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Slot Position

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I do not feel comfortable working the slot position.  I feel as if I am calling too many pitches outside a ball.  I feel most comfortable working directly over the catcher, but everyone condemns me when I do this.  Advice much appreciated.  Thanks

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As for working above the catcher, I wouldn't condemn you for that. You're taking way more foul balls in the face and chest than anyone working the slot, but that's up to you.

I also recommend a good clinic, where the plate work will include tracking a ball-on-a-stick through the zone. You can do this at home with a partner: have someone move a ball slowly over the plate, over the edge, over the corner, over the opposite batter's box, etc. and see how it looks in slow motion.

Once you get used to it, the call will come naturally. Though even the MLB guys are a little loose on the outside corner for left-handed batters, for whatever reason.

Working above and/or directly behind the catcher is also problematic because younger catchers are notorious for bouncing or standing up, at best, blocking your vision, at worst, giving you their HSM driven into your chin! Older (Academy, Travel or High-School trained) catchers will, on a steal or pickoff attempt, gather, explode and extend towards the target base, away from your position, while younger catchers usually stand straight up first.​

You can accomplish similar results to the ball-on-a-stick with a few tennis balls. In fact, put on your plate gear (especially your mask, because you'll want to start "landmarking" it), make a home plate shape out of the cardboard pizza box you have in your kitchen, and get a sibling / SO / neighbor / friend to bounce tennis balls at you. You'll want to direct them to bounce the tennis balls on one bounce, in front of the plate, so they bounce up and through the strike zone. You can even have them stand and bounce the tennis balls in line with the outside corner of the plate. Do this repetitively. If you wish, start where you normally do, behind "the catcher" and more-or-less at the back point of the plate. Position a chair to stand-in for the catcher (remarkable how the back of the chair is usually the same height as a catcher's head, no?). After you and your assistant have gotten into a groove of bouncing tennis balls, move to the slot. Have your assistant bounce the balls at the outside corner of the plate the same as before. Unlike "The Sock Drill", tracking the ball during its entire flight-bounce-flight is not necessary, but if you feel that you're not hampered by tracking the bounce, go for it. The point is to train your brain that "out there" is actually over the outside corner of the plate, despite you being positioned more or less "inside". Recall how I used the term "landmarking" on your mask? You should not be moving or twisting or changing-the-height-of your head while positioned behind the plate. With this exercise, you can start to visually assign a section of your mask, generally, with that outside corner. This is not to be your sole tool of dependence, but only to help train your brain faster – You should be able to identify balls and strikes with any mask on the market.

Make sure you call these bounced pitches, definitively, after they've bounced out of your field of view. Audible reinforcement helps train your brain.

I have a hypothesis on this, that it is very likely the majority of umpires are right eye dominant (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocular_dominance).

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I do not feel comfortable working the slot position.  I feel as if I am calling too many pitches outside a ball.  I feel most comfortable working directly over the catcher, but everyone condemns me when I do this.  Advice much appreciated.  Thanks

first, verify that's true (well, verify you are calling too many balls; I'm sure your feelings are true).   Then get someone to hold a ball over the edge of your zone while you are in the slot so you can see what it looks like.  Then, well, start calling them strikes.

 

The issue sometimes is that you are used to a pitch >this far< from you being a strike; you aren't really watching it through the zone.  So, when you go to the slot and the same pitch is now >this far + 8"< from you, your instinct /habit is that it's a ball.

Another option that *sometimes* works -- when you brush the plate, leave a footprint at the edge of the plate.  Use that to judge the ball.

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As for working above the catcher, I wouldn't condemn you for that. You're taking way more foul balls in the face and chest than anyone working the slot, but that's up to you.

I also recommend a good clinic, where the plate work will include tracking a ball-on-a-stick through the zone. You can do this at home with a partner: have someone move a ball slowly over the plate, over the edge, over the corner, over the opposite batter's box, etc. and see how it looks in slow motion.

Once you get used to it, the call will come naturally. Though even the MLB guys are a little loose on the outside corner for left-handed batters, for whatever reason.

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first, verify that's true (well, verify you are calling too many balls; I'm sure your feelings are true).   Then get someone to hold a ball over the edge of your zone while you are in the slot so you can see what it looks like.  Then, well, start calling them strikes.

 

The issue sometimes is that you are used to a pitch >this far< from you being a strike; you aren't really watching it through the zone.  So, when you go to the slot and the same pitch is now >this far + 8"< from you, your instinct /habit is that it's a ball.

Another option that *sometimes* works -- when you brush the plate, leave a footprint at the edge of the plate.  Use that to judge the ball.

And, in addition, try this: watch how the catcher catches the pitch. If the catcher is not not set up outside and he does not do anything radical to catch the pitch, like reach way outside, then the pitch is probably not beyond the outside corner. Use *all* the information available to you in judging balls and strikes, not just your judgment of where it crossed the plate. This advice means you have to see the catcher's mitt when he catches the ball, and it means you have to reserve judgment until the pitch has completed its entire trip to the catcher. Waiting and accumulating all the evidence will help you. Once I started incorporating the catcher's reception of each pitch into my judgment, calling balls and strikes became much easier. Working from the slot will not be a problem. (And, for safety reasons, at least, you should work from the slot. Placing your head dead center over the plate is a recipe for concussions.)

If you think a pitch you called a ball was really a strike --- as you seem to be doing --- that may be a sign your timing is wrong: you are not waiting long enough to collect all the information and make a conscious decision. Watching the full flight of the pitch, including how the catcher receives that pitch, will help with your timing.

And remember @Maven's first rule: Call more strikes! If you wait, and watch and decide after it's all over, you can consciously judge which pitches are borderline (as you seem to be finding), and then call those pitches strikes also.

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Two words:  Tracking. Timing. 

Already been said. Also some good clinic style training advice above but two things you can do RIGHT NOW are to track the ball from release to catch. Then replay in your head (stay down in stance while you do this), if it is a strike (more will be strikes now than you think), stand, take a step back and simultaneously give a verbal announcement of strike and point or hammer as you prefer. I think pointing takes longer and makes you slow down. Practice this in a mirror. Practice this with your partner before walking to the field next time out. 

Good luck and don't suck! (Anymore)

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A really top notch clinician told me that if I can't tell you what color or brand of the catcher's glove is after any pitch, I'm not tracking the ball long enough.  As @JHSumpire said, you should see the ball all the way to the catcher's mit and use that as part of your decision.  Remember, coaches and spectators can't see the outside corner either and are usually using how the catcher reacts as their guide.  If the same pitch is thrown twice, and one catcher gloves it in the traditional position and gives me a good look while the other flails/reaches at it, the first one will be a strike and the second a ball 99% of the time.  As you get to higher levels all catchers understand this and will try to frame pitches which makes it way easier to use their location as a guide.   Note: this doesn't mean that if a catcher is set up half way up the 1b line and the pitcher hit's him dead center, it's a strike - you have to account for where the catcher is set up. 

Just remember to use the catcher's glove as a guide to where the ball crossed the plate, not where he's catching it.  If you have a RHP throwing off the right side of the rubber to a RH batter, the catcher can catch a pitch on the LH batters box line and it can and should be called a strike.  The longer you track the ball, the more that stuff just becomes naturally part of the decision making process.  

But seriously - SLOW DOWN.  Make 'em wait - it's good for them.  

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