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Getting the Best Strike Zone

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On Episode 9 of UmpCast we are going to be talking about the strike zone.  Aside from the usual things like defining the strike zone, we are also going to talk about factors that can affect the zone.  An example of this might be if the catcher sets up outside and the pitch just barely catches the inside corner of the plate, that pitch is probably going to be called a ball because of how hard the catcher will have to work to catch it.  That leads me to ask, what are some of the factors that you take into consideration on your zone?  These can certainly differ from one umpire to the next and from level to level, but we are interested in finding out what other factors you use to determine your zone.

Just like last week, we may end up using your responses on the show!

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1) My zone got a lot better once I stopped trying to take these "factors" into account -- at least consciously.  So, I went to a "call the zone" philosophy, recognizing that (a) I would try *not* to be influenced by the catcher's actions, but also (b) I wouldn't be so dumb as to think that wouldn't happen.  And, the times I was influenced in (b) were exactly the times when the "factors" should be considered -- but I didn't have to remember / process them -- it just happened.

 

2) My zone got a lot better when I realized that I would get a lot more "reps" by staying in the same position all the time.  I stopped moving "up" or "back" or "out" with the catcher -- there's no need to be in a position to whisper in his ear on every pitch.  I just took a spot where I could see the zone 99% of the time -- and that means a spot where the catcher is both back and in.  If the catcher moves out, I can still see.  If the catcher moves up (for a normal hitter), I can still see.  And, thus, the strike zone "box" in my minds eye stays the same.  The 1% exception is when  the batter is *way* up and the catcher is *way* up -- then I shifted just enough to see the zone -- I didn't shift as far as the catcher moved.

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My zone got better after I started using the Gerry Davis system. There is something to be said with having your head in the same place and you are locked in the same way each and every pitch. 

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18 hours ago, Ump-Cast said:

On Episode 9 of UmpCast we are going to be talking about the strike zone.  Aside from the usual things like defining the strike zone, we are also going to talk about factors that can affect the zone.  An example of this might be if the catcher sets up outside and the pitch just barely catches the inside corner of the plate, that pitch is probably going to be called a ball because of how hard the catcher will have to work to catch it.  That leads me to ask, what are some of the factors that you take into consideration on your zone?  These can certainly differ from one umpire to the next and from level to level, but we are interested in finding out what other factors you use to determine your zone.

Just like last week, we may end up using your responses on the show!

The MAJOR factors that are going to be taken into consideration on any one umpire's zone are factors that umpires may not even consciously think about, but they are THE factors that affect one's zone more than any other factor and they are all grounded in mechanics: proper footwork, proper head height, properly setting up in the slot and proper timing.  

By way of example, if you are not properly setting up in the slot (say for instance, you set up directly behind the point of the plate), you are going to have a totally different view of the strike zone than most umpires.  As a result, this will be a "factor that can will affect the zone".  Furthermore, if you have bad timing, this will affect your zone.  Simply put, none of the game participants will "know your zone" because your zone will be all over the place.

Advance concepts and theories of calling balls and strikes are fun to discuss and argue (and GOD knows, some of them have been debated to great lengths on this and other websites).  However, how often in a typical game do they occur?  Once? Twice? Three times?  These mechanics, however, are THE factor that affects your strike zone every pitch, of every game, of every season.

[Now as for the advanced mechanics, here is my list (this is high school varsity and above): 

(1) Don't call a pitch that is not caught by the catcher a "strike" unless it is right down the pipe. 

(2) If the catcher sets up OFF the outside corner and the pitcher throws a pitch (usually a fastball) that pops the mitt (catcher doesn't move the glove), you must "ball" it.  Everyone in the ballpark saw the catcher set up outside; plus the defense in this situation is usually trying to pitch a "ball" to get the batter to chase it.  Call this pitch a strike and you will lose credibility fast. 

(3)  If the catcher receives a pitch and then jerks his glove back toward the plate or toward the center of the plate, then "ball" it.  If you strike it, you will quickly get the reputation that you can be "fooled" by a catcher (even if that is not the case).  If the defense complains about your "ball" calls, respond with a, "if that was a strike, then why did your catcher have to jerk his glove six inches?"  This is one of the very few times when it is okay to throw a catcher under the bus (something we normally don't do).  After all, he is throwing you under the bus by jerking his glove. 

(4)  If the catcher sets up on a corner, and he has to either (a) reach across his body to catch the pitch, or (b) move his entire body across the plate to catch the pitch..."ball" the pitch unless it is 100% over the white of the plate.  (In other words, if any part of the baseball is over the dirt..."ball" the pitch.)  The pitcher missed his spot big time; no one wants a pitcher to be rewarded in such a situation.  Trust me, in this situation the pitch looked like a ball to both dugouts (who can't see the corners of the plate). 

