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Thread: Neyer: Computers calling Balls and Strikes!

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    Stat Wanker Hodiernus RedsManRick's Avatar
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    Dec 2004
    Guelph, ON

    Re: Neyer: Computers calling Balls and Strikes!

    Quote Originally Posted by dabvu2498 View Post
    Like the wind or the rain? Or a pebble in the grass that causes a bad hop? Or a freak injury to a star player? Or a starting pitcher that had too much to drink the night before?

    Randomness and externalities can not be eliminated from baseball.
    And yet they still cut the grass to be uniform, rake the dirt to get rid of as many pebbles as possible, and try to keep all the pitching mounds the same height.

    Just because you can't ever reach perfect doesn't mean you shouldn't continue to improve -- especially when the "randomness" isn't really all that random. It's not just that umps miss calls sometimes. It's that Maddux gets strikes that Belisle doesn't. It's that righties have a lower strike zone called against them than do lefties.

    Here's an interesting table and commentary from Dan Fox at BP. http://www.baseballprospectus.com/ar...articleid=6502 (subscription required). He's done a lot of work with the Pitch/fx data MLB is accumulating.

    Several years ago I took my older daughter on a fossil hunting trip in the Cretaceous Badlands of western Kansas, in what was then the Western Interior Seaway. After just a few minutes of struggling to see the bits of fossilized bone, shell, and teeth that our guide could see so well, the concept of "search image" had become crystal clear for both my daughter and myself. The basic idea is that we see what we're trained to see. Our minds interpret the data coming from our eyes using predefined patterns that have been influenced and built up from experience. So to our guide, what was clearly a shark tooth of the species Cretoxyrhina literally right in front of our noses, was for us simply another piece of jagged rock. I'm happy to report that we eventually caught on and made a contribution or two as the day wore on.

    I was reflecting on this experience as I examined the called ball and strike accuracy of umpires when broken down by count. To understand why this happened examine the following table, keeping in mind that the mean CSAgree% is 81.4 percent and the mean CBAgree% is 94.6 percent:

    Count    Pitches      CS  CSAgree%     CB CBAgree% Agree%
    1-0         6653    2690     .803    3963    .945   .887
    2-0         2349    1078     .828    1271    .943   .891
    3-0         1155     710     .883     445    .948   .908
    1-1         5066    1199     .772    3867    .950   .908
    1-2         3871     400     .670    3471    .962   .932
    2-1         2359     616     .756    1743    .952   .901
    2-2         2637     336     .732    2301    .969   .939
    3-1         1048     388     .799     660    .952   .895
    3-2         1168     184     .788     984    .966   .938
    0-0        20415    8960     .837   11455    .928   .888
    0-1         6971    1450     .790    5521    .944   .912
    0-2         3078     233    .695   2845    .968   .947
    Now, take a look at the bolded numbers. They differ in a statistically significant way from the overall mean at the 95 percent confidence level. Notice how far they deviate from the means--at 3-0, over 88 percent of called strikes are actually strikes, while at 1-2 and 0-2 the percentages drop to 67 percent and 69.5 percent, respectively. In other words, at 3-0 (and 2-0 to a lesser extent), umpires are more likely to see the pitch as a ball, and with two strikes (likewise at 2-2), they're more likely to see the pitch as a strike.

    Note that in the cases where there are two strikes this is exactly the opposite of the intent of the pitcher, where experience tells us they typically try and get hitters to chase, and therefore should result in more thrown balls. One possible explanation is that umpires, even in the short span of several pitches, have their search image modified, and as a result tend to model their calls on the prevailing trend.

    What this indicates is that while umpires may, in the words of George Will, be "natural republicans–dead to human feelings," they are prone to at least some of the same biases and perceptions as the rest of us.
    Will machines magically fix everything? Of course not. But machines don't know who's pitching. They don't know who's hitting. They don't know they count. Thus, they can't have their perceptions influenced by these things.

    Umpires are amazing and I have all the respect in the world for what they do and their ability to do it. But the calling of balls and strikes is one of the few areas which should be very black and white. There should be no subjectivity involved. No amount of training informed by a computer tracking system will allow an ump to get outside of his human limitations: conditions (shadows, rain), positioning (hard to see low pitches), psychology, etc.

    There are aspects of an umpires job which simply cannot be replaced by an automated system.

    Given the analogies earlier, I would draw another. You are going to watch the symphony. The purpose of doing so is to enjoy a certain set of songs played live by the very best musicians. Do you want them to have music in front of them or not? Sure, they know the songs by heart and will get the right notes, the right inflections, etc. 95% of the time. It will be a wonderful concert I'm sure. But why not let them keep the music in front of them to confirm their perceptions, their memories? Does it detract from the performance in any meaningful way that they might not be playing 100% from memory? Not in my estimation.
    Last edited by RedsManRick; 09-12-2007 at 01:25 PM.
    Games are won on run differential -- scoring more than your opponent. Runs are runs, scored or prevented they all count the same. Worry about scoring more and allowing fewer, not which positions contribute to which side of the equation or how "consistent" you are at your current level of performance.

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