CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

Futures Guide 2014 is Now Available in Paperback and Three E-book Formats.

Premium and Super Premium Subscribers Get a 20% Discount at MLB.tv!

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Painting the Black: Th... (05/13)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Pebble Hunting: A Week... (05/10)
Next Column >>
Pebble Hunting: The St... (05/15)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: ... (05/13)

May 13, 2013

Pebble Hunting

The Strike Zone Solution

by Sam Miller


Now, whenever I go to the ballpark just to watch a game and the maniac next to me in the upper deck is screaming bloody murder at the home plate ump, I think: This is someone who has never umpired; this is someone who has never come upon the sudden understanding that the strike zone is malleable by the mind, that every pitch is a puzzle, that just about every ball has strikelike qualities and almost every strike is ballish. —Bruce Weber, As They See ’Em: A Fan’s Travels In The Land Of Umpires
 

Over the years, I’ve read a lot of proofs Rob Neyer has written that I could never find again, that were tucked into longer pieces or chapters, that elude search engines or scans of his online archives, but that I have gone back to so many times in conversation and thought that they stay with me. One of these proofs was about the flimsiness of the Human Element argument, the case against instant replay that praises umpire error as a loveable quirk of the game, like Tal’s Hill or pitchers batting. Fine, Neyer said, it’s a quirk. But who’s to say that we have exactly the right amount of human element? Why not more? Why not hire only umpires with bad vision, and refuse them glasses, if the human element is so good?

It was from a similar place that my own Modest Proposal came, but the more I lived with the idea the less certain I was that this idea’s value was as satire. Now I’m pretty sure that I actually, sincerely like the idea: Get rid of the strike zone. Give umpires total interpretive powers over balls and strikes. Follow me if you will.

In his confirmation hearing before the Senate, Chief Justice John Roberts used umpiring as an analogy for the law: “Judges are like umpires. Umpires don't make the rules; they apply them.” The reasoning behind that analogy was absurd—judges, particularly Supreme Court justices, set precedents all the time. It was also an inaccurate description of umpires. In one crucial area, umpires already make the rules.

You’re surely aware of the fact that the strike zone shifts. It expands in different counts, and not by a negligible degree—nearly 50 percent larger on 3-0 than 0-2. It relocates for left-handed batters; while we would rightly expect vertical coordinates to vary from hitter to hitter, it’s shocking how much horizontal ranges move, considering how explicitly home plate defines a strike. The strike zone is greatly influenced by what happens to the catcher’s glove after the pitch has already left the strike zone entirely. This fact should shock us for its illogicality, but we’re used to it. There is a rulebook strike zone. There is also a de facto strike zone. And these are two different things.

This is only partly by accident. Changes to the strike zone—recounted by Weber—have made its parameters progressively more vague over the years. In 1887, when the zone was first implemented, “A Fair Ball is a ball … so delivered to pass over the home base, not lower than the batsman’s knee, nor higher than his shoulder.” You could debate where the knee starts and stops; you could debate where the shoulder starts and stops. But the lack of complicating clauses made this a pretty simple definition. Changes in 1950, 1963, 1969, 1988, and, finally, 1996 added new details, and each detail (as Weber recounts in his book) actually served to make the strike zone less rigid. Here’s where it is now:

The rest of this article is restricted to Baseball Prospectus Subscribers.

Not a subscriber?

Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get access to the best baseball content on the web.


Cancel anytime.


That's a 33% savings over the monthly price!


That's a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Already a subscriber? Click here and use the blue login bar to log in.

Related Content:  PITCHf/x,  Umpires,  Strike Zone

16 comments have been left for this article.

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Painting the Black: Th... (05/13)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Pebble Hunting: A Week... (05/10)
Next Column >>
Pebble Hunting: The St... (05/15)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: ... (05/13)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Premium Article Painting the Black: Super Twoing
Premium Article What You Need to Know: Meltdown in Minnesota
Premium Article The Prospectus Hit List: Friday, April 18
Premium Article Notes from the Field: A-Ball Notes
Premium Article Raising Aces: Masahiro Tanaka, the Debut Ant...
Baseball Prospectus News: New Stat Reports a...
Premium Article Skewed Left: How Service Time Dictates Top P...

MORE FROM MAY 13, 2013
Premium Article Painting the Black: The Helpless Hitter Who ...
Perfect Game Presents: PG Pre-Draft to be Li...
Premium Article What You Need to Know: Jays Power Up, Offens...
Premium Article The Prospectus Hit List: Monday, May 13
The Week In Quotes: May 6-12
Premium Article Daily Roundup: Around the League: May 13, 20...
Fantasy Article Fantasy Freestyle: Dumping Targets, a Look B...

MORE BY SAM MILLER
2013-05-14 - BP Daily Podcast: Effectively Wild Episode 2...
2013-05-14 - BP Unfiltered: Mark Reynolds Gets Close To A...
2013-05-14 - BP Unfiltered: A Broken Bat That Did Not Ser...
2013-05-13 - Premium Article Pebble Hunting: The Strike Zone Solution
2013-05-13 - BP Daily Podcast: Effectively Wild Episode 2...
2013-05-13 - BP Unfiltered: The Week In Albert Pujols Pla...
2013-05-11 - BP Unfiltered: Mark Reynolds and a Very Susp...
More...

MORE PEBBLE HUNTING
2013-05-24 - Premium Article Pebble Hunting: How Pitchers Age at the Plat...
2013-05-20 - Premium Article Pebble Hunting: Extreme Strikeout Matchups
2013-05-15 - Pebble Hunting: The Starts That Defied FIP
2013-05-13 - Premium Article Pebble Hunting: The Strike Zone Solution
2013-05-10 - Premium Article Pebble Hunting: A Week of Watching Manny Mac...
2013-05-08 - Pebble Hunting: Every Thing That's Been Wron...
2013-05-06 - Premium Article Pebble Hunting: What Scott Kazmir Looks Like...
More...