Two weeks ago, we didn’t have bad calls to complain about. Two frigid weeks ago, baseball was but a cruel tease in the distance. “Please come and save us from the dark winter, baseball” was the common plea.

Now baseball is back and it is every bit as invigorating as required. We’ve already seen a near-perfect game, a three home run game, two newly-united brothers hit home runs in the ninth inning to tie and then win the game for their team. Defense, offense, oddities, catharisis. All this barely seven games into the year.

And now, after Marty Foster dropped trou on Ben Zobrist of the Tampa Bay Rays, we have our first official ump show of the year!

Generally not one for umpire-based outrage, I have to say: that is an egregiously terrible call. Maybe the skewed perspective of the center field camera pit in Texas makes it look worse but, man, that is ugly. Joe Nathan‘s curveball doesn’t even look to threaten the strikezone, appearing both low and outside on the replay. Looking at the strike zone plot doesn’t exactly offer a lot in the way of “fresh perspective.”

zobrist zone

Pitch number six is the curveball in question. Looks, from this angle, like it is closer to the opposing batters box than the outside edge of the plate. Does the more precise pitch f/x map of help the ump’s cause or hurt him?

zobrist fastmap

Ugh. Much worse. The highlighted pitch is nearly 18 inches from the center of the plate (the plate, I should remind you, which is only 17 inches wide itself.) And it’s low. These “fastmaps” from Brooks Baseball show the way the strikezone is actually called, across the board and over the years.

Lefties always get a worse (read: bigger) zone than righties but this pitch is well outside even the most generous of strike zones. It is probably worth noting that, against lefties, this was the only truly bad call Foster made all night. It just so happens to have been the final call he made also. At the worst moment for the Rays.

I’m generally of the mind that leaving things in the hands of the umps means you screwed up long before they did. But the calls for accountability and robot umps will never go away. There are pounds of flesh to extract and somebody must pay blah blah.

Losing a game like this sucks for the Rays. It might well suck for Foster, who stands to lose illustrious post-season assignments for poor job performance. It supposedly sucks for the fans who just want to see two teams decided it on the field. But the drama ain’t nothin’. People love/need somebody to scream at and somebody to feel aggrieved by. All Marty Foster did was invite an extra helping of scorn onto his own shoulders to make the world run smoother. For that, we should salute him.

And the rest

Speaking of important business at hand: stop underrating Daniel Nava! [Speier WEEI]

The incredible story of Max Scherzer and his brother [ESPN the Magazine]

Look, MLB has a youtube channel with game highlights now! Not exactly fresh off the presses viz but progress!

Shin-Soo Choo – still a center fielder. For now. [MLB GIFs]

The DJF Podcast – bad words and ugly baseball. [DJF]

MLB Network is coming to Canada…slowly [Globe & Mail]

Giving up nine runs in the ninth inning is cause for closer concern, apparently. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch]

The Cubs are fighting to play more night games at Wrigley Field. Why? Money. [Chicago Tribune]