Squeezing the Zone

We’ll get onto the Playing Favorites in the NL soon, but for now, just a quick Pitch F/x aside.  I was at the Phils – Mets tilt featuring Johan Santana and Cole Hamels on April 18th.  The two were pretty even in their handling of the opponent lineups, until the 8th inning, when the opponents started handling them.

Two men in the row behind me commented that the umpire, Brian Runge, appeared to be squeezing the strike zone on Hamels, or stretching it a bit for Santana.  I’m not sure if any of the wizards at Baseball Prospectus or elsewhere have tracked any sort of tendency among umpires to give better calls to the larger celebrity among players, and we’re not about to go in a full-blown study here, but we can at least look at the location of the calls from that game for both pitchers.

All these charts are taken from Jnai’s website, which can be found here.  If you have any interest in Pitch F/x, I cannot recommend this tool highly enough.  It’s thoroughly wonderful.  And a big thanks to TangoTiger, who seems to always find the most wonderful toys.

Anyway, here are the pitch locations from 4/18/08 for pitches thrown by Hamels.

If you click on the picture, you should get a slightly larger image.  It’s a bit hard to read, anyway, but here are the facts:

Hamels threw 5 pitches well within the strike zone that were called balls.  Most of these are located in the lower left quadrant of the strike zone.  All 5 were in the lower half.  He also threw several pitches that were on or near the border of the strike zone that were also called balls.  Hamels threw one pitch that was outside the zone which was called a strike.  It would certainly seem that Hamels was getting squeezed a bit.  Well, a good amount.  The question, of course, is, was Johan Santana getting the same treatment?

Here’s the same chart, but for Johan:

Santana also gets a few would-be strikes called balls, though only one or two of these are egregious (one all by itself in the bottom right, and another one high in the zone, in the middle).  The rest are all on or near the strikezone border.  Santana did get four pitches outside the zone for called strikes, as well.

It would seem that Santana did get a bit more benefit of the doubt than Hamels, as Runge was more likely to call a ball a strike for Johan than for Cole.  Obviously, we’re only talking about 5-10 total pitches, here, but the difference between a 1-0 count and an 0-1 count are significant.  Needless to say, Brian Runge, at least from Friday night, is not a friend of the Curious Mechanism.

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