TORONTO — When you play a five-hour, 14-inning game under the post-season microscope, there’s bound to be plenty of storylines, but one that wafted throughout Friday’s 6-4 Toronto Blue Jays defeat to the Texas Rangers was home plate umpire Vic Carapazza’s strike zone.
It began as early as the top of the first inning, when Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman was visibly frustrated on the mound by some of the calls that didn’t go his way, enough to draw a visit from his catcher, Russell Martin.
“I told him that I was going to take care of it,” Martin said. “I tried to talk to [Carapazza.] I don’t think it worked.”
Both the Blue Jays and Rangers took turns sending perplexed glances in Carapazza’s direction from that point on, and a quick review of strike zone plots provided by Brooks Baseball demonstrate that the 36-year-old was calling a tight zone at times.
According to the typically-called strike zones provided by Brooks Baseball, Carapazza called four pitches from Blue Jays pitchers that were well within the strike zone as balls, and six from Rangers pitchers. If you expand that to include pitches that were on the black of the zone, the Blue Jays were victimized 18 times to the Rangers’ 16.
The only team that seems to have benefited from balls outside the zone being called strikes is the Blue Jays, who received two strike calls on pitches that appeared to be below the zone.
Carapazza doesn’t generally have a very tight strike zone — in fact, it’s quite the opposite. According to umpire statistics accumulated by Baseball Savant, on average Carapazza called a strike on 15 per cent of the pitches he saw that were out of a typical strike zone, and called a ball on seven per cent of the pitches he saw that should have been strikes.
Some players chose not to make their opinions on Carapazza’s zone public, like Jose Bautista, who responded to a question for his general thoughts on the home-plate umpiring with a succinct, “no comment.”
Others were unsure how much they wanted to say, like Kevin Pillar, who debated whether or not to comment, saying, “Wow, you’re trying to get me in trouble. I need someone’s advice here.”
Eventually, the Blue Jays centre fielder, who struck out looking in the 12th inning opened up.
“It’s amazing how in the post-season you see the capability of umpires to be able to lock in on the strike zone. We just got done with a 162-game season where anything goes pretty much,” Pillar said. “Even to a hitter it feels like a small strike zone and I can imagine to a pitcher what it must feel like after 162 games of throwing to a certain zone.
“But whether it’s big or small, all anyone in this clubhouse asks for is consistency. You call one pitch down, don’t call the next one a strike; you call one up, don’t miss the next one.
“It’s very difficult as a hitter to try and anticipate what the pitcher’s going to throw you and battle a third party behind you, especially when you think you have an understanding of the zone. But when it constantly changes, it makes our job very difficult.”
In total, the Blue Jays were called out on strikes on seven occasions, while the Rangers looked at strike three just four times. No Blue Jay had as good of a look at the strike zone as Martin, who said he probably would have been thrown out of the game for arguing if it was played during the regular season.
“I got frustrated a little bit behind the plate. There were some pitches, especially with Stroman early in the game, where I felt like he was throwing pitches over the plate and we weren’t getting the calls,” Martin said. “Sometimes umpires just have a hard time seeing the ball and getting a feel for it.
“Then we looked like we had some questionable calls against our own hitters. It’s definitely frustrating but we had tons of opportunities to win that game. We didn’t come through. You can’t really blame the umpire.”
During his post-game news conference it was suggested to Rangers manager Jeff Banister that some of his players seemed frustrated with the strike zone, particularly in extra innings.
“Some of our players?” he responded.
Fair enough. It would’ve been hard to find any player in that game who was pleased with it.
“What I love about this game is all the elements and how you have to meet certain demands of the game. It’s all part of it,” Banister said. “Look, I don’t answer questions on the strike zone. I think that when it comes down to umpiring, these are the best umpires across Major League Baseball, and they go out there every single day to do their best.”
Of course, Rangers players were loath to criticize the zone after a game they had won, but catcher Chris Gimenez said he felt Carapazza did a fine job.
“I felt like it was the same for both teams. I thought Vic did a really good job, especially for being out there for six hours,” Gimenez said. “He was battling out there just like we were. Emotions were high, I chalk it up to that. I thought he did a good job. I thought he was fair for both teams as well. That’s [the Blue Jays’] problem, I guess. “
Martin agreed that Carapazza’s job isn’t easy, especially in a game as long and tense as the one the Blue Jays and Rangers played Friday.
“He’s doing his best back there, he’s not trying to miss pitches. It’s a tough gig. Especially for him, he’s not the most veteran umpire, he’s kind of young, and sometimes it’s tough,” Martin said. “If he goes back and looks at the tape, I’m sure he’s going to realize that it wasn’t his best day.”