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Umpire Davis Makes Wilson, Baseball Look Bad

Final - 5.9.2011 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Oakland Athletics 0 0 3 0 0 0 0 4 0 7 4 2
Texas Rangers 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 2 9 1
WP: Trevor Cahill (6 - 0)
LP: C.J. Wilson (4 - 2)

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So you go over to the box score, and you see C.J. Wilson's line. Seven innings pitched, two strikeouts, five walks, five earned runs allowed. Not good, and certainly not as good as you've come to expect from Ceej this year.

Then you notice four hits, and something doesn't seem right. That's because something wasn't right, and, while Wilson was not great, he was not as bad as that box score suggests to you because of one element of baseball:

The Human Element.

Wilson's real damage came in the third inning, he walked Daric Barton and Conor Jackson back-to-back before allowing a Josh Willingham home run. Let's take a look at those plate appearances.

First, here's Barton:


The two "balls" there are given circles roughly the size of a baseball to help indicate where they were on the zone to you. They're not quite centered, but you get the idea. If those pitches are called correctly, Barton is out on four pitches, let alone five, and he certainly never walks in six. That's two unnecessary pitches and a base runner based on not identifying low strikes correctly, which Tom Grieve identified as a common problem -- which it is -- that's just okay -- which it's not.

Now here's Jackson:


Pitch one is not completely egregious, and he was consistent on that location, but it should probably also be a strike. Pitch two is probably okay. Pitch six is the problem. Pitch six was almost completely within the strikezone of Jackson, and it should have been strike three. That's back-to-back walks Wilson "allowed" with two outs in the inning, raising his pitch count by around 10, and putting runners on.

They were on for Willingham to do this:


First thing's first: the home run was a fastball with less-than-standard movement in the middle of the plate. It was a bad pitch, and Wilson paid. Second, there's another clear strike called a ball! We can't necessarily say the rest of this inning affected that pitch, or that he wouldn't have given up the home run in the next inning. But it's not completely unreasonable to think the extra pitches in the inning hurt his command, or that things would have been different if Willingham was down 0-2. We do know, though, that if the strike zone was correctly called by the rules of Major League baseball -- provided pitchf/x is accurate (and we have nothing else more accurate around) -- C.J. Wilson is out of the inning in no more than about 16 pitches with no runs allowed, instead of 34 pitches and three runs allowed.

This is a problem and the worst part of the problem is that no one important seems to care about fixing it. I assure you the vast majority of fans who care enough about baseball to devote three-plus hours of every day for six months watching it, and countless other hours reading and discussing it on the internet, care, but there voices are ignored. Until baseball cares, and until the majority of fans care enough to make baseball care, this problem will persist.

I won't go so far as to say Gerry Davis cost the Rangers the game. Ryan Tucker -- two walks, two hits, four runs allowed against not one out -- probably had a bigger hand in it. Why he was even in the game, I don't know, because there's no reason to think he's the best in the bullpen, or that he should come in to a 3-1 game in the 8th. The offense also had a huge hand in it, striking out nine times against one walk and scoring only twice, but they did manage nine hits and plenty of solid contact. Too many ground balls, but with the same contact performance in a different game, they probably score more than a couple.

Davis altered the game outside of the rules of baseball, though, and whether or not the Rangers would have lost anyway we don't know. Even if calling the zone correctly would have meant the A's won more handily, it doesn't make it less wrong. We shouldn't be able to look during and after games at how often the rules are called incorrectly and nothing be done about it.

I know I'm editorializing a bit, and I don't necessarily speak for all of SB Nation Dallas-Ft. Worth, but I know I speak for at least a couple of us. I'm certain Gerry Davis does a much better job calling the strikezone than I could. Evaluating where a small object moving 80+ miles per hour is in relation to a make-believe three dimensional box that is decided based on an object on the floor and a moving person is not something the human eye is able to do reliably. It's not that umpires aren't doing the best a human can do, it's that they're doing a job humans are not good at when there are better ways out there, and those better ways aren't even being explored.

And that makes baseball less fun.

The Rangers falling to .500 after an awesome start to the season also makes baseball less fun. Both the things this team can control and the things they can't are hurting them badly right now, and coming in a year with such high hopes and coupling that with the daily examples of faulty officiating -- and the current play-by-play announcer, by the way -- makes being a fan more of a challenge than usual. I still have confidence the first of these things will be fixed sooner, rather than later. The latter, I have no confidence will ever improve.

Isn't the Human Element fun!


FanGraphs Win Expectancy


Biggest Failures

  1. Michael Young -9%
  2. Yorvit Torrealba -9%
  3. Ryan Tucker -9%

Gerry Davis's Strikezone from Brooks Baseball


Photographs by jamesbrandon, jdtornow, phlezk, flygraphix, mcdlttx, tomasland, and literalbarrage used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.