Strike Zone

Since I’ve been watching baseball games more closely, I’ve had a lot of questions about the strike zone in baseball.  Just in case you don’t know what a strike zone is, if a ball is pitched in the strike zone, a strike is called, but if the ball is pitched outside of the strike zone, a ball is called.  I used to think I knew what this strike zone was – an imaginary rectangle that was as wide as home plate with the lower limit at the batter’s knees and the upper limit at the batter’s shoulders.  I think I became aware of this definition when my brothers played little league baseball.  But as I watch more games on TV, I am noticing that this imaginary rectangle may be too big.  The announcers will sometimes say the ball was “at the letters” meaning where the team logo is on the player’s jersey.  This would be below the shoulders, but these pitches are called high.  So how exactly is the strike zone defined?

Upon doing some Internet research, I now understand my confusion.  The definition of the strike zone has evolved over the years.  My definition used to be correct, but it has changed, and the strike zone has indeed been shrinking.  Here is a link to the history of the strike zone at MLB.com.  No wonder this is confusing!  The present day definition of 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 bottom of the knees. The Strike Zone shall be determined from the batter’s stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball.”  And the bottom of the knees addition was just made in 1996.  I had no idea this evolution had been going on.  Now I understand why pitches at the shoulders are high.

This definition also lends itself to differences in human interpretation.  The horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants could be defined differently from umpire to umpire.  So there is definitely a human element to strike calling, thus leading to the ejection of several managers who disagree with an umpire’s call.  Often the broadcasters will discuss a particular umpire’s specific strike zone – some tend to call low balls strikes, some tend to call high balls strikes.  The pitcher then has to adjust to this bias in order to get strike calls.  It’s all so interesting.  I had no idea all this was going on before (did you??).

So how do you get around this human bias?  You resort to technology.  There is actually a technology in every ballpark that will tell you if a pitch is a strike or a ball.  On some telecasts, you can see a little box that represents the strike zone, and then a dot once the ball is pitched that shows if the ball was in the strike zone or not.  Why do the leagues not use this to call games instead of a home plate umpire?  I think the answer lies in the fact that there is a lot of tradition in baseball, and it is extremely hard to change any of these traditions.  Any other thoughts on this?  Let me know.  You can read more about the debate over using technology in baseball here.

All this talk about strike zones reminds me of a funny story I once heard about an eccentric team owner.  His name was Bill Veeck, and he would do just about anything to increase the attendance at his team’s games.  Once, he signed a little person to a contract because his strike zone was so small.  In his first and only at bat, he was walked on four straight pitches.  Pretty silly.  I guess baseball is just a game, after all.  Here’s a link if you would like to learn more about Veeck’s antics.

And in keeping with the silly theme, here is Sunday’s spit count:

July  31st

Giants:

–         Sandoval 3

–         Whiteside 2

–         Beltran 2

–         Belt 2

–         Keppinger 1

Reds:

–         Cueto 11

–         Phillips 6

–         Votto 5

–         Frazier 3

–         Renteria 3

–         Bruce 2

–         Alonso 2

–         Baker 1 (yes, managers spit, too)

Misc.:

–         Umpire 1

Game Spit Master General = Cueto at 11 spits

Sandoval led the Giants with 3.

That’s a total of 44 spits during a 2 hour and 40 minute game for an average of more than 1 spit every 4 minutes.

Once again, the Spit Master General was the winning pitcher.  Maybe that is Zito’s problem – he needs to spit more (can’t believe I just typed that).  I noticed that the Giants didn’t start spitting until the 4th inning, adding to the evidence that spitting increases as the game wears on.  I need to apologize to Halle for doubting her spitting sunflower seed shells on the field theory.  Today, both of Beltran’s spits and one of Votto’s were sunflower seed shell spits on the field.  Do they keep the seeds in their pockets??  I would think this would be too distracting, but I guess I’m wrong.  Still, it only accounted for a small percentage of on-field spits.

Today, I also noticed an abbreviation used on the Comcast SportsNet scorecard that I hadn’t shared with you.  They use F for fly-out.  For example, if it says F7, the player flied out to the left fielder (remember the position codes??).

Katerina commented, “I’m glad we got Beltran especially since the Mets are still paying most of his salary. I still don’t understand how that works.”  The Giants are only responsible for a portion of his annual salary because he will only be playing with them for a few months.  If I recall correctly, I think the Mets also gave the Giants some money in the transaction because the prospect they got in exchange is very good.  Hope that explains it.

Now, I will take a moment to talk to my boys directly.  Swept by the REDS????  What is up with that???  Take a deep breath, get some rest on the plane, and get ready to trample the Diamondbacks this week.  We need to stay in first place in the west.  And bye-bye, Brandon Crawford.  So sad to see you go.  Hopefully, you’ll be back sometime soon, hitting better than ever.  GO GIANTS!!

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