Wednesday, April 7, 2010
For umps, strike zone depends on count
The Hardball Times' John Walsh is back to his old Pitchf/x tricks, and this time he's looking at the difference between how umpires call 3-0 and 0-2 counts. Skipping past the process ...
Wow, the 3-0 zone is nearly 50 percent larger than the 0-2 zone...
It's as clear as day: These umpires are a bunch of softies. They see a pitcher struggling to put the ball over and they go all Gandhi on us, giving the pitcher an an extra chunk of strike zone to work with when the count reaches 3-0.
And when the batter becomes the underdog, when the count goes to 0-2? Why, the hearts of our merciful arbiters simply turn to mush: They can't help pulling for the poor batter as he chokes up on the bat, hoping to make some kind of contact. Who knew the umps were such empathetic characters?
I have always assumed that the umps call a different strike zone based on count only on the extreme pitchers' and hitters' counts. Sure, we see a big difference between 3-0 and 0-2, but the strike zone is more or less constant for the other counts, yes? Well, no ...
It's often best to actually read the whole article, but in this case it's essential because of the graphics.
Anyway, it's lovely when perception meets reality. For as long as I can remember, it's seemed that umpires expanded their strike zones with 3-0 counts and tightened them with 0-2 counts. It's a funny thing, though ... Where Walsh sees the umpires as charitable softies, I've always seen them as hard-asses who want the hitters to earn their walks; for the pitchers to earn their strikeouts. Which one is (more) right, I don't have the slightest idea.
From Major League Baseball's perspective, it doesn't matter why it's happening. It shouldn't be happening, and we can only hope that something's being done. The strike zone should be the strike zone, regardless of the count. If the umpires call it the same way every time, the players will adjust accordingly. And it's worth pointing out that the games would go just a little quicker if umpires weren't consistently extending plate appearances based on the count.