My favorite thing about the Belt Knows Best t-shirt is that there are five balls on the edge of the plate not four. This implies that Belt had a call go against him as is so often the case. It seems like Belt more than anyone gets rung up on pitches outside of the zone especially with two strikes. Duane Kuiper has often said that Belt knows the strike zone better than umpires, and we know that to be true anecdotally. Statcast, though, allows us to prove it.
I suspect that Belt has the opposite relationship with umpires as does Mike Trout. If Trout takes a pitch, umpires just automatically assume it’s a ball. If it weren’t, he would have swung at it, right? This season, Trout has seen more pitches in the strike zone called a ball than any other player, and his 50 should-have-been strikes have a sizable lead on Chris Taylor in second place with 50.
Mike Trout has seen an MLB most 48 pitches in the zone called a ball this year. It seems that umpires may trust Trout’s eyes over their own. pic.twitter.com/S2hK9UgyCW— Jeremy Frank (@MLBRandomStats) June 10, 2019
With Belt though, it’s as if the umpires think Belt is trying to show them up or something. Maybe he said, “Aw, c’mon!” too many times in his younger pre-beard days and umps around the league just haven’t been able to forgive that indignance. Belt has been gifted just 21 balls inside the strike zone or 2.1 percent which is just a tick above league average. Trout has 4.4 percent of pitches inside the strike zone called a ball.
Trout gets plenty of pitches well inside the strike zone, but Belt, being a mortal man, only gets the pitches that could go either way.
It’s not really about the extra balls Belt doesn’t get, but about the balls that Belt should receive but doesn’t. Here are all the pitches outside the zone that have been called a strike against Belt this year.
Most of the pitches called against him have been on the outside part of the plate. That’s pretty standard for a left-handed hitter. The most egregious example was Belt getting called out on strikes on a Patrick Corbin fastball six inches outside of the strike zone.
Wait, not that one. This Patrick Corbin fastball six inches off the plate.
Belt has had 3.7 percent of pitches outside the strike zone called against him this year. The league has had 2.8 percent of would-be-balls called strikes. Lefties have had just 1.1 percent of pitches called against them. Belt’s reputation for knowing the strike zone hasn’t helped him as he’s been three times as likely to get a strike called against him.
Now, Belt hasn’t been the most unlucky player in the league. He hasn’t even been the unluckiest Giant. Each of those distinctions belongs to Joe Panik. Belt ranks 26th in the league in number of extra strikes at 37, but Panik sits on top with 51. Our resident cinnamon roll has had a whopping 5.4 percent of pitches outside the strike zone go against him.
In Tuesday’s game against the Padres, Panik got called out on strikes on a pitch so bad it made him do a cuss. But that frustration wasn’t just at that one pitch. It’s been mounting over the season as Panik has maintained a disciplined approach but still gotten penalized for it. Panik is slowly clawing his way out of this year-long slump, but the umpires are trying keep him down.
Even though Panik and Belt are getting the short straw on pitches out of the zone, both are walking at above average rates both relative to the league and their career totals. Getting a bunch of close pitches called against you is a side effect of having good discipline. Pablo Sandoval and Kevin Pillar hardly have any pitches called against them because they swing at anything close. Still, the Giants have enough trouble getting on base as it is. They don’t need the umpires making things any harder for them.