Thursday, October 7, 2010

NLDS Game 1: John Hirschbeck's Work Behind the Dish

Interestingly enough, there is a decent amount of griping going on about John Hirschbeck's calls behind the dish. Mostly the gripes came from fans, but one Reds player in particular joined in on the fun. John Fay tweeted that Orlando Cabrera, perhaps demonstrating those famous intangibles and his veteran influence, stated the following after Game 1:

"He and the umpire pitched a no-hitter. He gave him every pitch. Basically we had no chance."

Other Reds, however, were willing to give full credit and a tip of the cap to Halladay:

"I don't think there was going to be any other outcome. He threw all four pitches in all four corners. He's a bulldog later in the game." --- Jonny Gomes

"You're swinging at nothing. Every time he makes a mistake, it's in a safe zone: Down, away. He doesn't miss in the middle of the plate." --- Joey Votto

Personally, I was rather impressed by the strikezone. Several times, while facing lefthanded hitters, Ramon Hernandez set up on the outside corner only to have Edinson throw the offspeed pitch on the inside corner. Before the pitch, Hernandez shifted his body over behind the outside corner, but Hirschbeck maintained good position behind the plate, rather than shifting with Hernandez for protection. By maintaining his position behind the plate, Hirschbeck increased the odds of getting struck by a foul tip, but also ensured that he would have a proper view of both sides of the plate. Additionally, despite Hernandez having to reach all the way back over to the inside corner, which is almost a foot-and-a-half, Hirschbeck continually stayed with those pitches and called them strikes.

It's not uncommon for umpires to essentially give up on a pitch that is so drastically off the catcher's target, but Hirschbeck refused to do so. To his credit, he simply called pitches in the strikezone strikes, which happens to be a large part of his job description.

Anyway, as Craig Calcettera pointed out on HardballTalk, produced the below strikezone plot from last night's game (click on it for a better, more clear view). I haven't studied a ton of these, but it looks to me like Hirschbeck was quite good last night. Every game is going to have a missed call or two, but this looks more than respectable to me, which is refreshing considering all the ammunition umpires have given to the "expand instant replay" crowd as of late.

Here is the "how to read" guide from Brooks Baseball:

These graphs only plot calls made by the home plate umpire. In other words, they only plot balls and called strikes. No other pitches or results are included. Intuitively, this provides a representation of the strikezone for each game.

Each pitch is represented by a single dot. Green dots are balls and red dots are strikes. Pitches marked as belonging to a particular team (for example "bos" or "nya") are designated with different shapes. These teams represent the pitching team, not the batting team. So, a pitch marked "bos-Called Strike" was thrown by a Boston pitcher.

As is indicated on the graphs, these are from the Umpire's perspective, not the Pitcher's perspective.

Normalized maps attempt to correct the Y-Axis on this graph by using the sz_top and sz_bot values in the PitchFX data for any individual hitter. These parameters are variable and should not be taken as gospel (or any other works of Holy Writing, including Torah or Qu'ran). These values are then scaled to 1 and -1 respectively. The outside edges of the strikezone are then drawn to specifications corresponding to an average umpire's strikezone.

Non-Normalized maps simply use the actual height of each pitch as it crosses the plate. But, because of variable batter height, this may not provide a completely accurate picture of an Umpire's Strikezone in the Vertical Axis. The outside edges of the strikezone are then drawn to specifications corresponding to an average umpire's strikezone.

And, here is the Hirschbeck plot from last night's game. Again, click on it to get a better view:

Well, regardless of the reasons for the shellacking, the Reds need to put this one out of their minds. It'll be interesting to see if there is any hangover in Game 2 from this performance. I would imagine a fast start would help wash away any remnants of this game. Hopefully, the Reds prove to be a mentally tough and resilient ball club, but having the bizarre extra day off between Games 1 and 2 probably won't help matters.

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