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How are home plate umpires' strike zones affecting the 2015 St. Louis Cardinals?

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Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Much has been said about the strike zones of MLB home plate umpires. Over at Fangraphs, Jon Roegele has been tracking the strike zone all season, with this post being his latest update through the month of July. Justification behind continued discussion of the strike zone lies in the fact that in-depth, insanely accurate pitch information is publicly available on websites like BaseballSavant.com and BrooksBaseball.net (just to name a few). As you may recall, three months ago, I, too, discussed the strike zone as I wrote about how Matt Carpenter and Matt Holliday were battling inconsistent strike zones in 2015.

Predictably, not much has changed regarding Carpenter as an updated count has 175 balls being called "strikes" versus only 14 strikes being called "balls," or a net loss of a mind-boggling 161. Such a disparity has done nothing but strengthen the call for Robo Umps™, especially among Cardinal fans who have grown tired of seeing their team's lead-off hitter seemingly know the strike zone better than professional umpires. Plus, if the "World Wide Leader in Sports" can seamlessly superimpose a pitch-by-pitch strike zone onto their prime time telecasts, surely Major League Baseball can do the same, right?

Well, with the poster child for league-wide incorporation of Robo Umps™ so close to home, it is reasonable to consider that maybe the call isn't as far-reaching as we perceive it to be. Yet, if you follow Keith Law on Twitter or perform a quick hashtag search, it is fairly apparent that the call for removing the "human element" from the strike zone encompasses basically every fan base around the nation. Overall, how have home plate umpires' strike zones affected the 2015 Cardinals? We obviously know about Carpenter, but what about other hitters? And the pitchers? Let's take a closer look, courtesy of BaseballSavant.com:

For those viewing on a mobile device

The terminology used in the infographic above probably requires some explaining. Logically, "gained" for a pitcher is essentially the exact opposite for a hitter: a pitcher "gains" when the umpire calls a pitch out of the zone a strike; whereas, a hitter "gains" when a pitch in the zone is called a "ball." Given the well-documented lower run scoring environment, it makes sense that pitchers "gain" much more frequently than hitters. Thus, for each missed ball-strike call with Carpenter at the plate, there should be a corresponding called "strike" (or two or three...) that benefits Lance Lynn, John Lackey, or Carlos Martinez, etc., and this is exactly what is shown in the infographic above.

Now, let me explain my reasoning behind the infographic's construction. Instead of listing them separately, I stacked the "gained" and "lost" outcomes into a single bar in hopes of providing a visual comparison of the overall magnitudes of pitchers versus hitters. As you can see, the green "gained" portion of the pitchers' bar is bigger than the red "lost" portion (+66) of the hitters' bar. While it is increasingly frustrating to see Carpenter continuously jobbed by home plate umpires, the Cardinals, overall, have actually benefited from umpires' strike zones in 2015 (by this one rudimentary measure, at least).

What about missed ball-strike calls in at-bat-changing situations, though? While strike one in an at bat is just as important as strike three when considering the fact that a pitcher needs three strikes before being able to record a strikeout, many pitchers would agree that notching the third strike is much harder than getting the first one, with a few reasons being that hitters often take the first pitch of an at bat while others "shorten" their swing with two strikes.

Called Strike Three on Balls out of the Strike Zone

For those viewing on a mobile device

As you can see from this graph, Cardinals' pitchers have once again outpaced the hitters, providing a net "gain" for the team as a whole. However, it is only three strikeouts over a period of 105 games, so I highly doubt the actual significance of the difference. Instead, this was mainly put together to show that there is not much of a disparity at all. For informational purposes only, I broke down the effect of the strike zone down for each player individually as well (please note, if interested, a link to my full data collection is provided below).

Top 10 Most-Affected Hitters

Hitter Gained Lost Backwards K on a Ball
Matt Carpenter 14 175 18
Jason Heyward 17 92 11
Kolten Wong 15 92 4
Jhonny Peralta 21 76 7
Mark Reynolds 10 76 12
Matt Holliday 8 56 15
Peter Bourjos 10 47 8
Yadier Molina 14 43 5
Jon Jay 12 32 5
Randal Grichuk 9 31 5

Addendum: His sample size is not yet big enough to compete with the counting numbers seen in this table, but in 12 MLB games, Stephen Piscotty has seen 11 balls called "strikes," and two of his strikeouts (of the looking variety) occurred on pitches outside of the zone.

Top 10 Most-Affected Pitchers

Pitcher Gained Lost Backwards K on a Ball
Lance Lynn 157 16 20
John Lackey 110 23 10
Carlos Martinez 102 16 13
Michael Wacha 85 29 10
Kevin Siegrist 54 7 8
Carlos Villanueva 53 9 2
Trevor Rosenthal 52 3 8
Matt Belisle 51 5 6
Jaime Garcia 42 16 9
Seth Maness 37 1 2

Bottom Line

It is abundantly clear that pitchers are reaping the benefits of the current strike zone. While it is frustrating to see our favorite hitters endure balls being called strikes on a consistent basis, we cannot forget the benefits our favorite pitchers receive at the other end of the spectrum. Plus, it always helps to have a Gold (and Platinum) Glove catcher like Yadier Molina behind the plate who, despite very early-season pitch-framing struggles prematurely discussed over at FiveThirtyEight, finds his name on the cusp of the top ten per Baseball Prospectus. Plus, a fun search over at BaseballSavant.com reveals the fact that Molina leads baseball with 98 strikeouts framed on pitches out of the zone.

Should Robo Umps™ be used in Major League Baseball? Maybe so, but a seismic development of this nature is so far down the road from even being discussed by the league's competition committee. Thus, we can rest easy knowing that the current system in place has not yet shown to be a detriment to the Cardinals.

Here is a link to the data I collected should you be interested in checking it out. Of note, I did not include data from last night's game (August 4th) in this post.

Credit to BaseballSavant.com for the data used in this post and infogr.am for their beautiful infographics.