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Zen and the Art of Strike Zone Maintenance (part 1)

Dec 15, 2018
338
63
CT
You might think it is generous, but when you take an exam do the easy questions count the same amount as the hard ones? When a batter takes a CU right over the heart of the plate that she was sitting on, does it count as much for the BA as every other hit?
It's a decent thread - don't derail it with imperfect (or bad) analogies. (and yes, I have taken plenty of exams where questions counted for different percentages...though a ball put in play is more like an exam where the answer was filled out for you).
 
Feb 13, 2021
291
43
MI
That's generous math, considering a swing percentage of somewhere between 30% and 50% (meaning there's nothing to miss or get correct really on pitches swung at, except the batter swinging).

After further off-thread conversation with Greatday, I agree that, for the purposes of what I am trying to say, using a different metric would be more intellectually sound, since some of the pitches result in a swing-and-miss and others result in balls in play. The easiest figures we could both find are from the MLB where approximately 40% of pitches are swung on and either missed or put in play in some fashion.

So; Approx 240 pitches in a 7 inning game, subtract the 40% that require no ball/strike judgment leaves 144 pitches that will require a ball/strike decision. Divide that between both teams means for each pitcher there will about 72 pitches per team.

I have said that in my own mind, if I end a day and would like to have a second look at 4 or fewer pitches because I just wasn't sure I got it right, then I thought I did a solid job at the plate. Let's go one step further and make the assumption that I did in fact get those 4 wrong, and remember they are calls that could have gone for or against the pitcher, that is it could be a strike I called a ball or vice versa. That means if I get fewer than 140 of 144 pitches correct, I think I did a poor job for both of the teams. that is still 97.2%.

The purpose of this part of Zen and the Art of Strike Zone Maintenance is to put into perspective just how accurate even umpires who miss some pitches throughout the game actually are. It is not to excuse the misses, not one of us feels good when we even THINK we got one wrong. It is perhaps a chance to compare it to other percentages in the game and what level ew think is a success. A .972 win%, a .972 fielding%, a .972 ball/strike%. I think we can all agree that is a solid season.
 
Jan 24, 2020
28
13
Watched a HS game yesterday where one team was getting the outside corner, and the other wasn't (DD wasn't playing so no horse in the race). As I continued to watch, the team that was getting the corner had their C set up off the plate and drift in to catch it. The team that wasn't getting the call had the C set up just off the center of the plate and drifted outside to the pitch. If I'm not mistaken, the second C cost her team several walks because she forced the Ump to set up further inside and so his perception was compromised. BTW when that second catcher was replaced by a more experienced C in the late innings they got the outside corner as well. I thought Ump did a good job on the whole. So this is a long winded way to ask the umps here: When you expect to get 98% of the pitches called correctly how do you compensate for this type of situation?
 
Oct 2, 2011
3,813
113
Florida
.... deleted.... So this is a long winded way to ask the umps here: When you expect to get 98% of the pitches called correctly how do you compensate for this type of situation?
I set up in the slot and adjust to get the best-uninhibited view of the zone. I am meant to be in a position where I can see the outside low corner AND the batter knees easily (which if you are in a good slot position you can). The reality is unless the catcher is setting up WAY inside, the umpire is going to set up close to the same. If the catcher moves off the plate outside, I am not going with her - I stay in the same slot.

In terms of purely calling balls and strikes, the catcher's setup and how they move doesn't matter as much as people like to believe to most decent umpires (and yes I know it does influence a lot of umpires even if it shouldn't, and many do things they shouldn't and so on - it is a mixed crowd out there). It certainly helps if the catcher RECEIVES THE STRIKE as a strike and is not reaching for it in any direction, but the actual strike decision is made as the ball crosses the plate (or doesn't as it may be). Catchers who move weirdly or a lot and block that view, I work my best to try and predict and get around them, but they don't make it easy. I think I can say that ALL plate umpires prefer a very quiet, low movement catcher.

In fact, the scenario you put forward normally works the other way around - if a catcher sets up for a pitch completely off the plate, it can be difficult to catch it like a strike - though moving inwards into what is probably behind the plate is a decent way to do that.
 
Oct 15, 2013
485
43
Seattle, WA
I expect umpires to get about 60-70% of called balls and strikes right, not because I have a low opinion of umpires, but because they’re human and that’s about the best we can expect from humans.
 
Feb 13, 2021
291
43
MI
In terms of purely calling balls and strikes, the catcher's setup and how they move doesn't matter as much as people like to believe to most decent umpires (and yes I know it does influence a lot of umpires even if it shouldn't, and many do things they shouldn't and so on - it is a mixed crowd out there). It certainly helps if the catcher RECEIVES THE STRIKE as a strike and is not reaching for it in any direction, but the actual strike decision is made as the ball crosses the plate (or doesn't as it may be). Catchers who move weirdly or a lot and block that view, I work my best to try and predict and get around them, but they don't make it easy. I think I can say that ALL plate umpires prefer a very quiet, low movement catcher.

