Bobby Valentine was ejected in the 9th inning of yesterday’s contest between the Nationals and Red Sox for arguing balls and strikes, and he had some very unflattering things to say about the umpiring crew. Valentine felt that his team had been treated unfairly during the series and post-game he had this to say. “Good umpires had a real bad series this series – a real bad series – and it went one way. There should be a review.” Does Bobby V have a good point? Did Boston lose out on the chance to win a ball game or two due to some poor work by the boys in blue? The umpires have been routinely and widely panned by most players, coaches, and even writers this season, so maybe he has a point. Or is Valentine trying to divert attention from his team’s poor play by incorrectly criticizing the officiating? Let’s take a look at the available data from Brooks-Baseball.net and break the entire series.
During Friday’s game, which was won by the Nationals 7-4, the Red Sox lineup was dominated (like most have been this season) by Stephen Strasburg. He was able to rack up 13 K’s in only 6 innings of work, mostly because Boston was able to fill the bases with runners. On his final pitch of the game, against Kevin Youkilis with the bases loaded, Strasburg came up with a strikeout on a curveball. Youkilis went bananas, chucking his helmet, screaming at umpire Doug Eddings, who immediately tossed him from the game.
Youkilis was adamant that Strasburg’s final pitch to escape the jam was low out of the strike zone, but Pitch F/ X disagrees, siding with Eddings. Pitch F/X shows that pitch fell just inside the normal strike zone, and the pitch was called correctly. In fact, Eddings’ was excellent all game behind the plate, providing a consistent, fair strike zone. The Red Sox were even the biggest beneficiaries, receiving 2 the 2 biggest gift strikes, both of which were much further from the strike zone than the pitch that the Red Sox 3rd baseman got ejected on.
In the 2nd game of the series, Boston lost to the National League strikeout leader, Gio Gonzalez. Once again each team played with a fair strike zone from Dana DeMuth,albeit one that was a little bit wider than Friday’s. DeMuth was giving the pitchers some low strikes, as well as pitches that were a little bit outside of the zone on right-handers, but he did so for both teams. No bias and nothing to complain about here, just a normal 4-2 ball game.
The series finale was Boston’s best chance to nab a win against the fireballing Nationals staff, but the Red Sox were unable to do so, falling 4-3. Valentine was ejected in the last inning of the game, absolutely exploding on home plate umpire Al Porter. Porter’s strike zone, as you can again see, was fairly consistent. He calls a couple of low pitches strikes, and misses a couple of pitches that were well within his zone, but he gets nearly every call right otherwise, and is very consistent with both teams.
As you can see above, Valentine based his argument on the 1-2 pitch thrown to Roger Bernadina, who would go on to double home Bryce Harper, which would be the decisive play in the game. Bobby V’s argument on this particular pitch is solid, because Alfredo Aceves threw a strike but was not rewarded for doing so. It’s easy to see how Valentine could become frustrated, but that is no reason to go ballistic on an umpire, which has been happening far too often this season.
If a hitter is unhappy about a pitch he deems on the border, he fires his helmet, shows up the umpire, and everybody is OK with it. If a pitcher believes that he’s being squeezed on the corners, he mouths off and people feel indifferent. This needs to stop. Umpires work just as hard as the players do to make it to the big leagues. Umpires toil away in the minor leagues, living on the road like the players while making less money, and they typically do this for years. Bad calls eat at these guys in the same fashion that an error keeps an infielder up at night, or how a pitch left hanging over the middle devours a losing pitcher up from the inside. These guys are the best in the business, and should be given some slack, especially when we are talking about a matter of inches, and doubly so when, as was the case in Boston over the weekend, they do their jobs well.
While Bobby Valentine is correct on the Bernadina pitch, his overall point about the umpires being unjust over the course of the series is incorrect. His lineup faced 3 straight starting pitchers who have ERAs that rank near the top of the National League. Strasburg, Gonzalez, and Zimmermann ate the Red Sox lineup for breakfast, and propelled Washington to a sweep. This has nothing to do with umpires or missed calls or anything else that Valentine wants to talk about, and all that discussion is missing the real story. Boston’s pitching just isn’t up to snuff this year and the fact that Washington has one of the most electric rotations that baseball has seen in recent memory.