(5)  In "big boy ball" it is not "where the ball crossed the plate".  How a catcher receives the pitch matters.  If the pitch lands in the dirt, or if the catcher's glove hits the ground after receiving the pitch, "ball" the pitch.  NOBODY wants that pitch called a strike.  

(6)  If the catcher's glove goes straight up (his arm extends mostly vertically) to receive the pitch...this is a pretty darn good indicator that the pitch was high.  A catcher who wants a strike at the top of the zone, can extend his arm out horizontally in front of him so that his glove is set at the top of the zone to receive the pitch.  If he has to snap up past his ear, that's a real good indication the pitcher missed his spot big time.

(7) If a batter who has a count that includes three balls, starts running to first base as the pitch is crossing the home plate area or before you rule on the pitch...the pitch is a "strike" unless it was just a brutal pitch that was no where near the zone.  If you call "ball" after a batter had started running to first base before you ruled on the pitch, you will get the reputation that a batter can fool you.]

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I had a hard time with my strike zone for the entirety of my first season because I couldn't find a comfortable position where I got a good view of the plate. Following some advice on this forum and having it reinforced by one of my mentors, I moved up into the "super slot" and everything changed. It was a big difference because I was initially trained to stay an arm's length behind the catcher. At first I was worried that moving so far up meant F2 and I would be bumping into each other a lot, but that's never happened. And now that I can see the whole plate, it's easier to use landmarks.

For example, if F2 is set up in the center of the plate, his knees will be about on the corners. Seeing the inside corner is easy, but if he extends his glove beyond his outside knee, it's got be a ball. If he sets up with the glove on the outside corner, any movement farther outside means the pitch is a ball. Any movement in means it's a strike.

As far as the top of the zone, my life improved a hundred fold when I used the batter's leading elbow to define the top of the zone.

I agree with @lawump about how F2 receives the pitch. I don't use it punitively, but you've got to give me a chance to see the whole pitch. I've also told JV catchers no to jerk their glove so I can get a good look and call more strikes. Once they start sticking the pitch, it's a strike all day on anything close. Varsity and the younger divisions of men's league have a tighter zone because they usually have the skills and honestly, the expectations, too.

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@lawump I hate the ones in #4 where F2 gets crosses up and actually slides his whole body on his knees to get a pitch. But that damn this is a cock shot right down the heart of the plate!

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6 hours ago, lawump said:

(7) If a batter who has a count that includes three balls, starts running to first base as the pitch is crossing the home plate area or before you rule on the pitch...the pitch is a "strike" unless it was just a brutal pitch that was no where near the zone.  If you call "ball" after a batter had started running to first base before you ruled on the pitch, you will get the reputation that a batter can fool you.]

Love this!!!

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I had a new JR umpire (this year) call me about the coaches complaining about his strike zone.  I asked what they said.  He said they kept saying the zone was too big.  I told him, next time you see this coach, explain to him that this is your first year, and it was one of your first games.  Since the league provided everything for your, the strike zone that they had ordered will shrink to fit after its used a few times.

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1 hour ago, Aging_Arbiter said:

I had a new JR umpire (this year) call me about the coaches complaining about his strike zone.  I asked what they said.  He said they kept saying the zone was too big.  I told him, next time you see this coach, explain to him that this is your first year, and it was one of your first games.  Since the league provided everything for your, the strike zone that they had ordered will shrink to fit after its used a few times.

I'll have to remember this for the future! To damn good!!!

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Wow.  There are so many good points on here.  Having a good zone definitely is affected by numerous things (stance, tracking, etc.) and could easily be its own miniseries if we wanted to make sure and hit everything.  @lawump has a great list of factors that definitely come into play at higher levels of ball.  Some of them, like calling a ball if the catcher misses it, can apply to lower levels of baseball as well (but are very dependent on skill level).

One of the things I routinely see in upper level games I work is the catcher getting a great pitch at the bottom of the knees and slapping his glove on the ground as he catches it.  You almost have to call that a ball because of how it looks.  However, it's great when the catcher has been taught to not do that and you can get strikes out of it.

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On 4/6/2018 at 4:53 PM, Ump-Cast said:

Wow.  There are so many good points on here.  Having a good zone definitely is affected by numerous things (stance, tracking, etc.) and could easily be its own miniseries if we wanted to make sure and hit everything.  @lawump has a great list of factors that definitely come into play at higher levels of ball.  Some of them, like calling a ball if the catcher misses it, can apply to lower levels of baseball as well (but are very dependent on skill level).

One of the things I routinely see in upper level games I work is the catcher getting a great pitch at the bottom of the knees and slapping his glove on the ground as he catches it.  You almost have to call that a ball because of how it looks.  However, it's great when the catcher has been taught to not do that and you can get strikes out of it.

