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Strike Zone Rant


spiritof66

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A number of recent Orioles games, including tonight's, have been affected significantly by the expansion of the strike zone to as much as six to eight inches (maybe more) below the bottom of the batter's kneecap. There are two and a half things I just don't get about that. They're really starting to bug me, and even to affect my enjoyment of the game at times.

The first is that it's accepted practice -- just "part of the game" -- for home plate umpires to apply different definitions to the strike zone (and even for the same umpire to have different strike zones from game to game). Every player, manager, writer and announcer seems to say that's just fine so long as strikes are called consistently within a game, even though the strike zone that is applied may give an advantage to one team or to certain pitchers. (Zach Britton is a big beneficiary.)

Why is it all right for each umpire to define the strike zone as he sees fit and for the strike zone to vary from game to game? The strike zone is defined in the MLB rules as "that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap." Where the strike zone really is in any game depends on the taste of the game's home plate ump. In the past few weeks, I have seen hundreds of pitches called strikes that crossed the plate well below that hollow. Why doesn't MLB tell its umpires to follow the definition that's in the rules, or come up with a revised definition if that's deemed better, and if an ump doesn't do a good job at it get rid of him and find someone who is better at applying MLB's rules?

I can't think of another sport that accepts this kind of deviation from the rules and variation among officials charged with applying its rules. Having each plate umpire define the strike zone differently is not like basketball or football officials who exercise their judgment in calling a lot of fouls/penalties or "letting them play." It is more like having a team of basketball refs who consistently award 3 points when a shooter is just an inch or two over the arc while another team of refs requires that his toe be a few inches behind it, or a football ref who decides, consistently for both teams, to call first downs when the ball is a few inches short of the sideline marker. Why is it accepted practice for umps to apply different standards from the one set forth in MLB's rules even though that difference can affect the outcome of the game?

The second, and related, practice that gets to me is the way plate umpires are influenced by a catcher receiving a ball that crosses the plate inches, sometimes as much as a foot, out of the strike zone and dragging it back towards the zone. It seems to me that until the past few years this practice was used primarily for inside and outside pitches, and that its use is increasing for lifting up pitches that are way below the strike zone. The umpires who call those pitches strikes sometimes look like the rube victims in a three-card monte game who can't figure out how they're being buffaloed. Why do umpires put up with this nonsense, and why are they so often taken in by what looks, certainly in replays and often in live action, like an obvious ruse?

If I were an MLB plate umpire and I wanted to do the best job I could calling balls and strikes, I would tell catchers something like, "After you catch the ball, you can hold it where you've caught it if you think that will help me see it's a strike. But if you move it as or after you catch it, and I think you're doing it intentionally to make it look more like a strike, I'm likely to figure you don't think it is a strike and you're trying to make it look like one, and I'm more likely to call it a ball."

The half-thing that bugs me is that umpires often seem to take no account of where an individual player's kneecaps are: the bottom of Chris Davis's strike zone often looks to be the same as the bottom of JJ Hardy's. (I don't see the same problem at the top of the zone.)

So far as I can tell, the only reason these things are accepted parts of the game is that they've been around for a long time. For me, that's not good enough; the game should be as fair a test of the competing players and teams as possible, even if that means changing things. My attitude about the imperiousness and limited competence of umpires has changed a lot in recent years, and I don't think I'm alone in that. Until maybe 20 years or so ago, I thought (and I am guessing that most fans thought) that umpires did a pretty darned good job -- after all, they were at the top of their profession -- with the exception of an occasional, egregious mistake. The proliferation of camera angles, improvements in camera work, and video replays have made it clear that umpires make a lot of bad calls, especially on balls and strikes, and that a number of their mistakes on the bases come from poor positioning and insufficient anticipation.

It's possible that MLB is perfecting an automated system for calling balls and strikes, and is in a don't-rock-the-boat holding pattern while focusing on how to make that work and introduce it. I don't know a thing about that, but it would make sense.

I'm curious whether others see these things differently -- that is, am I crazy to think that these practices influence the game and that they shouldn't be tolerated just because they've been around for a while? -- or have any other explanations for why MLB puts up with them.

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My opinion is known around here, the technology is there to make ball-and-strike calls uniform, use it. You can't have strike zones that start at the ankles and end at the belt, as is being called now, and you can't have the zone expand and shrink during a game according to the umpire's whim. The umpire will still be behind the plate, but he will have a buzzer in his pocket that can help him make the calls. Go against the buzzer's call enough times and you are "out for assignment." The umpires should welcome this much-needed change. No jobs will be lost and their life will br much easier. It's just humanly impossible not to miss some calls from time to time.

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A number of recent Orioles games, including tonight's, have been affected significantly by the expansion of the strike zone to as much as six to eight inches (maybe more) below the bottom of the batter's kneecap. There are two and a half things I just don't get about that. They're really starting to bug me, and even to affect my enjoyment of the game at times.

I believe that the tracking systems have highlighted what physics dictates: a pitch that crosses the front edge of the plate at the batter's knees will be caught several inches below that (depending on type of pitch). If you want a strike zone that is essentially defined by where the catcher catches the ball you'll have to move it up a bit to account for gravity and forces of ball spin.

