Steroids and Strike Zones

The Hook:

What do those two have in common? MLB now tests for Steroids and the strike zone is about to be tested.

What is my point?

Technology will put so much pressure on umpires that they will have no choice but to change the strike zone to its original definition.

The STRIKE ZONE is that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap. The Strike Zone shall be determined from the batter’s stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball.

Rule 2.00 MLB Official Rulebook

Why Does it matter?

This matters because baseball purists and umpires hate that MLB uses technology.  But it will be this technology will allow us to play the game in its intended form.

What do you think Bud?

If you didn’t read this article, it just says that Bud Selig likes the human element and he is concerned about the pace of the game.

What do I think?

Yeah whatever dude.  Getting booed sucks.  It ripped my heart in half to hear the fans in Houston boo me.  As a result I no longer concentrated on the game and instead concentrated on not getting booed.   That was too much heat for me and I buckled.  The same thing will happen to the umpires.

Umpires have a really difficult job.  You may think it is easy to call a ball or a strike, but you don’t see what Major League pitchers can do with the ball.  Major League catchers can frame a ball that makes an umpire look like they missed it. You don’t probably consider that the camera is “off-set”.   But in the end, it is the heat of the fans, managers, and players that causes that strike zone to expand.

You should also know that the vast majority of arguments between players and umpires have to do with “in and out” not “up and down” concerning the strike zone.

Prediction:

Technology will cause the strike zone to shrink at first and we may see an increase in offensive production.  After a year of that, the strike zone will expand to its intended definition and pitchers will finally get to throw a high strike.

What do you think?


37 Comments on “Steroids and Strike Zones”

  1. Barrie says:

    I like your thinking with regard to the increase in offense dude! I would tend to agree. Pitchers will see what they have to work with and try and be too “fine” with their pitches which, in turn, will result in guys mashing their mistakes. So that parlays into this: why not step back in the box for a few more seasons? You can do it, you do it all summer long! ;)

  2. Rudi Lee says:

    Hey, Morgan, I’m glad to see you doing this blog. I’ve been a fan since the Round Rock days, I even caught one of your home run balls back at Dell Diamond and you graciously signed it for me. When you went to Houston the family and I traveled over from Austin and we always enjoyed seeing you play. I think you’ll be great as a broadcaster. You’re well spoken, intelligent and certainly know the game! Good luck to you on your new adventures.

  3. mrimperial says:

    Very interesting thoughts. I love hearing the perspective of players on stuff like this…most fans just have no clue.

    • The reason why fans have a hard time understanding is because they were never taught how the game is played. There is a lot going on out there and I hope fans can use this blog to learn and ask questions.

      Morgan

  4. Ashitaka says:

    Hey Morgan, Astros fan that heard about the blog through Footer. Let me just say that you took way too much heat in 2006, Astros fans WISH they had a guy at 3B that could play your level of defense and get on base 39.6% of the time.

    About the post, I have to agree that trying to implement some form of replay or equipment to judge balls and strikes would likely be a huge mistake. If that were to happen, the only real reason to have an ump back there at all would be to call plays at the plate. You did bring up a great point about the camera angle though; every time I see a snippet of a Red Sox game broadcast, I’m always jealous of their excellent camera angle, it’s much more straight-on than most, yet still low enough to not have the semi-birdseye problem that gives Cardinals broadcasts and the like have to that skew the vertical angle instead of the horizontal one. If you ever get to see a Red Sox broadcast, you’ll see what I mean. I’d rather have MLB look into improving broadcast technology than trying to get a computer to call balls and strikes or something like that; we can get super-slow-mo replays of the action from ten different camera angles and yellow lines to represent first down markers and such, but we can’t position a camera in a way that will more accurately show the strike zone and pitch movement? Silly if you ask me.

    God bless on your new broadcasting career; an Ensberg & J.D. combo in the Astros booth would be cool someday!

    • I am definitely against having a computer call balls and strikes. Instead, I think the technology will help “teach” or “confirm” the strike zone for the umpires. As for the camera in center field, that has probably caused more enjoyment and controversy than any other technological advance. It is a great angle to see the game on tv, but it is deceptive with respect to the strike zone. Like I said in the post, players are always arguing “in and out” not “up and down”. A camera placed above the plate is the only camera that is needed to see if the ball is over the plate. Every position player I know would love to have that view when they are looking at previous at bats.

