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Do your eyes deceive you or has Julio been getting hosed?

Strikezone? More like sike zone, amirite?

Seattle Mariners v Minnesota Twins
Yeah, you’ve got something they don’t/You’ve just gotta keep your eyes open
Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

With the first road trip in the books, Julio Rodríguez has had some eye-popping moments:

He’s also created some eye-watering content:

Indeed, the J-Rod Show has been all about the eyes. And perhaps you’ve gotten the impression that his eyes are better than these bozos masquerading as umpires, not that you’d call an umpire a bozo, of course. Never.

But how bad has it been? Has it been bad? Let’s find out.

Game 1, sixth inning vs. Jhoan Duran:

Pitch 1: ball, 2: foul, 3: whiff, 4: called strike

That’s a strike. Barely, but it’s a strike. And given the absolute filth Duran had been throwing, I don’t blame Julio for taking a chance here.

Game 2, second inning vs. Sonny Gray:

Pitch 1: called strike, 2: whiff, 3: ball, 4: called strike

There aren’t enough scare quotes in the world to describe that “strike.”

Game 2, fourth inning vs. Sonny Gray (again):

Pitch 1: foul, 2: ball, 3: foul, 4: ball, 5: called strike

I mean, OK? The robots would call that a strike, I guess. Fine, it’s a strike. But it didn’t have to be.

Game 2, seventh inning vs. Joe Smith:

Pitch 1: foul, 2: foul (and honestly, good for him), 3: ball, 4: ball, 5: ball, 6: called strike

That’s unambiguously a strike, and I’m glad we don’t have to take anything away from Joe Smith, who was such a wonderful surprise down the stretch for the ‘21 Mariners.

Game 3, seventh inning vs. Jorge Alcalá:

Pitch 1: called strike, 2: called strike, 3: ball, 4: ball, 5: ball, 6: foul, 7: called strike

This one is a shame. He fell behind 0-2 on borderline pitches, works the count full, fouls off the sixth pitch, and then gets this slider on the black. I still judge this a decent at-bat.

Game 4, seventh inning vs. Tyler Duffey:

Pitch 1: ball in dirt, 2: ball in dirt, 3: whiff, 4: foul, 5: ball in dirt, 6: called strike

Sometimes, you just tip your cap to the pitcher. At least Julio worked another full count here.

Game 6, second inning vs. Dallas Keuchel:

Pitch 1: whiff, 2: foul, 3: called strike

Only the second inning and already the umpire is forcing us all to open a second box of wine. Hard to believe that this mistake was not the worst decision the officials would make that inning.

Game 7, seventh inning vs. Matt Foster:

Pitch 1: called strike, 2: ball, 3: whiff, 4: called strike

Baseball lingo has a word for pitches like this. They’re called “balls.” See Office of the Comm’r of Baseball Official Playing R. Comm., Official Baseball Rules 143 (2021 ed.) (defining “Ball,” in relevant part, as “a pitch which does not enter the strike zone in flight and is not struck at by the batter.”).

Game 7, eighth inning vs. José Ruiz:

Pitch 1: ball, 2: foul, 3: whiff, 4: called strike

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.

What have we learned here?

Julio: 4, Umpires: 4, I’ll allow it: 1

Julio only has three swinging strikeouts, and of his nine looking, half were bad calls. I’ve been pretty impressed that he hasn’t been swinging at more garbage in frustration. In his first week, he’s swung at just a third of pitches outside the zone, and made contact on more than half of those swings, not far off the 2021 league averages. And keep in mind he’s being fed a heavy diet of breaking balls—the nastiest ones he’s ever seen in his life.

Nor has he argued a single call, which is a smart move given that he’s a rookie and umpires can have fragile little egos. Julio is renowned for his makeup, able to brush off a bad day and move on, so I wouldn’t expect this to get to him.

Some have speculated that he’s getting these poor calls because of his size, and indeed, that can happen. Check out the graphics in this 2018 FanGraphs article about noted large human Aaron Judge. But that tends to effect the height of the strike zone rather than the width, whereas the blown calls above are about how big the plate is, which does not change batter to batter.

So it could be that he’s getting a tough zone because umpires favor veterans over rookies. But these calls haven’t been close; those were some Curtis Jackson pitches. Ricky Vaughn pitches. Randy Johnson 2001 Spring Training pitches. More likely, I think these umpires have been blowing calls early in the year. Recall that they had a shortened spring training too. It’s a small sample, and they’ll find their sea legs. So too will Julio as more of his contact starts matching his talent.

The good news in all this is that despite the poor results, Julio’s backwards Ks have at least given us this iconic shot: