Thanks to Rob Neyer, who pointed out this interesting study done at BaseballAnalytics.org by writer David Golebiewski, which showed how the faster the fastball, the LESS likely it was to be called a strike for “in-zone” pitches. And its a significant margin (see the link for the percentages): a guy who throws 86-88mph gets nearly 10% more called strikes within the zone than a guy who throws 98mph.
The called-strike rate is also larger for out-of-zone strikes for softer-tossing pitchers, by about a 5% margin. And to further add insult to injury, the missed strikes are more prevalent to left-handed hitters than to righies.
Both Neyer and Golebiewski imply that the reason for this phenomena is physical limitations in the Umpire, who struggles to “see” a 98mph fastball and thus misses it. This leads (in comments sections) to inevitable calls for automated strike zones and the use of pitch f/x instead of humans.
I have a possible different theory; one that any of us that play amateur baseball can readily attest to; I believe that in the amateur game (whether it be little league or adult amateurs) a guy who throws harder is naturally given a smaller zone, while a softer-tossing guy generally gets a larger zone. Not because the umps can’t see the ball, but because umps make the assumption that velocity equates with talent, and thus give the softer-tossing guy more benefit of the doubt when it comes to the strike zone.
Thoughts? Maybe Mike Rizzo shouldn’t be spending as much time filling his rotation with power arms, if they have smaller strike zones as a result. Or, more to the point, maybe this is all the argument we need to give Henry Rodriguez his walking papers.