The strike zone is a unicorn

As part of SNY’s pre-game show, former MLB pitcher and current Mets analyst Bobby Ojeda answers tweets using #HeyBobbyO.

Tuesday, he was kind enough to answer a question of mine regarding how pitcher’s view the variability in strike zone’s from umpire to umpire.


The clip’s video is here (minute 1:30).

Here’s Bobby O’s answer. I bolded my favorite parts.

Yes it matters, and it does vary. There is no strike zone per se. It’s like a unicorn; there is no unicorn.

Every night, part of my job as a pitcher, or part of my job as a pitching coach, was get you or get myself ready to throw to a particular area of the plate.

Now, once I crossed that line, got on the bump, and started throwing to a batter with a new umpire back there, I had to figure out where he was at, what he was going to give me that night. And each night out there it was different, each night was a different zone.

It was up to me, it was my responsibility to work within the perimeters that he was going to give me.

If I executed more, he was going to give me a little bit more.

There is no strike zone per se, there’s a strike zone on that night.

Beyond link to unicorns to the strike zone, what I found interesting is that while Ojeda mentions game to game variability among umpires, many researchers have identified within game variability.  I am yet to dabble in the field of MLB umpire biases, but here are some related articles discussing the varying effects umpires’ strike zones:

Bias that favors catchers: the strike zone for catchers is “about 9.8-12.6 inches smaller” than for other players

Bias that gets worse in tight games: “umpires were 13 percent more likely to miss an actual strike in the bottom of the ninth inning of a tie game than in the top of the first inning, on the first pitch.”

Bias the favors the home team: “about a 2.4% advantage for home teams.”

Bias that varies based on the count: “The strike zone on 3-0 pitches is 188 square inches larger than it is on 0-2 pitches”

Bias that favors superstars: As an umpire, “you’re 25% more likely to call a real ball a strike for the 5-time All-Star”

In any case, I’m ready for an automated strike zone whenever baseball is. I’m sick of balls being called strikes, and I don’t like that balls being called strikes is even marginally predictable.



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