Monday, August 9, 2010
How about calling more LOW strikes?
As Stuart Miller wrote in the Times yesterday, all the talk about high strikes not being called strikes is far from new:
The complaint about high strikes dates back decades. In 1987, Peter Gammons wrote in Sports Illustrated that calling those long-lost high strikes would speed up ballgames. He quoted Pete Rose saying, “The major reason that games are so long and boring today is the strike zones are so damned small.”
Over all, today’s games feature about 27 more pitches than in 1988 (the oldest official pitch counts), equal to nearly an extra full inning of play — although stronger players, smaller ball fields and tighter baseballs also give pitchers more incentive to work around the strike zone. Commissioner Bud Selig, however, has repeatedly said his concern was less with the average time of the game than with the pace of the game. Because a committee is contemplating these issues, Selig would not comment; neither would Mike Port, Major League Baseball’s vice president for umpiring.
If the high strike were called, pitchers — especially power pitchers — would nibble less, countering a generation of hitters focused on running deep counts. Batters would have to swing more often, speeding up the game and presumably putting more balls in play because working deep counts yields more walks but also more strikeouts.
From John Walsh's Hardball Times piece last spring, we learned that umpires miss more low strikes than high strikes. This should not be surprising. If we assume that umpires do want to call the rule-book strike zone -- and I believe that most of them do -- we would expect more accuracy on the pitches they can see better ... and they can see the high pitches better than the low pitches.
One thing I've noticed about suggestions like this -- Jim Evans and Bill James have both advocated a wider home plate -- is that they emphasize the benefits while (generally) ignoring the Law of Unintended Consequences. Would a high strike zone mean faster games? Maybe. But it might just mean higher nibbling. It seems to me that whatever you do with the strike zone (or home plate), pitchers are going to try to avoid it.
Which doesn't mean Major League Baseball shouldn't always be tinkering around on the margins, or at least thinking about tinkering. But the goal should be a palatable balance between hitting and defense. And I find the current balance perfectly palatable.