When my alarm went off at 2.30 am this morning I had no problem in getting out of bed. That’s not always the case, as I’ve written about previously, yet Opening Night has that effect on us baseball fans.
So it is that the A’s 8-1 loss to the Astros doesn’t sting all that much. It’s fair to say we don’t like losing to that mob, yet that in part comes from the fact that we know how good a team they are. There will be plenty more battles against them the rest of the way, three more over the next three days in fact, so we shouldn’t get too disheartened by one performance.
More than anything, complaining about the result when we got to watch our team for the first time in months seems a tad ungrateful.
We didn’t get the win, but we did get to see Chad Pinder’s Superman Act (Parts I and II), Correa getting tonked on the arm and all of it happening in front of 10,000+ at the Coliseum, many of whom were watching baseball in-person for the first time in 18 months.
So there’s nothing much to complaint about, really, although with the Robo Ump future staring us in the face it’s worth delving into one part of the game.
Brian Gorman’s strike zone
The A’s didn’t lose this game because of the home plate umpire Brian Gorman, but he did make the usually unflappable Matt Olson lose his cool and when you look at the evidence it is not hard to see why.
Whilst commentators like to harp on about the first-pitch strike, often the most important pitch in an at-bat is pitch three and the difference between a 1-2 count and 2-1. In the bottom of the first inning, the count was 1-1 when Zack Greinke tossed over a loopy curveball. It’s the turquoise-coloured pitch 3 in the chart above and Gorman somehow called it a strike. Oly battled brilliantly from there, but ended up striking out on a fastball.
In Oly’s second plate appearance he was able to get ahead 2-1, but then fouled-off pitch 4 and then lined-out on pitch 5. They are good pitches from Greinke’s point of view, yet you have to believe that Oly felt more-inclined to swing at them due to the outside-strike call in his first at-bat.
And then we get to Oly’s at-bat to end the eighth inning against Blake Taylor. Again, the count was 1-1 when Taylor threw a fastball that was clearly outside (pitch 3 above). Gorman somehow saw it as a strike and put Oly in a hole. The umpire then repeated the trick with a called strike three on pitch 5. Oly had every reason to be mad.
When you look at all the at-bats, it’s fair to say Gorman called a few stinkers against the Astros hitters too; however the key theme for the A’s was the way he was calling pitches off the plate to left-handed hitters. It wasn’t just Oly that suffered along the way.
This is the chart from switch-hitter Jed Lowrie’s at-bat in the fifth inning against Greinke. Gorman called the first-pitch fastball a strike.
And this is Moreland’s pitch chart in the seventh inning facing Enoli Paredes. Gorman correctly called pitch 1 a ball but then called pitch 2 a strike. In this case at least, Moreland went on to draw a walk.
A few A’s fans on Twitter were complaining at Oly after the at-bat in the eighth inning on the basis that Gorman had been calling those outside pitches as strikes all night so he had to take his bat off his shoulder.
I’ve always hated that line of thinking. The strike zone is not just an incidental part of the contest. When an umpire is consistently extending or narrowing the strike zone, as opposed to missing a call or two here and there, it skews the competition between pitcher and hitter.
We regularly hear that current MLB games are longer and have less action in them because the ball doesn’t get put in play as much as in year’s past and that this is something the Commissioner’s Office is focused on trying to improve.
Holding umpires genuinely accountable for the strike zones they are calling would be a good first step.