Jose Bautista: whiner or victim? Obviously it looks bad when he’s constantly complaining, especially when he gets one wrong and melts down on national TV. But he’s got a pretty good eye and doesn’t seem like a delusional egomaniac, so in the long run is he right more often than not, or has his rise to stardom blinded him to the fact that he gets good and bad calls just like everyone else?
An article was written in the Star a while back where they used some umpire data and came to the conclusion that Bautista had gotten “20 more incorrect strike calls” since 2010, but there are some problems with such a surface analysis:
a) If you go by the rulebook strike zone, everyone gets a ton of “incorrect” strikes because the zone bulges out at the belt. As a power hitter, Bautista takes more pitches than the average hitter, and as a good one he is going to see a lot more pitches on the fringe of the strike zone. If you don’t adjust for how the zone is actually called, it will appear as if a quality power hitter is getting more bad calls than he actually is.
b) Extra strikes are only part of the picture. What if he also had 40 more incorrect ball calls over that time? It would be a sign of particularly erratic umpiring, not a bias against or in his favour.
c) The zone shrinks and expands by the count, so if a hitter is pitched carefully and winds up in a lot of 3-0, 3-1 counts, he will see a larger zone, but not any worse than other players when in those counts.
I use the made-up stat SAA (Strikes Above Average) to deal with umpires. It compares every pitch compared to the real, not the rulebook zone — i.e, the line where just as many pitches have been called strikes as balls by umpires over the last million or so calls in the majors. Then I subtract how many ‘extra balls’ (i.e. a pitch called a ball that has been called a ball for the rest of the league less than 50% of the time) a player received from the number of ‘extra strikes’ to get the net effect, subtract the league average, and then divide by the total number of calls made on that batter. The result is the net +/- of umpire calls compared to the average calls for those pitches. For the rest of this article, I will refer to SAA per 10 pitches (roughly one game of calls).
Here are Jose’s numbers as far as my Pitch F/X database goes back, since 2009:
It really has gotten progressively worse for Bautista – 0.40 calls per 10 might not seem like a lot, but it is when you consider so many calls are not close. Jose sees an average of 2.5 calls per at bat, so that’s one bad call every 10 AB. Imagine if for an entire season, you did not get a single call in your favour and one every two games you got a stinker– a pitch called a strike that for the rest of the league would typically be a ball. At the end of the season you would have almost 80 calls that for the rest of the league would have gone the other way. Yeah, you might start mouthing off a bit.
Some of this effect is probably due to Bautista’s emergence, and how that affects point c) above (for example, Miguel Cabrera works the count so well he has a SAA consistently around .20-.30 and you don’t see him exploding). But it’s not all in his mind — Bautista really is one of the most put-upon players in the league. Here’s his ranking over the last two years compared to the league leaders (at least 1000 calls):
|1) Jose Altuve||0.72|
|2) Mike Aviles||0.61|
|3) Paul Goldenschmidt||0.59|
|4) Hunter Pence||0.58|
|5) Drew Stubbs||0.53|
|6) Martin Prado||0.49|
|7) Matt Holliday||0.47|
|8) Brandon Phillips||0.45|
|9) Cameron Maybin||0.43|
|10) Derek Jeter||0.43|
|11) Jonny Gomes||0.43|
|12) Ryan Zimmerman||0.42|
|13) Jose Bautista||0.41|
So much for the supposed love affair between Derek Jeter and the umps…
Now just for fun (and in an attempt to show that this isn’t all just random fluctuation), here’s how some of the other Blue Jays have done in terms of calls from the umpires since 2009. Interestingly, Encarnacion has gotten better calls as he has transformed into an elite power hitter just as Bautista has gone in the other direction.
As for why this is happening, we’re still left with a chicken-and-egg situation. Do the umpires hate Jose because he mouths off, or does he mouth off because they hate him?
Either way, I think it makes Bautista’s theatrics a lot more understandable when you know that Bautista’s zone really is significantly larger than anyone else’s on the team and most players in the league, and that his bad-call rate has doubled since he started hitting bombs. Maybe he should just suck it up for the sake of umpire relations — but when so much of his craft is based on knowing the zone and laying off marginal pitches until he gets one he can drive, that kind of drastic change really would be a tough pill to swallow.