      What would you like to know or what can I bring to this blog that you believe would be fun to read about?

      Morgan

  5. Ashitaka says:

    Really? Do players really never argue vertical placement? Calls that are “at the knees” for example? I know I’ve yelled at the TV a few times on those that looked either too far down or up, ha ha.

    As far as this blog goes, probably the main thing you can do is give an insider’s perspective to the game. Despite being in this age of technology and communication, the vast majority of the information fans have access to is still from the same source; reporters, broadcasters, pundits and bloggers. It’s rare for an actual player to have a blog, much less one that’s more than a simple personal Twitter account or the like. It’s hard to think of specific examples, but just try to ask yourself; “what does this issue or situation look like from the perspective of a fan or someone who doesn’t have inside, intimate, personal knowledge of it and how can I relate to them what it is I know?”

    One relevant question I’ve always had is the exact ruling of a ball or strike as far as the forward progress; I.E., at one point in flight is the location of the ball for ball/strike rulings supposed to be determined? When it hits the front of home plate? The back? The middle? The catcher’s glove? And how strictly do you think whatever the official rule is on that subject usually followed?

    Another one none of my friends and family can seem to agree on are out/safe calls at a base. Does a tie go to the runner or the defender? Is there even an official rule on that? Do umpires ever actually see something and determine it to be a tie and then make a ruling? Umpires are generally even more mysterious and tight-lipped than players are, and finding official rules and sources of information of this kind are difficult.

  6. Bob D says:

    Morgan, I love this post! I’ve long thought the high strike has disappeared from the game and watching some of classic games on the MLB network (Larson’s perfect game, Gibson v. Detriot 68 series) confirmed this.
    If the umpires resume calling the high strike, would this open up the lower part of the strike zone for the pitcher? While we’re at it, can we make the catchers stay in the catchers box? They seem to set up halfway between home plate and the dugout.

    Seems like a long time since I’ve heard the phrase letter high strike. I’m not a huge fan of technology invading the game, but if it helps bring back the strike zone to it’s intended size I’m all for it.

    I realized the center field camera was off center, but the Angels Stadium camera seemed to be in left center field. That camera angle was more annoying than useful. Just found your blog and enjoy your insights. Keep up the good work!

    • I do not want a computer to call balls and strikes. I want the computer to accurately confirm that the ball goes over the plate. Umpires zones are based around acceptance. I think they will go back and look at a call with a complete bias. If they think that the ball was “close enough” then they are wrong, but they will feel that they are right. This is mediocrity. Umpiring is really hard, and they will be forced to deal with the technology that is coming.

      Morgan

  7. Steve Stein says:

    Gotta agree about the difficulty of calling balls and strikes. For the uninitiated, try it some time.

    As a computer geek I’d LOVE to see the strike zone computerized. Or even semi-computerized (with an umpire setting the top and bottom of the zone). I’m SO tired of seeing balls 3″ off the outside corner being called for strikes.

  8. Gary says:

    It’s interesting you say that it’s inside/outside calls that lead to player’s complaining since that should in theory really be more uniform than up/down calls. Obviously the plate never gets any wider whereas the high/low call varies somewhat with each hitter. Thus, enforcing a uniform inside/outside strike zone should not really be that hard. If we need something to help the umpires do a better job of that, I’m all for it.

    • I am happy that I could give you that view Gary. Your thinking is correct that the plate doesn’t move, but umpires use the plate as a reference point. Remember, as the ball leaves the pitchers hand it is on target to be a strike most of the time. It isn’t until the last 10 feet that the arguments start. We are are arguing not where the catcher catches the ball, but where the ball is located at the front of the plate. It is only the front of the plate that balls are supposed to be gauged not the entire plate. Does that make any sense or did I just confuse things?

      Morgan

  9. Gary says:

    Morgan, I briefly worked for QuesTec at Minute Maid. We set the outside/inside part of the strike zone before the game. That was a piece of cake. However, after the game we had to set the up/down part of the strike zone for each called strike or ball. Obviously, that was somewhat subjective. i guess my point is that it would seem like it should be fairly easy to give the ump real time info using modern technology that would tell help him with the inside/outside call. The up/down would still be a bit of a judgment call.

    I’m not sure how this would work in practice, but maybe the ump could have a receiver in his ear that would signal whether or not the pitch was over the plate. He could then focus on the up/down part of zone.

