This really shouldn’t be about the umpiring. I don’t really want to make it about the umpiring, and yet… here I am, about to write the word umpiring for the third time in this post, and I’m doing so underneath a giant image of umpire Jordan Baker’s strike zone against left-handed hitters. So I guess I’m pretty much full of shit.
The thing is, Masahiro Tanaka is pretty fucking fantastic. He pitched a terrific game, and unlike Jays pitchers, he used the somewhat fucked up strike zone we see above — there are also a couple fairly egregious examples of balls being turned into strikes against right-handed hitters, as well (including one that, amazingly, went in the Jays’ favour!) — to his advantage. Maybe it was simply an issue of Brian McCann framing excellently. Or maybe Jays pitchers — who certainly had at least a couple of balls called on pitches that were fairly close to all those low strikes the Yankees got — didn’t feel they were getting those calls and tried other things. Maybe Marcus Stroman just couldn’t get the kind of plane needed on his pitches to work that part of the zone the way that Tanaka could.
I don’t fucking know! But however a zone map that looks like that comes about, when the calls in the low part of the zone are at least somewhat consistent, uh… what’s there to complain about? Well, I suppose the fact that those appear to be bad calls (though as far as I know, Brooks uses a fixed height for its strike zone, not one that’s relative to each batter, meaning they could be more borderline than they appear — though if you head to Brooks and flip through a few other strike zone plots, the boundaries appear generally correct… sort of).
Anyway, sure, Jays pitchers theoretically should have been able to use that part of the zone too, but what kills me is that, all things considered — especially given the way that the Yankees managed to grind Marcus Stroman to dust — the Jays pitched very well. They didn’t need that part of the zone! Three runs should be plenty for this offence to win a game with, even given the trough they’ve been in of late, and yet we kept seeing the Jays’ pitchers somehow skate their way out of trouble, only to see the offence thwarted by those fucking calls. Those fucking Yankee Stadium calls. And not just that, but the way that Jays’, feeling the need to expand their zone low, ended up flailing away too easily at pitches they may otherwise have taken.
The Yankees’ pitchers certainly didn’t need a helping hand, but… OK, this surely reads like a petty little frustrated fan rant. I know. And I shouldn’t let the pissing and moaning about the calls overshadow the whole story, of course. Especially since, truth be told, there really are a lot of pitches in those same spots that will get called strikes on a regular basis (C.B. Bucknor umpired Padres-Mariners tonight, if you want to see some even worse low strike calls, frankly). The zone was consistent enough, and ultimately, Tanaka was great, and Betances was great, and the Jays’ hitters didn’t do enough with what they were given. But damn. After not feeling overly optimistic heading in, that one felt winnable. To see the club’s hitters baffled by both Tanaka (and Betances and Robertson) and the umpire? Not a whole lot of fun. Kiiiiiinda bullshit, really.
But I digress…
The main thing is, I think, let’s try to remember where we were at before the game began: just don’t get swept. A win tomorrow and the Jays’ lead over the Yankees is right back to 4.5 games, with a chance to make it even bigger when Drew Hutchison (on extra rest!) takes on David Phelps on Thursday night.
I can live with that.