It is mind numbing when it happens. You want to pull the trigger on the pitch but the cloud of dust makes it look like a ball. Most good coaches know that the pitch was there but it is their catcher’s fault for them not getting the call. Some more inexperienced coaches will start to chirp on it.

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@Ump-Cast

Calling a good strike zone requires good mechanics and the right frame of mind.

With regard to mechanics:

- Make sure to track the pitch all the way to the glove.  This isn't a natural thing, and is something that you always need to focus on, even when you've worked hundreds of games behind the dish.  When you're tracking the pitch well, it should almost feel as though you're catching the pitch with your eyes.  If you're consistently having trouble picking the ball up off the bat, this can be an indication that you're not tracking the pitch all the way in.

- Having deliberate timing is important, especially on breaking pitches.

- CONTROLLED BREATHING!  As the pitcher goes into his motion, take a breath in.  As he delivers the ball and the pitch comes in, slowly breathe out.  I guarantee this will help will pretty much every aspect of your plate mechanics: tracking, timing, stability of head etc.

- A useful trick to being consistent on the high strike is to glance at the batter's elbows (sometimes the letters are more appropriate depending on his stance) after you drop down into your stance and before you pick up the ball out of the pitchers hand.

 

The psychology of having a good zone:

- Go into every game accepting the fact that you're going to miss pitches.  Do your best to brush off missed pitches, and definitely do not change your zone as a result of a miss.  Just because you accidentally called a strike on a curveball at the neck doesn't mean you have to call it a strike from now on.  Focus on getting that pitch right and re-establish a zone that you're comfortable with.

- Go with your gut.  In my opinion, that two main causes of missing pitches are mechanical issues (being too quick, not tracking the pitch etc.), and OVERTHINKING.  If you've been around the game and know what a strike looks like, then have confidence in that.  Unless your working higher levels of ball, how the catcher receives the pitch shouldn't matter.  Even when I'm working Varsity and above, I really avoid balling strikes unless the catcher badly butchers it (glove on the ground, ball gets by him etc.).  I'm not going to ball a pitch on the outer third just because he drops it.  Balling strikes will mess with your zone.  

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13 minutes ago, CaBlue said:

The psychology of having a good zone:

- Go into every game accepting the fact that you're going to miss pitches.  Do your best to brush off missed pitches, and definitely do not change your zone as a result of a miss.  Just because you accidentally called a strike on a curveball at the neck doesn't mean you have to call it a strike from now on.  Focus on getting that pitch right and re-establish a zone that you're comfortable with.

I'm glad you mentioned that. We all put pressure on ourselves to get every pitch right, but you've got move past a missed call because they're going to happen. And some are critical. For example, you may have called ball 2 on what was really strike 3, then the batter hits the next pitch for the game winner. Whoops. Trying to compensate for a missed pitch won't be as fair as it seems because ultimately you're going to be inconsistent, and there isn't much that's worse than that.

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58 minutes ago, ElkOil said:

I'm glad you mentioned that. We all put pressure on ourselves to get every pitch right, but you've got move past a missed call because they're going to happen. And some are critical. For example, you may have called ball 2 on what was really strike 3, then the batter hits the next pitch for the game winner. Whoops. Trying to compensate for a missed pitch won't be as fair as it seems because ultimately you're going to be inconsistent, and there isn't much that's worse than that.

And then you hear, "That's your's blue."  Screw those people.  You may have missed that one pitch, but you didn't tell that pitcher to throw the next pitch on the wheel house. No, "That's your's coach" is way more appropriate in this instance.

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7 hours ago, ElkOil said:

I'm glad you mentioned that. We all put pressure on ourselves to get every pitch right, but you've got move past a missed call because they're going to happen. And some are critical. For example, you may have called ball 2 on what was really strike 3, then the batter hits the next pitch for the game winner. Whoops. Trying to compensate for a missed pitch won't be as fair as it seems because ultimately you're going to be inconsistent, and there isn't much that's worse than that.

I try to operate on the premise that the most important pitch I will call is the next one.

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On 4/13/2018 at 4:00 AM, conbo61 said:

I try to operate on the premise that the most important pitch I will call is the next one.

Last year I had my first chance to call a couple of high school playoff games. Had bases for the first game, and then plate for the 2nd. Between games we had access to the clubhouse - the field was home field for a high school team. As were were relaxing and having a snack I noticed someone had written on the white board "win every pitch". When we took the field I was a little overwhelmed by the size of the crowd and a bit nervous, and as I settled in for the first pitch I took a deep breath, exhaled, and just held that thought - "win every pitch" - and would come back to it every time the pitcher came set as a focusing mechanism. I called a really solid game, I just felt comfortable and engaged and focused. Now I use it every game as mechanism to focus pre-pitch, reminding myself to do my best to nail whatever happens on *that* pitch, and then again on the next one, etc. One pitch at a time.

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