Justin Verlander Getting “Star Treatment” from Umpires?

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We all know that Justin Verlander is having a remarkable season. Last night he tossed seven innings of one-run baseball, holding the Tampa Bay rays to three hits and three walks while striking out eight. The victory, preserved by Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde, was Verlander’s 19th of the season and he continues to assert himself not only in the Cy Young race, but the race for league MVP as well.

According to Cork Gaines at Rays Index, however, Verlander had some help last night, from home plate umpire Ed Rapuano. (Hat tip to Rays Colored Glasses)

"You guys know that we rarely bitch about strikezones unless it is just too egregious. Especially if it is just a pitch or two. Bad calls happen. But last night Justin Verlander got the Michael Jordan star treatment and got all the calls. Verlander had at least seven pitches called strikes that were out of the strikezone. That is about 10 percent of Verlander’s 73 strikes. For comparison, it looks like Niemann just got one of those calls last night."

If you head over to their post, they have links to the strikezone plots from last night showing Verlander’s pitches and also those of Rays’ starter Jeff Niemann. While I won’t say as I agree that JV was getting any home, er, road cooking last night, Gaines’ math is correct.

Niemann was pitching over the heart of the plate much moreso than Verlander was last night and when he missed, he tended to miss more off the plate than Verlander did, at least to my eye viewing these plots. A large collection of Verlander’s offerings were plotted at just off the plate, and he did get called strikes on a handful of them.

Now, you can argue that the strikezone is what the strikezone is and that unless a pitch is exactly where it should be, it shouldn’t be called a strike. I wouldn’t disagree with the arguments at all. But I will point out that when a pitcher is consistently in the same area, a very borderline area just on or just off the corners, those pitchers tend to get many of those calls, much moreso than a guy who is not consistently pitching on the corners, as Niemann wasn’t last night. It’s human nature that if you’re an umpire and a guy is working the corners as much as Verlander was last night, he’s going to get a few calls that maybe he shouldn’t.

What Gaines fails to mention is that Verlander also had four pitches that were plotted within the strikezone called balls, all of them down in the zone. Niemann was “robbed” of four pitches as well, but three of those four were very high in the zone, where pitchers don’t generally get called strikes. Niemann also actually had more called strikes than Verlander did for the game (20-18), but the difference was more than made up by the swinging strike count.

Verlander got Rays batters to swing and miss 19 times last night while Niemann induced swinging strikes just eight times. This speaks not only to location, but to movement, showing that Verlander’s stuff, as usual, was moving well. Frankly speaking, pitches with a good deal of movement are going to be more often “missed” by an umpire than one’s without the movement that Verlander offers.

I can understand complaining about the strikezone if, in fact, it was egregious one way or the other. I assume since Gaines himself said the same thing in his piece, he must have felt like last night fit the criteria, but I just don’t see it the same way he does. One thing I will say, however, that was an outstanding Princess Bride reference at the top of his post. Much respect for that one.

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