It seems like a good bit of Cardinal Nation (myself included) took issue with Ron Kulpa’s strike zone in World Series game 4. In order to try and remove SOME bias from my opinion based on a SLIGHTLY biased perception, I thought it was a good time to head over to www.BrooksBaseball.net for some actual data. The graph above shows the non-normalized map for all Cardinal batters in game 4 (it shows the Ranger hitters as well). This means that the actual pitch height when it crossed the plate is being used, so the vertical portion of the strike zone may be somewhat inaccurate. However, my interest is only in the horizontal component, because I didn’t perceive a significant variation in strike calls being made too high or too low.
Please note that the black box is a strikezone representation based on an average umpire’s strikezone. It is neither holy or unholy writ. The red squares represent strike calls on pitches made by Rangers’ pitchers, and green squares represent balls. The red triangles represent strike calls on pitches made by the Cardinals, and the green triangles indicate balls. Got all that? Alright.
If you only look at the horizontal variations, you’ll notice that the Rangers’ pitchers benefited from 8 pitches that were outside the black box and were still called strikes. The Cardinals gained the same benefit on only 1 pitch. Kulpa gave Holland the benefit of the doubt on 4 pitches that were just slightly inside to Cardinal hitters, and all 4 were very close to call. That’s fine, but there were between 2 and 4 pitches Holland made that were just as close as the 4 that were called for strikes. That doesn’t mean that things somehow “evened out”. Instead, it shows that Kulpa was not consistent on giving the inside strike to Holland when he faced right-handed hitters (RHH).
I have no issue with the 4 inside pitches that were called strikes. The real problem is the lack of consistency. Pitches that are 3-4 inches inside to a right-handed hitter are frequently “a pitcher’s pitch”, and not knowing whether the a ball pitched there is going to be a ball or strike leaves hitters guessing (even more than usual). Give some of those to a pitcher with serious velocity on his fastball, and you get a lot of weak grounders and foul balls even when contact is made.
Kulpa was even more inconsistent on the outside when the Cardinals sent RHH’s to the plate. He gave away 3 strike calls to Holland, and the most egregious call was on a ball approximately 6-7 inches off of the plate. Not good. Just so not good.
Finally, notice the 3 green squares that are clearly inside the black outline. Those squares represent 3 obvious strikes that were not so obviously strikes to Ron Kulpa. Those are calls that went against Cardinal pitchers. One was almost straight down the heart of the plate, so I’m not sure where Ron Kulpa was looking.
To be fair, the Cardinals did benefit from a strike call on a pitch that was clearly outside by about 6 inches. That’s singular. Uno. The loneliest number.
Does all this agonizing over colored shapes on pretty graphs make me feel any better about the job Kulpa did in game 4? Yes. Do I believe that the Rangers benefited more from Kulpa’s “amoeba strike zone” than the Cardinals did. Yes. Even so, perception does not match reality as much as I expected. While the advantage certainly went to Holland, he also deserves credit and a lot of it.
His release point was incredibly consistent all night, and he located his fastball well enough to keep the Cardinals honest. He certainly did his part, and that’s all he could do. He isn’t responsible for calling balls and strikes.
There will certainly be some complaining, whining, and cussjar filling over Kulpa’s version of the strike zone. Just don’t go too far with it. Maybe the strike zone would have been the same for Edwin Jackson had he been able to hit location in the 1st inning. Maybe not. The point is that Kulpa’s work wasn’t spectacular, but it wasn’t so terrible that it is worth taking away credit from Derek Holland. Taking a 2-hitter into the 9th inning requires some seriously good pitching, even if the home plate umpire gives the pitcher the benefit of the doubt a half-dozen times or so. Yes, that makes the job a bit easier, but Holland still had to make a lot of good pitches, and he succeeded in doing so. Time to just tip the cap and move on to game 5.
TIDBIT: Feel free to check out BrooksBaseball for the rest of the pitch data for all of game 4. Also keep in mind that when you are watching a game on tv and see a ball that appears to be 5-6 inches off the plate that you are probably judging that distance based on where the ball hits the catcher’s mitt. That pitch quite likely passed by the plane defined by the front edge of the plate a lot closer than 5-6 inches from the strike zone.
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