Thursday, September 4, 2014

Pitch f/x cameras have created a new dead-ball era in baseball

Philadelphia Phillies center-fielder Ben Revere is on track to set an astonishing baseball record—a mark that says as much about the game today as Barry Bonds’s 73 home runs said about the swollen biceps that defined the early 21st century. Revere is currently batting just over .313, higher than any other player in the National League. That figure would match the lowest batting title in the NL's 138-year history and the fourth lowest in baseball since 1900. ...

On October 4, 2006, the Minnesota Twins hosted the Oakland Athletics in a first-round playoff game at the Metrodome. When the first pitch left Esteban Loaiza's fingers, a first-of-its-kind camera tracked the pitch’s speed, break, and location, and relayed the data points to broadcasters and online viewers. By 2008, cameras with this Pitch f/x technology were installed in every stadium, capturing 95 percent of all balls and strikes, according to Hardball Times. ...

In 2009, the league implemented a policy called Zone Evaluation (ZE), which tracked missed calls after each game and judged umpires by their accuracy. ...

So we shouldn’t be surprised that, after the introduction of cameras, umpires have called the strike zone more consistently and more accurately each year since 2007.



Before cameras, it turned out, umpires had been ignoring strikes around the knees. Pitches between 18 and 30 inches above the plate, which are technically in the strike zone, had been called balls for years. But the presence of cameras encouraged umpires to lower the strike zone. ...

Since 2008, the strike zone has grown by about 30 square inches around a hitter's knees. That is the equivalent of about five full baseballs placed side-by-side. ...
  • The share of pitches thrown less than 2.5 feet over the plate (i.e.: a “low” pitch) has grown every year since 2009. 
  • In 2007, "low" pitches were 17 percent more common than higher pitches. By 2013, they were 43 percent more common.
  • The sinker, a fastball pitch that breaks downward, has grown from 35 percent of all pitches in 2007 to 38 percent today.
Hitters have swung at low pitches at a higher rate every year since 2009. As the strikes moved down, the strikeouts went up. Swinging strikeouts are up 11 percent since 2008. Called strikeouts (on third strikes without a swing) are up 66 percent. The entire increase in strikeouts is happening on pitches between 18 and 24 inches off the ground.
  
Y-axis: Annual strikeouts. "Bottom" = 18-24 inches above the plate
--Derek Thompson, The Atlantic, on more technology, less entertainment