    • I don’t think we want to place a piece of technology that is relaying the correct call. The point of technology will be to help umpires get better. My understanding is that QuesTec uses velocity, spin, and trajectory to estimate where a ball is going end up. But I don’t think that the sights are set up at the actual front of the plate. I thought it was 4 or 5 feet out in front of the plate. Do you know if that is the case?

      Morgan

  10. Gary says:

    Morgan, this article by a former QuesTec operator does a good job of explaining it all in detail.

    Link: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=3326

    By the way, as you may already know, QuesTec no longer works MLB games as MLB has implemented their own evaluation system.

    My general impression through my limited experience with QuesTec as well that of my friend who worked hundreds of games, is that most umpires are very good. However, one of the guys who I as fan always thought was really bad turned out to be just as bad as I had always thought. It wasn’t just my imagination, he really did miss a lot more calls than his peers.

  11. bowie says:

    Morgan– I recommend a book that came out last year called “As They See ‘Em,” by Bruce Weber. It is about the world of major league umpires, how they are trained, how they get their jobs, how they get along with each other and MLB… everything. It addresses QuesTec and other forms of evaluation.

    • Bowie this is great! I am a book worm so I love book recommendations. I plan on starting a book club here. The first book we are going to read is “Men at Work” by George Will. Do you want to join me?

      Morgan

  12. bowie says:

    Definitely. See my email address (yahoo) if you want me to participate. i read lots of baseball books.

    you know who wrote a good book once that involved good discussions of how managers can use stats in the modern era? Larry Dierker. He’s a good writer. Don’t know what your relationship with him was like, but I think he’s a sharp cookie.

    I read Men at Work when it came out (1990?). Could you focus on something a bit more current?

  13. bowie says:

    by the way, Morgan, I just wanted to say that I’m very excited you started this blog. I’ve already told all my baseball loving friends.
    As a lifelong Astro fan, I became a big fan of yours as your career got going and always felt like the Astros were way too slow in bringing you up to the majors and never fully appreciated or nurtured your talents.
    good luck to you!

  14. dave says:

    As far as the difference between the rulebook strike zone and the ‘average’ current umpires strike zone–is it not possible that change to a power game has changed the batters’ swing style and the type of pitches that can be successfully hit? And that the old rulebook zone does not reflect the current situation. I mean, the purpose of having the strike zone is to make the batter responsible to swing at good pitches to hit, or suffer the consequences in the count. Maybe the umps are calling a strikezone today which better reflects the reality of what pitches are good pitches to hit in the current power game. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Maybe instead of having them call the rulebook zone, the rules should be changed to reflect the current reality of what are good pitches to hit.
    Morgan, what do you think?

    • I think your theory makes some sense. For example you might make the plate bigger and say that the whole ball has to go over it (Just an example). But “up and down” is different than “in and out”. Up and down we can “reach”. In and out cause us to bend at the waist and although we have the ability to make contact, we don’t have the ability to be in a good balanced hitting position.

      Morgan

  15. Jeff says:

    1st, very nice site. I love that a player can give true intelligent incite on the game. It can be frustrating as fan (and someone of still plays in a men’s league) to listen to sports reporters and blog sites give opinions on players and managers decisions when they don’t play the game and they only have a limited bit of information to base their opinions on.

    back to the post, I never want to see any sort of replay or computers in the game at all. I understand that with the new “retro” design parks, it’s very difficult even with replay to tell if the ball is a HR or not. So I understand why HR replay is needed, but they need to find a way to speed that up a little.

    But for every other aspect of the game it’s not needed. Part of the art of pitching is learning how the umpire is calling your pitches and adjust your game to take advantage of it. As for all the bad calls during last years Post Season (and pretty much on a weekly basis the past few years), there is no reason to have technology take over what man has been doing right for over 100 years. What I’ve seen is more umpires being caught out of position, which leads to the bad calls. That’s up to MBL and the Umpires union to work on getting better training so they can be in the position to make the correct call.

    As for those silly K Zone graphics you see on TV, people forget that the Strike zone is a four dimensional zone. It’s not a flat window at the front of the plate and it’s not where the catcher catches the ball. A ball only has to nip that four dimensional zone anywhere to be a strike.

    I very good umpire won’t get all the calls right, but all he has to do is be consistent and far with his calls and there won’t be a problem and it’s all a hitter and pitcher can ask for.