My attitude about the imperiousness and limited competence of umpires has changed a lot in recent years, and I don't think I'm alone in that. Until maybe 20 years or so ago, I thought (and I am guessing that most fans thought) that umpires did a pretty darned good job -- after all, they were at the top of their profession -- with the exception of an occasional, egregious mistake. The proliferation of camera angles, improvements in camera work, and video replays have made it clear that umpires make a lot of bad calls, especially on balls and strikes, and that a number of their mistakes on the bases come from poor positioning and insufficient anticipation.

I think that prior to the umpire's 1999 mass resignation they were largely out of control. They instigated arguments, poured gasoline on situations they should have been diffusing, were largely untouchable, and called whatever the heck strike zone they wanted to. But since then they've mostly been reigned in. There are still occasional excesses, but nothing like 20 years ago.

It's possible that MLB is perfecting an automated system for calling balls and strikes, and is in a don't-rock-the-boat holding pattern while focusing on how to make that work and introduce it. I don't know a thing about that, but it would make sense.

I'm fully in favor of technological aides to assist the umpires in doing their jobs better. The tracking systems now in use already have been helping, and the reviews of the umps' individual performances have led to a more uniform strike zone, IMO. And a larger one, which should have been obvious to anyone who did any reasonable observations of the called zone vs. the book zone years ago. It's a good thing they redefined the top of the zone from the shoulders to the midpoint between the letters and the belt, or the enforcing effect of the tracking systems might have plunged the game into a real deadball era.

So... no we shouldn't tolerate errors and excesses and problems, but I think MLB is doing and has done some things to correct the worst errors of the past. Even if it often seems that MLB moves very slowly and cautiously and with much deference to tradition.

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My wife used to rent to an MLB umpire. He was a AAA ump at the time, but would fill in for the MLB crews fairly often. I didn't know him that well, but I spoke to him on a few occasions. There were two things that I took from those converstaions.

First, it's just a job. He didn't care about the outcomes of the games. He wasn't impressed with the high profile personalities on the field. He had no agenda.

Second, their job performance is under constant scrutiny. We don't see it as fans, but there is a tremendous amount of occupational stress in umpiring - and I'm not referring to verbal abuse from the fans.

I don't believe that umpires are being creative with the strike zone. Their career advancement depends on accuracy.

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Current technology reveals a margin for error on umpire decisions that is unacceptable to many fans. They will eventually have to close the gap on the strike zone IMO, if they want to maintain credibility. In the old days the umpires' authority had to be absolute, because no one was in a better position to see the play accurately. That is no longer the case.

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I don't have a mental camera or memory that enables me to compare the umpiring today with umpiring in the past. My guess is that ball and strike accuracy is pretty much the same as it was, but that the consistent deviations from the zone as defined in the rule has become much more obvious as a result of replays, better ground-view shots from CF, side cameras that show pitches crossing the plate being called wrong, overhead cameras that show mistaken calls, etc.

I'm not sure what basis there is for saying ball-snd-strike calling has improved, or even what it means to say it has improved -- more consistent within a game, more consistent for all an umpire's games, more consistent for all games, more in keeping with the defined zone?

I don't question that umpiring is a tough job or that umpires are neutral as to who wins (though it does sometimes seem they're out to get a specific pitcher or hitter). But is there any doubt that each umpire defines the strike zone based on a personal preference rather than the MLB rule, or any doubt that those personal preferences vary from umpire to umpire? If both those things are true, why does MLB permit that to continue? Has any umpire ever been been called on the carpet, or even criticized, by MLB for using his own strike zone?

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I think the umpiring was less accurate in the old days simply because it didn't have to be. Today there are more checks and scrutiny.

In the old days, the NL was known for having a low strike zone, while the AL had the high strike zone. As a high-ball pitcher, Palmer may have struggled in the NL.

Now, they've done away with having different umpires for each league and are trying to make the strike zone consistent.

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In the old days, the NL was known for having a low strike zone, while the AL had the high strike zone. As a high-ball pitcher, Palmer may have struggled in the NL.

Now, they've done away with having different umpires for each league and are trying to make the strike zone consistent.

My point is before TV, the strike zone could be whatever the ump wanted. No one was looking over their shoulder, because no one could.
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I break this down in my head as, why have humans calling balls and strikes with 85% accuracy, when we have technology that will call the strike zone with 99.9% accuracy? It almost doesn't make sense for there to even be an argument when you look at it from that viewpoint.

I know several of you like the "shifting strategy" of a changing game-to-game strike zone, but what you fail to realize is that there is even more depth involved with a non-changing (except top and bottom for batter's of different heights). When the strike zone is exactly defined for both hitter and pitcher, we're going to be looking at more of a cat and mouse element than we have today. No longer is the zone going to expand on 3-0 and contact on 0-2, and batter and pitcher both know it. I think the game will be that much better for it.

