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Entries in getting squeezed (2)


Which Pitchers are Getting Calls, Getting Squeezed?

Which starting pitchers are benefiting from a generous strike zone this season? Which starters are grumbling as yet another borderline call goes the batter's way? Here's a quick rundown of pitchers with the highest and lowest called strike rates in 2013.

Highest called strike rates on in-zone pitches


Overall, umps call about four out of every five pitches taken in the zone a strike. But Jake Peavy is getting more credit for those over-the-plate-pitches than most. So are crafty lefties Mike Minor and Andy Pettitte. None of the guys in the top ten exactly lights up the radar gun. That makes sense, considering lower-velocity fastballs tend to get more called strikes than mid-90s heat.


Lowest called strike rate on in-zone pitches


On the flip side, Jon Niese has a reason to hold a grudge against Big Blue. The rest of the top ten is a mixed bag of power pitchers, breaking ball and off-speed reliant junk ballers and a knuckleballer. All of them are at a disadvantage in getting called strikes. High-velocity fastballs have lower called strike rates than slower ones, as mentioned above. Curveballs (81% called strike rate on in-zone pitches), sliders (79%) and changeups (78%) have lower called strike rates than fastballs (82%). And umps, like all other human beings on Earth, have a hard time figuring out what the heck a knuckleball is doing. Dating back to 2008, in-zone knucklers (a sample that basically amounts to pitches thrown by R.A. Dickey, Tim Wakefield and a few spot-starter aspirants) have a called strike rate of 73%.


Highest called strike rate on out-of-zone pitches

Interestingly, all of the starters getting calls on out-of-zone pitches are right-handers. It looks like they're taking advantage of umpires' tendency to stretch the outside corner for left-handed batters (the called strike rate on out-of-zone pitches thrown away to lefty batters is about 16%). Jeremy Hellickson (29%), Mat Latos (26%), Alex Cobb and Justin Verlander (23%) rank at the top of the list when it comes to getting calls on that outside corner versus lefty batters.

Lowest called strike rate on out-of-zone pitches

Pfft. Like Matt Harvey needs the help. Tim Lincecum, on the other hand...


Yu Still Getting Squeezed at the Knees

In late April, we took a closer look at Yu Darvish's high walk rate and showed that the Rangers' putative ace was getting squeezed by umpires. Despite placing more pitches in the strike zone than the average starter, Darvish issued lots of free passes in part because he had the lowest called strike rate on in-zone pitches taken by hitters.

It's now early June, and Darvish's walk rate remains a whopping 5.4 per nine innings pitched. Yu's ability to miss bats has helped him remain an above-average pitcher (119 ERA+), but the only qualified starters with more BB/9 are Ubaldo Jimenez, Daniel Bard and Kyle Drabek. Unfortunately for Darvish and the Rangers, umps are still squeezing him, particularly on pitches thrown at the knees.

Darvish has received a called strike from Big Blue on in-zone pitches taken by the batter 71.3 percent of the time. The MLB average for starters, by contrast, is 79.8 percent. No other starter has been squeezed more frequently than Darvish:

Ten lowest called strike rates for starting pitchers on in-zone pitches taken by hitters

Pitcher Called strike rate on in-zone pitches taken
Yu Darvish 71.3%
Henderson Alvarez 71.8%
Jake Arrieta 72.0%
Wei-Yin Chen 72.8%
Derek Holland 73.2%
Clayton Kershaw 73.2%
Justin Masterson 73.6%
Ricky Romero 73.8%
Brian Matusz 74.0%
Chris Capuano 74.6%


Here is Darvish's called strike rate on in-zone pitches taken by the hitter, and then the league average for starting pitchers in 2012. You'll note that Darvish has a big blue spot low in the strike zone:

Darvish's called strike rate on in-zone pitches taken by the hitter, 2012

 Average called strike rate for starting pitchers on in-zone pitches taken by the hitter, 2012 Darvish's called strike rate on in-zone pitches taken is below-average on high pitches, but it's the low stuff that isn't getting any love from umpires:

Darvish's called strike rate on in-zone pitches, by location

Pitch location Called strike rate on in-zone pitches taken MLB Avg. for SP
High 67.3 74.3
Middle 96.4 95.3
Low 56.1 68.6


Compounding matters, Darvish has thrown more of his in-zone pitches low each month: 34.4 percent in April, 36.4 percent in May and 37.3 percent last night in a six-walk loss to the Oakland A's. In terms of pitch type, Darvish is getting squeezed mostly with his fastball, slider and cutter:

Darvish's called strike rate on in-zone pitches, by pitch type

Pitch Called Strike Rate on in-zone pitches taken MLB Avg. for SP
Fastball 71.4 80.3
Slider 66 79.3
Cutter 65.4 79.4
Curveball 84.2 81.6
Splitter 88.9 83.2


It's hard to say what, if anything, Darvish and the Rangers can do about umpires' stinginess so far. Darvish isn't getting the low strike, and he's a pitcher who likes to keep the ball down (45 percent of his pitches have been thrown low overall, compared to the 41 percent average for starters). Maybe Mike Maddux and Ron Washington can make a point to lobby Big Blue before Yu's starts.