This week both a bench coach and an MLB manager were ejected early in a game on an innocuous first pitch strike call that replay clearly showed was an obvious strike. In the first picture, you see the ball as it passes the plate. In the second photo, you see the spot marking to the location of the ball in the catcher’s mitt – quite a difference!
How is that even at the highest level of the game, there is still such a big disconnect between the umpire’s strike call and the hitter and his dad…I mean manager?
One could write a whole book about this as there are so many angles to consider, but here are three considerations that quickly come to mind on this pitch:
1. The bottom of the zone goes to the “hollow” of the knee which is not far off the ground…
2. The zone is 3-dimensional – a breaking ball can catch the front edge and sink quickly…
3. It ain’t where the ball is caught that counts (in theory but that’s for another article)
Before we start an un-winnable debate about how balls and strikes are called and/or how they should be called, let me say, that’s all a red herring in my opinion. The real issue is the hitter’s ability and the seemingly lost art of plate coverage. Let’s do some simple math to figure out the width of the strike zone:
- The white part of the physical plate: 17 inches
- It is a strike if any part of the ball touches the zone so we need to consider the ball’s diameter: (2.75 inches on each side of plate): 5.5 inches
- Umpire margin of error (2 inch MLB standard for evals) Inside corner: 0-2 inches Outside corner: 0-2 inches
- The black – considered part of plate though not by rule: 1 inch
- Total additional width of the zone 6.5-10.5 inches
Newsflash! This means the effective width of the zone is actually anywhere from 44-62% bigger than the plate itself. Is there any wonder why the angst over balls and strikes never goes away?
The best hitters know about this little secret and in fact, the great Tony Gwynn understood this well and used to talk about how he trained himself to be able to take a pitch one to two balls off the plate and drive that base knock to the opposite field. You could say Tony Gwynn’s mental approach to plate coverage was an example of overtraining and it’s safe to say Tony was on to something.
We’re on to something too at MaxBP, the concept of overtraining with rapid delivery small ball hitting practice. Check out MaxBP and find out why it’s used in many big league clubhouses – and stop blaming the umpires!