Laz Diaz has long been known as not great as a ball-and-strike umpire.
Regardless, there he was Tuesday night, calling balls and strikes in Game 4 of the ALCS between the Red Sox and Astros.
And his Game 4 ball-and-strike calls were worse than usual. Just how bad were they?
Umpire: Laz Diaz— Umpire Scorecards (@UmpScorecards) October 20, 2021
Final: Red Sox 2, Astros 9#DirtyWater // #ForTheH#BOSvsHOU // #HOUvsBOS pic.twitter.com/PZ6Ei08Q84
Home-plate umpire Laz Diaz has missed 21 ball-strike calls tonight, according to @ESPNStatsInfo. That is the most of any umpire this postseason. The green dot in the upper RH corner is the Eovaldi curveball that would've ended top of the ninth with the score 2-2.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) October 20, 2021
It is now 9-2. pic.twitter.com/VzdyL4lth3
Here is the pitch that should have ended the top of the ninth. It was perfectly placed by Nathan Eovaldi:
If this is called a strike, the inning is over and the game stays tied.— Evan Marinofsky (@EvanMarinofsky) October 20, 2021
But Laz Diaz called it a ball. pic.twitter.com/yIrBezqk89
That’s pitch 4 in this sequence:
On the border of the strike zone? Yes. But clearly enough within the zone to be called a strike. Jason Castro singled two pitches later to give Houston a 3-2 lead.
Granted, the Red Sox had many more chances in that inning to keep the deficit at just one run going to the bottom of the ninth. Instead, the next six Astros after Castro reached base (one on an intentional walk) and Houston had an insurmountable 9-2 lead.
There’s really no excuse for Major League Baseball to put an umpire this bad in a ball-and-strike call situation in a game as important as an LCS game.
But beyond that, this mistake (and the others Diaz made in this game) point up the necessity of MLB getting the technology for the automated strike zone perfected sooner rather than later. That technology is being tested in the Arizona Fall League, but as I noted here earlier today, the early returns on that aren’t great (the quote below is from a Keith Law article in The Athletic quoted in my article):
It turns out that the real strike zone is a lot smaller than what umpires called, especially on the horizontal axis (inside or outside). A whole lot of pitches that were probably 1 to 3 inches off the outside corner and had some chance of being called strikes from a human were, of course, called balls — and while that wasn’t solely responsible for the game’s three-walks-per-inning pace, it didn’t help matters. (Some guys just couldn’t find the plate that night if you’d drawn an arrow from the mound right to the dish.)
So, clearly, this is a work in progress. MLB needs to accelerate that progress so that egregiously bad calls like the ones Diaz made in ALCS Game 4 won’t happen again. If I were a Red Sox fan I’d be apoplectic today about calls like that one.
Obviously, there’s no way an automated strike zone can be put in place for the 2022 season. But calls like this show the urgency to work out the issues quickly, so that perhaps it’ll be ready for 2023. Baseball needs this kind of accuracy. Pitchers and hitters will adjust, as they always adjust to changes.
Let’s get ball and strike calls done right, by the actual rule book strike zone, not where one guy behind the plate thinks that zone is.