Ryan Yarbrough Baffled Yankees Hitters—and the Umpire

In Friday’s Hot Clicks: a terrible umpiring performance, a massive college softball upset and more.
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Juuuuuust a bit outside

Complaining about officiating after a game is always annoying, but Yankees fans had a legitimate gripe after losing to the Rays on Thursday afternoon in the Bronx, 9–2.

Tampa Bay roughed up New York ace Gerrit Cole to the tune of five runs in five innings. Rays starter Ryan Yarbrough, on the other hand, went the distance and allowed two runs on six hits, striking out six. (His complete game was the first by a Tampa Bay pitcher since 2016, snapping an MLB-record 731-game streak.)

Yarbrough is a weird pitcher. His primary pitch is a cutter that averages 82.6 mph and his hardest-thrown pitch, a sinker, is averaging 86.6 mph this season. His unorthodox repertoire (and his sidearm delivery) have made him one of the most reliable pitchers in the league since his debut in 2018, whether he’s deployed as the Rays’ opener or the “bulk guy.”

So it should come as no surprise that a struggling Yankees lineup was stymied by Yarbrough in Thursday’s loss, but he also had some help. Home plate umpire Chad Whitson really expanded the zone when Yarbrough was on the mound. This graphic from Baseball Savant (using data from MLB’s Statcast system) makes it abundantly clear.

Graphic showing Ryan Yarbrough's pitches outside the zone being called as strikes

Whitson was nearly perfect with Cole on the mound, but Yarbrough got several calls on pitches that were clearly off the plate. And the graphic shows only called strikes. It doesn’t include pitches that Yankees hitters swung and missed on or hit weakly after being forced to expand their strike zone to match Whitson’s.

That’s not to take anything away from Yarbrough. To be a good pitcher, you have to be capable of deceiving people with your pitches. If your delivery is so difficult to pick up that you end up deceiving the umpire, then you’re doing a great job. Until home plate umps are replaced by computers, there are going to be bad calls.

And in the meantime there are going to be managers who throw tantrums over bad calls and get ejected. After coming out on the field to make a pitching change in the seventh inning, Aaron Boone said something to Whitson and got tossed.

“I just expressed some things and got run,” Boone told reporters after the game. “I just wanted to get my point across. I thought there were some close pitches, but the Rays outplayed us [Thursday]. I just had some disagreements throughout the day with them and got run obviously when I went out to the mound. Probably said some things that I can’t get away with. That’s about it. That’s about the gist of it.”

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