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What is Good Timing?
What is ‘Good Timing’
I personally believe that good timing is the number one way to move up as an umpire. Proper use of timing will give you the best opportunity to get your call correct. Timing is an abstract concept which can initially be difficult to properly execute, and is even more difficult to verbalize. Once you truly realize what good timing is it is very easy to recognize bad timing.
Umpire manuals may refer to it something along the lines of the proper use of your eyes in making your call. Yes, this is a component of timing, but there is so much more.
Camps and clinics may teach it mechanically by telling you to on a pitch see the ball to the glove then read the brand, think one Mississippi, think yup that’s a ___. The camps and clinics may tell you while on the bases wait for the entire play to conclude, think one Mississippi, wait for the BR to go past you, the list goes on. Yes, once again, mechanics are a function of good timing.
But be cautious these mechanical “tricks” can lead to “False Timing.” False timing is much easier to define. It is the use of tricks or mechanisms which delay the mechanic or vocalization of your call, but the actual decision was made much earlier. Don’t get me wrong, there is merit in these mechanics which teach you to delay your call. I use them when teaching timing. They are a building block of good timing, but are not the final product.
Let’s start with these “false timing” trick I use to instruct. I have a pitcher deliver the ball, the catcher receive it and I stand behind the plate umpire with my hand just above his shoulder. I wait after the pitch has been received about a second then tap their shoulder. If they start to rise before I tap their shoulder they run into my hand and know they are too quick. To them this second seems like an eternity and I doubt the trainees are making proper use of this time. They are thinking more about when am I going to tap them. The same thing applies to other “false timing” techniques. They are thinking even while the pitch is coming in about reading the brand of the glove or thinking when they are going to start their one Mississippi count, but not the pitch.
So I’ve rambled on about what timing is not. Like my philosophy professor once told me, “You can’t tell me what something is by telling me what it is not.”
Timing on pitches:
You actually have to back up to well before the pitch is delivered. Start with your stance. you need to be in proper position in the slot and have proper head height. You need to be able to see the pitch all the way from the pitchers release to not only the catch but how the catcher actually receives the ball.
When in your stance you need to be relaxed and comfortable. If you are uncomfortable in your stance you should adjust it. Being uncomfortable means you want to get out of it earlier and could effect your timing. While in my squat I like to use the technique BlueBomber taught of BRASS-F incorporating his rifleman experience into umpiring. Here’s how he explained it:
Breathe- Pay attention to your breathing. You don't want to be tense.
Relax- When he's winding up you want to be properly relaxed w/ your position locked in.
Aim- You're locked into your position. Your eyes should be naturally lined up at the TOP of the zone instead of forced to be there. Your stance should give you a "natural point of aim" rather than having to force it.
STOP- Just before the ball leaves the pitchers hand you stop breathing at the BOTTOM of your exhale. This is essential to keep you from blinking. If you stop at the TOP of your breath or part way in between, then you're tenser than you need to be and much more apt to blink.
Shoot- Well, not really "shoot." But this is where the pitcher pulls the trigger, and you watch the ball come down range. If the ball is hit or if the 2 seam fastball explodes in your face and you blink or flinch hard, then you didn't relax enough.
Follow Through- This is the timing that you guys all talk about. Watch the ball into the mitt, and take a breath in and make your call.I love this explanation and the breathing technique really helps, you must try it out.
So now you’re in position locked in you’ve got a breathing strategy which will further help your tracking the ball and your timing. The pitch is delivered, you are tracking it all the way from the pitchers hand to the mitt. This entire time, while you are focusing on the ball you are processing a ton of information, “Where is this ball going to be? Is this pitch going to be an obvious ball or strike? Is the ball going to bounce? Is the ball going to hit the batter? What are the runners doing? What are the fielders doing? Is the batter swinging or taking? How is the catcher setting up to receive the ball? All these thoughts and more you are processing in the split second it takes that ball to travel 60’6”. And the ball still hasn’t been caught.
Now the last fraction of a second is the most important. This is where the ball crosses the plate and is received by the catcher. Too many times when people have bad timing they have called the pitch in their mind if not vocally before the pitch is completed. Now in this briefest fraction of a second we need to determine whether the ball crossed the plate, in 3 dimensions: laterally, vertically, and depth. We also have to look at the way the catcher receives the ball and how he presents it to us. Did he stick it, drop it, catch it underhanded, pull it. And we haven’t even gotten to if the pitch was tipped. Just adding more and more information for us to process.