What Marriard says here if worth its weight in gold. However, as much as it SHOULDN'T be in a perfect world, throwing strikes is really a 2-person operation, the pitcher and the catcher. Can a C cost the pitcher borderline strikes by taking them out of the zone, or receiving it awkwardly, or dropping it out-right> Yes, they can. Do any of those things affect where the ball was when it crossed the plate? No, they don't. On the converse side, a good catcher can get the borderline balls called FOR her pitcher by doing things the right way. How can any of these things affect the umpire if they have no bearing on where the pitch was when it crosses the plate?

Umpires want to call strikes, Ps and HCs want us to call strikes, but if a pitch is one of those few each game that are just too close to tell for sure, if a pitch is truly one of those that could go either way, the laces just catch the edge of the plate, the drop ball falls off the table 6 inches too early, then we need other cues.. Sometimes it even comes down to what a coach expects to have called. If it is truly a pitch that could go either way, and the C doesn't handle it cleanly, there are very few if any HCs that even think twice if it is called a ball. There expectation is that if their C (or the other team's C) couldn't keep it off the dirt, then the pitch MUST have been low.
 
Dec 11, 2010
3,263
113
;) some good tips in here for hitters also 👍
Yep! Both are trying to see the ball as well as they can!

There may be tips for catchers too, idk. Thinking about how strikes are perceived by umpire and how ball is caught by catcher affects that.
 

RADcatcher

Possibilities & Opportunities!
Dec 13, 2019
3,051
113
California
Thinking about how strikes are perceived by umpire and how ball is caught by catcher affects that.
Thats a great topic!!

I have heard some umpires say what the catcher does doesn't matter...
ie: how they catch it or what they do upon catching it.
( really some umpires dont want to admit it ;) hand is quicker than the eye :))
That said,
Have many times over the years been complimented by umpires appreciating great pitch framing technique/mechanics.
Even hear the word catchers consistancy is helpful.

Years, decades really, of paying attention to this,
I know for a fact how the catcher receives the ball can make a positive or negative influence.

Really enjoy watching games where I can see where certain framing mechanics tend to be favorable to the pitcher. And the opposite team's catcher has some different mechanics then hearing people on that team start to chime at the Umpire being unfair about their strike zone. ;)


Catchers posture/crouch and frame matters!!!
 
Last edited:
Oct 2, 2011
3,813
113
Florida
Thats a great topic!!

I have heard some umpires say what the catcher does doesn't matter...
ie: how they catch it or what they do upon catching it.
( really some umpires dont want to admit it ;) hand is quicker than the eye :))
That said,
Have many times over the years been complimented by umpires appreciating great pitch framing technique/mechanics.
Even hear the word catchers consistancy is helpful.

Years, decades really, of paying attention to this,
I know for a fact how the catcher receives the ball can make a positive or negative influence.

Really enjoy watching games where I can see where certain framing mechanics tend to be favorable to the pitcher. And the opposite team's catcher has some different mechanics then hearing people on that team start to chime at the Umpire being unfair about their strike zone. ;)
Some annoying truths about umpires in youth softball (and a lot of other sports):
  1. There is a school of umpires (mainly older) who were taught (or just believe) that if the catcher catches it like a strike, you call it a strike (no matter what). This is NOT what is currently taught (or at least I have not been to any training that continues to teach this)
  2. There are a large number of 'self-taught' umpires that have very limited formal training - in softball, many have never been taught how to call balls and strikes. So they come to the 'caught it like a strike, it is a strike' school themselves because they have never been taught any different.
  3. Untaught umpires are often 'crowdpleasers' - i.e. they think that one of the big goals of umpiring is to keep everyone happy to smooth the game out. So they take the easy way out - this is where 'makeup calls', catchers who can drag in a ball for a strike getting strikes, socializing with crowds/coaches/players, calling softball myths, ALWAYS checking with their partners, , etc, etc come into play. This may work short-term, but can lead to long-term consequences and games spirally out of control.
  4. Umpires are human(really) - so even subconsciously, a catcher who is making life easier is going to make them happy. I know how having a good catcher makes my job SO much easier. That isn't JUST good receiving - but also being 'quiet', not setting up in the slot, catching strikes as strikes, etc, etc...

I wish points 1-3 were not true, but I see it every week - and I am sure most of the other people on this forum do as well.

You can see how catchers can have an effect on balls and strikes. The better the umpire, the less it should and the less they are fooled by garbage framing. Bad framing will cost you big time - leave the clear balls as balls.
 
Dec 11, 2010
3,263
113
Really enjoy watching games where I can see where certain framing mechanics tend to be favorable to the pitcher. And the opposite team's catcher has some different mechanics then hearing people on that team start to chime at the Umpire being unfair about their strike zone. ;)
It is a dark art.

Good catchers get strikes for their pitchers. I don’t claim to know how or why. I do know it when I see it happening, most of the time anyway, lol

You can see how catchers can have an effect on balls and strikes. The better the umpire, the less it should and the less they are fooled by garbage framing. Bad framing will cost you big time - leave the clear balls as balls.
Agree. Good framing or receiving doesn’t look like an attempt to influence. It just looks like a ball caught at the edge of the zone.
 

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