The St. Louis Cardinals blew a four-run lead against the Boston Red Sox last night (game recap found here). Let me be clear, before continuing further, that members of the Cardinals should look no further than themselves when coming up with reasons for last night’s loss. Mike Leake was pretty good (but was left in the game one inning too long), the offense peaked early (followed by a full-game’s worth of hibernation), and the strike zone was brutal — hence the title and topic of this post. With all of the data available to us, and keeping in mind just how critical we are when it comes to players, I firmly believe umpires remain relatively unscathed. That being said, thanks to strike zone plots on BrooksBaseball.net, I can confirm that Jeff Kellogg called an atrocious strike zone from behind home plate in last night’s game.
When it comes to BrooksBaseball.net strike zone plots, there are actually two zones embedded over each other — with the solid line representing the actual zone and the dashed line being what “all umpires generally call” — whether we like it or not — as developed by Mike Fast (formerly of Baseball Prospectus). Both corners expand with righties at the plate, while it’s the outside corner that expands with lefties batting.
Called strikes versus right-handed batters
The Cardinals are represented by squares, and the Red Sox are represented by triangles. Red shapes are called strikes, while green shapes are called balls.
Overall, Kellogg did a reasonable job calling balls and strikes for righties — with a few exceptions noted below. Using the actual strike zone, as opposed to the “usual” strike zone, Red Sox pitchers gained two strikes while the Cardinals gained one — a rather egregious gain I must add. The Red Sox lost three strikes, while the Cardinals lost a definitive four. I use definitive as a qualifier because there are three more balls (two on the top edge of the zone and one on the bottom edge) that very easily could have been called strikes. Thus, all things considered, Red Sox pitchers had the upper hand with the strike zone versus righties. Yet, the timing of two missed calls is what makes Kellogg’s strike zone so impactful against the Cardinals (more on this below).
Called strikes versus left-handed batters
Though I just admitted to a reasonable strike zone for righties, Kellogg’s zone for lefties was downright dreadful — as he consistently missed strikes on the inside part of the plate and seemingly replaced them with balls-called-strikes off the outside corner of the plate. Now, I wholeheartedly understand that the zone shifts for lefties, but some of these called strikes are beyond even Fast’s “usual” zone. The Red Sox lost seven strikes (with a borderline eight) — most being on the inside part of the plate — while gaining only four. Conversely, the Cardinals lost only three strikes while gaining five — all being off the outside corner. No matter what side you are on, one must agree that missing up to 20 pitches — remember, this is versus lefties alone — is not acceptable for an MLB umpire. To put it another way, if it was a close call, there was a good chance Kellogg got it wrong.
As I hope to have represented above, Jeff Kellogg’s strike zone was bad for both teams. But considering this is a Cardinals blog, let’s take a closer look at three pitches that negatively affected the Cardinals last night.
Trevor Rosenthal’s walk of Dustin Pedroia (BrooksBaseball At Bat)
After striking out Mookie Betts on four pitches (all up-in-the-zone fourseamers) to open the eighth inning, you can see (pitch number six) that Rosenthal should have also struck out Pedroia — the second batter of the inning. I saw some tweets about pitch number five also being in the strike zone (using the GameDay App), but the pitch actually landed in the dirt — off the map entirely. Frankly, it doesn’t take a sabermetrician to understand the difference between two outs, no runners on base versus one out, runner on first.
Bottom line, pitch number six must be called a strike, especially considering the pitch was almost identical to the called strike on pitch number one. Sure, it’s possible that Kellogg — like hitters — could have experienced the issue of a changed eye level with the pitch prior being a changeup in the dirt, but as the home plate umpire — whose sole purpose is to accurate balls and strikes — this simply cannot happen. At 101+ MPH, the umpire has little room for error, but this simply cannot be missed. Keep in mind, we are talking about the actual zone here, too, not even the “usual” zone discussed above.
Robby Scott’s strikeout of Randal Grichuk (BrooksBaseball At Bat)
Grichuk chases so many breaking balls out of the zone that you’d hope he’d be rewarded for finally taking one. Kellogg had other plans apparently, ending the semblance of a rally — yes, considering the hibernation of the Cardinals offense last night, I’ll make the leap and consider a runner on first base (Kolten Wong) a rally. To make things worse, the Cardinals ended up wasting Matt Adams — a barely above-average everyday player but a dangerous pinch hitter — in the process as he was replaced after the Red Sox brought in the lefty Scott.
Fernando Abad’s strikeout of Magneuris Sierra (BrooksBaseball At Bat)
Sierra certainly got the unmistakable rookie (and lefty) strike zone here, with strike three being roughly five inches off the plate. Again, I don’t know if Kellogg was affected by his eye level being changed — pitch number three was a ball way up above the zone — but it is certainly something worth considering. Either way, pitch number number four doesn’t fall in the zone of being close enough to swing, so you cannot blame Sierra for his take here.
To conclude, Jeff Kellogg had a no good, very bad strike zone last night. And that’s sad considering how extremely accurate pitch data is readily available.
Credit to BrooksBaseball.net for being awesome.