    • Jeff I like the post, but the strike zone is 2D. It actually does have to cross the front of the plate. You are correct in positioning. Next time you are at a game watch the umpires. Not only do they have hand signals, but they are constantly communicating with each other so that each umpire is in the correct spot.
      You and I agree that computers should not call balls and strikes. My take is that technology will help umpires after the game to have more consistent zones. Finally, we agree that good umpires have consistent zones. The problems always arise when the umpire calls a certain pitch early in the game and later in the game he stops calling it. That is what we are trying to fix.

      Morgan

      • Jeff says:

        I stand corrected, I guess having the window at the front of the plate adds a lot more complexity to a players positioning in the box. Do players ever take that into consideration when facing different pitchers? Say, when facing a very good sinker ball pitcher, the hitter might move up in the box to get better chance at hitting the low strikes?

        One thing I found interesting (while playing men’s league) is watching a Vet ump (two man team) teach and position a Rookie ump during a game. I really gave me a new perspective on how much work and preparation umpires have to do on every play.

        How often have you seen/suspected a ump change the way he calls pitches because a star player is hitting pitching, or the ump might have a good working relationship with the catcher, the ump knows he blew a call and is trying to make up for it or the ump might be upset or intimidated by a player or manager?

        Consistency is the key, on more than a few occasions I’ve (nicely) reminded the Ump that I expected that same low and outside pitch that he just called me out on to be called the same way next inning while I was on the mound.

        • Jeff I don’t think umpires treat players that different. I believe that I got the benefit of good calls because I never got personal with umpires. My concerns were always black and white disagreements. We do want consistency, but it is hard to get.

          Morgan

  16. Geoffrey says:

    First off, just want to say I really like your blog, it’s good to have some real insight into some of the goings on in baseball from a player’s perspective.

    With respect to your post, I was just wondering how aware you are of PITCHf/x? Are you suggesting something similar to be used by Umpires? I’m thinking a simple system that would give a red/green light to a receiver the umpire is holding indicating if the ball crossed the plate or not. I’m also guessing that you are implying that you still want the umpire to determine the height of the zone themselves as there is some room for interpretation here.

    Also when you mention in/out I assume you mean was that pitch in/out of the umpires strike zone. As in, the pitch goes to the same spot on two occasions but is called in for one, out for another.

    One final question: I often here announcers mention how Greg Maddux was given a larger strike zone than most other pitchers due to his reputation (i.e. balls in/outside getting called strikes). I was just wondering if there were any pitchers you’ve faced that also got similar benefits?

  17. Brade says:

    First of all, fantastic blog. Keep ‘em coming!

    Now, I find it really interesting that you mention how much of an effect booing had on you. And I think that makes sense–no man is an island. I would love you to do a full post about the effects of booing and critical media coverage on athletes, and who maybe handles it better than others.

    Especially in light of the David Ortiz harangue yesterday, this early in the season, clearly we see even the most “fun-loving” players are really affected by this. Do you feel like Ortiz’s anger was justified? I lean towards siding with him–I actually tend to like outspoken athletes who get a bad rap in the media. Guys like Sheffield, Bonds, Bradley, etc. might not always be right, but I love the candor. However, other athletes seem really adept at giving boring answers and being ignored by the media. Would love to get your thoughts on this whole topic.

    • I think your home crowd booing home players hurts the team. In Houston we would wait to see how quickly the fans would boo. It reached a point where it was in the first inning. Everyone thinks that it is just expected, but it isn’t. Players view that as fans hating them. That is what I think.

      Morgan

  18. Jonathan says:

    I never understood a home team booing their own player. I think fans assume it will encourage the player somehow, but I always think about the saying, “how would you like it if someone came to your office and started booing you non-stop.”

    Sorry Houston fans treated you so poorly towards the end of your time here. I’m reading your posts from most recent to earliest. After reading your Bagwell post, I was curious as to what the coaches/team leaders were telling you at the time. If I’m not mistaken, Bagwell was gone by then, but Biggio, Garner, Cruz, etc. were still there. Did they offer any insight/advice?

  19. Stephen Luftschein says:

    Here I was hoping for some real ‘dope’ for the fans on PED’s (a personal area of expertise for me after 20 years in the fitness field before, during and after my playing days!

    I agree with you, the technology will inform the human element, but one of the great things about the game is that uncertainty of the human element.
    As you know, all players want is consistency from blue.


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