In the top of the third inning of Thursday night’s game, Cincinnati third baseman Miguel Cairo managed a weak single to left field to score the Reds’ first run. Some would argue he shouldn’t have even had that opportunity. Cairo’s hit came with the count full, partially as a result of a called ball on this pitch (image via Brooks Baseball)
The easy response is to blame the umpire for missing the call. Instead, the more likely scenario is that Lucroy’s reception of the pitch influenced the umpire’s call. Lucroy didn’t receive the ball entirely cleanly, with the glove horizontal as with the typical strike. Instead, his wrist turned over a bit, which this .GIF should hopefully illustrate (thanks to Alex Poterack for the screencaps):
The fact that Lucroy turns his glove over like this gives the illusion that he’s reaching down below the strike zone for the pitch. If Lucroy simply catches the ball out in front, the pitch is probably called a strike. For example, this pitch from John Axford was called a strike.
This pitch is definitely close enough where it’s understandable that the umpire called it a strike, but it’s unlikely that the umpire will give the pitcher this kind of borderline call if the pitch isn’t received cleanly. As we can see here, Lucroy did just that:
Now, I think there’s a debate on whether or not it’s correct by the spirit of the rules for the reception of the pitch by the catcher to have such an impact on how a pitch is called by the umpire. But umpires are human, and while that doesn’t excuse many of the mistakes they make, they are still subject to the limitations of the human eye. As such, it will always be a necessity for the catcher to present the ball to the umpire in such a way that, at the very least, doesn’t deceive the umpire into seeing the pitch as out of the strike zone. It would appear that is exactly what happened with Jonathan Lucroy’s handling of Narveson’s pitch to Cairo in the third inning. Just remember: even if a pitch is in the strike zone, the catcher still has work to do to insure the pitch actually becomes a strike.