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Shrill Schill?
2003-05-25 22:31
by Mike Carminati

Evidently, Curt Schilling is not a big fan of gadgets. He smashed one of the QuesTec cameras during a loss yesterday at the BOB.

"I said something to one of the umpires about it,'' Schilling said, "and he said 'Do us a favor and break the other one'... The QuesTec system in this ballpark is a joke. The umpires have admitted it. They hate it. In the last three starts I've made here, multiple times umpires have said to the catcher, 'It's a pitch I want to call a strike but the machine won't let me'...As someone who relies on command and preparation and doing the things that I do to get ready for a ballgame, consistency is the most important thing in the world for me from an umpire."

Well, umpires have admitted to wanted to call balls outside the strike zone a strike. It's not much of a defense. I saw a number of the pitches that irked Schilling, and I have to say with that they were darn close. Besides the ump seemed to consistently call those borderline-outside pitches a ball, so I don't see where Schilling can point to inconsistency.

His manager, Bob Brenly, feels that using the QuesTec system in some parks and not in others causes a discrepancy in the calls being made:

"They call balls and strikes differently in the ballparks where it's set up,'' Brenly said Sunday. "If the system is so good and the ball tracks so well, why do you need a ball-strike umpire? You could have a green light go on out on the scoreboard if it's a ball and a red light if it's a strike.

"The strike zone has always been very subjective, and the players know that going in. You put it up in a ballpark, and the umpires are calling what they think they're supposed to call. If you want a consistent strike zone, you've got to put QuesTec in all 30 ballparks.''

Well, Brenly won't have to waut very long for that as MLB is pushing to do just that.

On Baseball Tonight their analysts had an interesting discussion on QuesTec. Harold Reynolds claims that the system loses the ball "3 feet from the plate", meaning at the dirt in front of home. I find this very hard to believe, but if it is true, then th QuesTec system is worse than useless. In The Physics of Baseball Robert K. Adair showed that a pitched ball will move horizontally as much as 11 inches on their path home. For a curve and especially a knuckleball, the ball breaks late and three feet may be the differenec between a ball and a strike. Similarly, different pitches cause the ball to drop more or less slowly. A reading on the ball three feet before home would be unable to determine if a high pitch will drop into the zone, in the case of, say, a curveball or if it will remain high, in the case of a 95 MPH fastball.

Bobby Valentine, whom I enjoy immensely more as an analyst than a manger, pointed out that umps have been calling that outside pitch a strike for years and they are finally being reigned in. He asserts that veteran pitchers like Schilling and Greg Maddux have been given that outside pitch, and that it's about time that umps called balls and strikes the same for everybody. He's right. The idea that an ump has his own strike zone is ludicrous enough, but that each ump modifies the zone further to accommodate the given pitcher is reprehensible. The huge egos of the umps to have the sense of entitlement to allow for such subjectivity in the rules is what brought about QuesTec in the first place.

Don't get me wrong. I oppose QuesTec as an evaluation tool. It's inherently inaccurate, not just because it may make its calculation a yard in front of home. QuesTec would make a great training tool for umps. That's basically the problem: either umps are not trained well enough or they refuse to do their jobs accordng to the rules they have been given. If it's the former, QuesTec is the perfect tool to help them re-train their eye. If it's the latter, the ump should be fired. However, MLB, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to forego the training angle and is concentrating on the penative angle. The umps are angry and scared. It gets passed on to the players, and therefore, the managers.

I'm not sure how this is going to play out, but what happens next time if the pitcher takes both cameras out. Or if Schilling gets a big suspension and/or fine. Then the players' union may get involved. The power struggle would really be under way then. Of course, if the umps would just start calling the strike zone the way that its intended, then it would take all the air out of the QuesTec system without a fight.

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