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I break this down in my head as, why have humans calling balls and strikes with 85% accuracy, when we have technology that will call the strike zone with 99.9% accuracy? It almost doesn't make sense for there to even be an argument when you look at it from that viewpoint.

I know several of you like the "shifting strategy" of a changing game-to-game strike zone, but what you fail to realize is that there is even more depth involved with a non-changing (except top and bottom for batter's of different heights). When the strike zone is exactly defined for both hitter and pitcher, we're going to be looking at more of a cat and mouse element than we have today. No longer is the zone going to expand on 3-0 and contact on 0-2, and batter and pitcher both know it. I think the game will be that much better for it.

What they need to do is go ahead and install everything and run with it next year in part of the minors, lets say the International league. That should give them enough data to use to implement it in the majors in a season or two.

You could eventually have AAA be automated and the rest of the minors stay the same so the Umpires can still experience calling balls and strikes.

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A number of recent Orioles games, including tonight's, have been affected significantly by the expansion of the strike zone to as much as six to eight inches (maybe more) below the bottom of the batter's kneecap. There are two and a half things I just don't get about that. They're really starting to bug me, and even to affect my enjoyment of the game at times.

The first is that it's accepted practice -- just "part of the game" -- for home plate umpires to apply different definitions to the strike zone (and even for the same umpire to have different strike zones from game to game). Every player, manager, writer and announcer seems to say that's just fine so long as strikes are called consistently within a game, even though the strike zone that is applied may give an advantage to one team or to certain pitchers. (Zach Britton is a big beneficiary.)

Why is it all right for each umpire to define the strike zone as he sees fit and for the strike zone to vary from game to game? The strike zone is defined in the MLB rules as "that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap." Where the strike zone really is in any game depends on the taste of the game's home plate ump. In the past few weeks, I have seen hundreds of pitches called strikes that crossed the plate well below that hollow. Why doesn't MLB tell its umpires to follow the definition that's in the rules, or come up with a revised definition if that's deemed better, and if an ump doesn't do a good job at it get rid of him and find someone who is better at applying MLB's rules?

I can't think of another sport that accepts this kind of deviation from the rules and variation among officials charged with applying its rules. Having each plate umpire define the strike zone differently is not like basketball or football officials who exercise their judgment in calling a lot of fouls/penalties or "letting them play." It is more like having a team of basketball refs who consistently award 3 points when a shooter is just an inch or two over the arc while another team of refs requires that his toe be a few inches behind it, or a football ref who decides, consistently for both teams, to call first downs when the ball is a few inches short of the sideline marker. Why is it accepted practice for umps to apply different standards from the one set forth in MLB's rules even though that difference can affect the outcome of the game?

The second, and related, practice that gets to me is the way plate umpires are influenced by a catcher receiving a ball that crosses the plate inches, sometimes as much as a foot, out of the strike zone and dragging it back towards the zone. It seems to me that until the past few years this practice was used primarily for inside and outside pitches, and that its use is increasing for lifting up pitches that are way below the strike zone. The umpires who call those pitches strikes sometimes look like the rube victims in a three-card monte game who can't figure out how they're being buffaloed. Why do umpires put up with this nonsense, and why are they so often taken in by what looks, certainly in replays and often in live action, like an obvious ruse?

If I were an MLB plate umpire and I wanted to do the best job I could calling balls and strikes, I would tell catchers something like, "After you catch the ball, you can hold it where you've caught it if you think that will help me see it's a strike. But if you move it as or after you catch it, and I think you're doing it intentionally to make it look more like a strike, I'm likely to figure you don't think it is a strike and you're trying to make it look like one, and I'm more likely to call it a ball."

The half-thing that bugs me is that umpires often seem to take no account of where an individual player's kneecaps are: the bottom of Chris Davis's strike zone often looks to be the same as the bottom of JJ Hardy's. (I don't see the same problem at the top of the zone.)

So far as I can tell, the only reason these things are accepted parts of the game is that they've been around for a long time. For me, that's not good enough; the game should be as fair a test of the competing players and teams as possible, even if that means changing things. My attitude about the imperiousness and limited competence of umpires has changed a lot in recent years, and I don't think I'm alone in that. Until maybe 20 years or so ago, I thought (and I am guessing that most fans thought) that umpires did a pretty darned good job -- after all, they were at the top of their profession -- with the exception of an occasional, egregious mistake. The proliferation of camera angles, improvements in camera work, and video replays have made it clear that umpires make a lot of bad calls, especially on balls and strikes, and that a number of their mistakes on the bases come from poor positioning and insufficient anticipation.

It's possible that MLB is perfecting an automated system for calling balls and strikes, and is in a don't-rock-the-boat holding pattern while focusing on how to make that work and introduce it. I don't know a thing about that, but it would make sense.

I'm curious whether others see these things differently -- that is, am I crazy to think that these practices influence the game and that they shouldn't be tolerated just because they've been around for a while? -- or have any other explanations for why MLB puts up with them.

I don't want some machine calling balls and strikes. The game has been around a

long time. Just accept that some umpires are not as good good as others. The

game will survive. I really don't let umpires making bad calls bother me.

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