I’m wholly sick of the coverage that the Yankees get and how their fans seem to react to games and events. As such, I figure it’s time to see some Detroit Tigers coverage in the same vein. Here we have two defining features: first, it’s always going to be Tigers who are doing well or doing badly, never the “other guys” who made it so. Second, the only calls that are bad are the ones that go against the Tigers.
So, obviously the big story over the weekend was the tremendous performances by Jhonny Peralta and Delmon Young as well as starters Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez who overcame some horrendous strike calling by home plate umpires Jeff Kellogg and Rob Drake to win two games on the road somewhere against some team. And make no mistake – there were an awful lot of bad calls made. Some slight attention has been given elsewhere to the “wide” strikezones from these two guys – in particular calling pitches strikes which most would call low and/or inside – but as far as the simple size of the strikezone they were at least consistent. Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister both did admirable jobs of identifying those zones and abusing them. With consistently large zones, I have no problem.
But that wasn’t all: If you head over to www.brooksbaseball.net and take a look at their strikezone maps for games 1 and 2 of the ALCS something will jump out at you pretty quickly. [Remember that those maps only reflect locations of pitches that were called strikes or called balls, so nothing that anybody took a swing at.] Of those pitches that were either well within or on the border of any normal umpire’s strikezone (and again these two guys can be defined as having consistently wide zones) Tiger pitchers had 12 strikes called balls on Saturday – when the Tigers were at the plate only 3 borderline pitches were called balls as opposed to strikes. On Sunday Rob Drake did a better job with balls in the zone, but still missed 3 pitches (erroneously called balls) thrown by Tiger pitchers and only 1 thrown to a Tiger hitter. To me, that smells like a clear case of anti-Tiger bias.
Boffins at Sports Illustrated have already proven, to the extent that it is possible to prove anything using statistics, that the source of home field advantage in baseball IS ball/strike calls on borderline pitches. It isn’t jet lag or mood or any other random thing. Doug Fister in particular has always been a guy who likes to paint the strike zone – which makes him unusually vulnerable to bias on behalf of umpires on the road. Doug Fister is emphatically not the kind of pitcher who walks 4 in 6 1/3 – but he was fighting Jeff Kellogg all night. It is a testament to his toughness in clutch situations that he (and the Tigers defense) were able to claw their way out of multiple bases-loaded situations without allowing a run to score – particularly after suffering what looked like one heck of a painful line drive to the wrist early in the game. Give credit also to Tigers hitters who managed to score six without the benefit of artificially favorable counts – particularly Jhonny Peralta and Delmon Young, who powered the Tigers offense when the twin cogs of Cabrera and Fielder were sputtering.
With the ALCS moving to Detroit for games 3 through 5 we can hope that those bad strike calls reverse polarity. While umpires often blow calls, it does tend to balance out in the end – and perhaps Justin Verlander & Max Scherzer will benefit from the karma that Doug Fister earned. We can also hope that without the threat of unhittable pitches inches from their feet being called strikes, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder will put on the kind of power display in Detroit that they were unable to on the road.