Now the pitch has been completed, and the most important thing hasn’t happened and still should not happen yet, your call. This delay between the completion of the pitch and our call is our timing. It is a zen-like moment where time ceases to exist. We process all the information we’ve received in the prior second giving it all it’s due consideration. We haven’t already made up our minds even if it was straight down the pipe or only went 52’.
To the casual observer this appears to be a pregnant pause, where anticipation is building the casual observer has already made their decision. Initially, this will feel like a long time to you and it may actually make you want to rush. Resist that urge. You need to develop the muscle memory and cognitive discipline to feel comfortable with the time it actually takes you to process all of the information so you can render the correct decision. But do not pause for the sake of pausing. It may give the look of good timing, but once again it is false timing. Believe it or not often times a good partner or evaluator will be able to recognize false timing versus good timing.
Timing is not subject to the quality of the pitch. You can be equally quick in calling a bouncer or one belt high in the middle as you can that breaking pitch which nicks the corner. Timing takes much more into consideration.
Timing on plays
In my opinion timing on plays is even more critical than timing on pitches. While I elaborated on many things you may have going through your mind while tracking a pitch which incorporate themselves into your call, there are probably more involved while making a call on a play. But just like pitches it starts long before a play develops.
Be in proper starting position. A, B, C, D, LF, RF or plate be in the correct starting position. Know the situation. Where are your runners, what is the score, what inning, is this a bunt situation, is this a steal situation, where is the logical play, are my runners/ batter runner fast, is this a rotation situation, is this an infield fly situation. This is all before the pitcher has started his delivery. Knowing the situation around you means you will be prepared to react before the play develops and not scrambling to react as the play happens. There is a huge difference.
Now we have a play developing, you are in better position because you anticipated the play, but you now have a whole new series of thoughts from before the play developed and you have multiple moving objects to contend with, not just a pitch.
You have the runner(s); what are they doing, have they touched their bases/tagged up, is fast enough to beat out a good throw, where were they at the time of the throw, is there obstruction, is there a force play slide rule issue, where is he establishing his baseline,... You have your fielders; how did they field the ball (catch/ no catch), where are they attempting to make a play at, is the throw on track, how will the fielder receive the ball, is he going to easily maintain contact with the bag, is there a double play, is there interference, is there going to be a swipe tag, is there going to be a collision... Don’t forget you also have the ball; where is it coming from, where’s my best angle, … And your partner too; did he call off the rotation, is he actually rotating, did he go out,... All of this and we still don’t even have a play.
Now we have the play. We’re in our best position, we come set. We have the ball, fielder and runner all arriving at the same place at the same time. Obviously we cant watch all three. What we watch will depend on the situation presented to us. We’re taught if it’s a force situation to first judge the ball in flight. If it appears to be on track we release our sight on the ball and watch the base and listen for the catch by the fielder. Did you hear thud, snap or snap, thud? Was there obstruction/ interference? Did the fielder secure the ball? Did the runner overrun the base? If so what do you think his intent was? Is the fielder attempting a second play?
Once again the play is completed and we have yet to make our call. We have to take the appropriate time to process all of this information before we make our call and also be prepared for a second play. So our timing might be quicker than we’d ideally like, but we still cannot be rushing the call. So your good timing is still taking the necessary time to process the whole situation as presented.
Let’s look at a tag play. Same thing you have the ball, runner, and fielder all arriving at the same place at the same time. However, with a tag play were taught not to watch the base the runner is advancing too but to watch the ball. We have nearly all the same concerns as with the force play, but our focus has changed. While watching the ball we also have to see when the runner touches the base or plate. Which happened first? What path is the runner taking, is he going direct meaning a potential collision situation, or is he going inside or outside? What is the timing looking like; is he a dead duck, or is it going to be a banger? Is he within the base path he established? Did the runner over-slide or not hold the bag? Did the fielder maintain possession? Where was the tag applied? Digest this information and make your call based on what you saw.
Good timing is not simply using your eyes properly. It is not placing a contrived pause before making a call. Good timing is using proper positioning, proper mechanics, reading the play, seeing it through to conclusion and properly processing all the information we have to make the call. Because we have done this we now have the best opportunity to get the call right; and that is how you become a better umpire.