532
Kolten Wong 21 493
Jason Heyward 34 918
Total 230 5,323

Again, Carpenter "gained" the most called balls when compared to his teammates. However, when realizing that he is already negative 294 from the "Called strikes" chart, positive 55 sure doesn't seem like much. Heyward, who had 428 plate appearances from the leadoff spot last season was second on the team with 34, but he, too, was negatively affected on pitches away from him and off the plate.

Concluding thoughts

As a team, the Cardinals had a net of negative 786 in regards to balls being called "strikes" and strikes being called "balls." Will human umpires ever become perfect with calling balls and strikes? No way. Heck, would computers necessarily be perfect 100% of the time? Probably not. Yet, with technology readily available (PITCHF/x), problem areas for umpires (such as down and away to LHBs) are easily distinguishable. These areas of concern should be brought up on a consistent basis, so that necessary improvements can be made. To me, it seems like this is a positioning issue by umpires (setting up inside making it difficult to distinguish the outside corner), which likely cannot be solved considered umpires follow the positioning of the catcher. Either way, improvements must be made because a net of negative 786 for the Cardinals is simply unacceptable.

Credit to Baseball Savant for the data collected in this post.

This link provides easy access to the data I tabulated for the production of the charts seen above.