This past Saturday, I attended a meeting of the Monarchs Chapter of SABR. The guest speakers were Brian McRae and John Sickels.
You can learn more about the meeting at Dan Fox's Blog, so I won't bore you with the details. But, Brian McRae did say something that interested me. Someone in the audience asked a question about the strike zone, and MLB's efforts to expand the strike zone and make it more consistent across the board. McRae's response began with a question: "Are you married?"
His point was just as your wife may have tried to change you when you were first married, you may have changed for a while, but eventually resorted back to who you really are. Same with umpires. The league may say "do it like this" and the umpires may do that for a while. But, umpires being umpires, they will tend to resort to their old ways. After all, if an umpire's been calling a game a certain way for 25 years, why change now?
The thing that really interested me was when McRae started talking about "speed-up rules." He said that in certain situations, like in a blow-out game, umpires will tend to call games in such a manner as to end the game more quickly. So, pitches that may normally have been balls are then called strikes. Or, a runner who would have been safe at second on a close, but missed tag, would be called out.
I've never really noticed this before. This is something I'll try to look for this season, while I'm watching the Royals run away with the AL Central.