David Ortiz: Umpires Reason for "Year of Pitcher"


On the heels of Toronto Blue Jays Brandon Morrow's dominating game yesterday throwing 8 2/3rds of no hit ball and striking out 17 Rays, in today's Providence Journal, Daniel BarBarisi has a wonderful piece on "The Year of the Pitcher" and in particular Red Sox DH, David Ortiz' opinion on why it's happening.

Is it the end of the steroid boom? Is it a change in hitting philosophies? Is it an influx of young pitching talent? Is it a statistical anomaly?

Nope, according to David Ortiz, it's the umpires and heir expanding strike zone.

'After CC Sabathia struck him out three times on Saturday, Ortiz was ready to let everyone else know how unhappy he was, too.

"The fact is that on top of [Sabathia] being that good, he's got [an ump] calling all kinds of [stuff] that made him better," Ortiz said.

The target of Ortiz's scorn was umpire Jerry Layne, who called Ortiz out twice looking and once swinging. Ortiz said the swinging strikeout came as a result of a wide strike zone that forced him to swing at pitches that he normally wouldn't.

It's not just Layne, Ortiz argues. This is a trend, he believes. Ortiz seems to think that the strike zone has expanded in the last year, making life easier on pitchers and tougher on hitters.

"Swinging at all kinds of [stuff]," Ortiz said. "That's what you've got to do. Swing, swing, swing, swing and good luck. Of course, you have to, man."

"It's killing the game. We've got to rush as a hitter," Ortiz said.' - Providence Journal

Let's take a look at each scenario and see if there is anything to Ortiz' claim.

Here's a graphic of every MLB pitch thrown this year. You make your own judgment as to whether there are horizontal pitches that are outside 17" of home plate that are being called strikes (no, the black extends beyond the 17" and is not part of home plate.)

Is it the end of the steroid boom?

Well, while it may be the end of the steroid boom, steroids don't help hand eye coordination. They help your durability enabling you to bounce back night after night and play better in day games after night games. They give you more bat speed, they help you throw harder, run faster and hit the ball further. However, PED's don't help you place a cylindrical bat on a round ball squarely.

Is it a change in hitting philosophies?

No coach or player on the professional level has now become a proponent of the, "don't hit the ball" theory. So no, it's not that.....

Is it an influx of young pitching talent?

Sure there is an influx of young pitching talent, but for every great young pitcher you can name a great young hitter. Here look:

Adam Wainwright - > Carlos Gonzalez
Josh Johnson - > Joey Votto
Ubaldo Jimenez - > Robinson Cano
Mat Latos - > Ryan Longoria
David Price - > Ryan Braun

You can match one with the other as far as you can go. And that doesn't explain the mind boggling success of older guys like Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Tim Hudson etc.

Is it a statistical anomaly?

No, it's not a statistical anomaly. The set of data is simply too large to be a statistical anomaly. If you flip a coin 10 times, you could get any random combination of results, heck it's possible to get all heads or all tails. However, if you flipped that same coin over 100,000 times, you are going to get what you expect, something close to 50/50.

In 2010, so far there have been 553 different major league players go up to the plate 109,903 times, and there are 17 MLB pitchers with an ERA under 3.00. That's more than double last year when there were 8. The results are what they are and numbers don't lie.

The Journal goes on to say,

'Maybe there's something to what Ortiz argues. A quick perusal of the stats shows that strikeout rates are up this year, while the percentage of swinging strikes is down slightly relative to the two previous years. That could indicate that more strikes looking are called because the zones are slightly larger.'

Whatever it is, it would seem as if at the very least, Ortiz' point of view does have some validity to it. - Mike Cardano

Mike is the founder of Around the Horn Baseball & Xtra Point Football

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