The math enthusiast that still lurks within this writer has been fixated on ascribing meaning to some interesting statistics that came out last week via the Wall Street Journal.
The Journal reported that, according to Inside Edge, MLB umpires miss about 8 percent of all ball-strike calls. This amounts to about nine missed calls per game (a little more than 100 pitches per game result in called balls or strikes).
Of note within this number was the curious fact that the Twins benefited from missed ball-strike calls an MLB-low 44.3 percent of the time.
In other words, if there are nine blown calls every game, the Twins benefit from just four of them. Over the course of a season, that amounts to about 80 more bad ball-strike calls going against the Twins than should be expected based on an even 50 percent split.
Is that significant?
Well, let’s start by saying that the Twins would not be a playoff team, or even a .500 team, with the benefit of a few more breaks on ball-strike calls.
Also: Sometimes the extra incorrect calls come late during blowouts, or the at-bat with the blown call still ends up working in the Twins’ favor.
But whether looking big-picture or small-picture, it can be very important.
Occasionally it will happen at a game’s most obvious pivotal moment — such as a missed 2-2 pitch that ends up leading to a game-deciding hit allowed on the 3-2 pitch.
Even more often, it will be a call that has a sneaky impact.
For instance: The Twins are not a good hitting team, but their acumen increases as the count veers in their favor. Let’s say a 1-1 pitch that should be called a ball on a Twins batter is instead called a strike.
Baseball-reference.com tells us that Twins hitters have a .245 batting average and, more important, an above-average .807 OPS (on-base-plus-slugging percentage) after the count reaches 2-1. But they bat just .182 with a .506 OPS after the count reaches 1-2.
If such a call occurs, say, with two runners on and one out early in a scoreless game, it might not seem like that big of a deal. After all, it’s not like the batter was called out on strikes on that hypothetical 1-1 pitch. But it greatly impacts the shape of the at-bat, and therefore the scope of the inning and the Twins’ likelihood of scoring.
The same thing applies to Twins pitchers. After a count reaches 2-1, opponents have an .863 OPS against them. After a count reaches 1-2, that number drops sharply to .570.
In other words, it’s the approximate difference between pitching to Joe Mauer (.880 OPS) and Clete Thomas (.595 OPS).
Also of note: Twins pitcher Kyle Gibson, according to Inside Edge, had just 79.2 percent of pitches that should have been called strikes actually called that way — the fifth-lowest percentage of all pitchers who have thrown at least 40 innings.
Whether that’s bad luck, a tricky way his ball moves or even poor framing by Twins catchers, it certainly didn’t help Gibson in his rookie season.
Like the Twins as a whole, better luck wouldn’t have solved all of Gibson’s problems. But when you are struggling, a little luck can go a long way.