Umpires just keep getting ... better?

July 8, 2015

Everybody's looking the THE NEXT BIG THING in baseball analysis, but dramatic discoveries and insights are terribly rare. What sabermetrics is really about? Just grinding away, checking results and testing theories and adding a little bit of knowledge here, a little there.

Over at The Hardball Times, Jon Roegele's been doing important work with umpires and the strike zone, and I treasure each of his reports. For me, the takeaway from his latest is this: For all the wailing about the umpires, the truth is that they're only getting better, basically across the board.

Paradoxically, better umpiring has led to a less-interesting game.

Because better umpiring means a more accurate strike zone, which means more low strikes, which means a bigger strike zone, which means fewer batted balls, which means more strikeouts, which means less movement on the field. And what is sport, if not movement?

From a practical standpoint, Roegele's most important observation might be that last season's expanded strike zone was not an anomaly: This season's effective strike zone has been 475 square inches -- exactly the same as last year. The "low" part of the zone is also effectively the same as last year ... and both 2014 and '15 are far larger than the previous seasons. Which goes most of the way toward explaining why scoring's been so low.

I don't have a solution. I don't think anyone does. But if one is someday found, it'll be guys like Roegele who do the real work.