Baseball is still America’s greatest sport, but it’s also great at one other thing: being consistently inconsistent. The Commissioner and Owners want a faster game. Fans want more offense, because let’s face it, chicks dig the long ball! But, now we want to study “shrinking” the strike zone this season.
According to research by Hardball Times John Roegele and Florida Professor Brian Mills, the strike zone has “jumped” 40 square inches from 435 to 475 square inches. Their findings suggest that Home Plate Umps are calling the lower strike now, which I do agree with, but I would take it a step further and suggest that Umpires are also calling pitches 2, 3, and 5 inches off the corners.
So, as a refresher, because MLB has changed this rule a few times over the last 100 years, let’s take a look at the actual rule book on what the strike zone definition is. MLB rule 2.00: 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. So, basically, by calling the “low strike” umpires are calling it correctly, according to the rule. Grant it, just as you have those who call strikes 5 inches off the corner, there are those calling strikes that are much lower than the “hallow beneath the kneecap.”
Baseball has tried a few things over the years to perfect the strike zone, so this study shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of us. Probably the most comical attempt was during Spring Training in 1970 down in Ft. Lauderdale. Baseball brought in a few machines, equipped with laser beams, that were supposed to be the perfect umpire with the perfect strike zone. Unfortunately, after a few days, it didn’t take Thurmon Munson long to figure out that the lasers could be manipulated by setting up closer to the plate and sticking his glove into the laser beams for a quick and easy strike.
I agree the game needs to be faster. I also realize MLB is going to choose options to speed up the game that won’t affect their revenue, so clearly shorter commercials are off the table. So yes, even when we are watching the Diamondbacks vs Phillies in May, and both are already out of playoff contention, we still are going to be forced to have full commercial breaks and a near 4 hour game. Shrinking the strike zone is the opposite thing to do when you want to speed up a game. Walks and runs scored will most certainly increase, as well as Pitcher and Manager ejections for arguing balls and strikes, which also would delay the game, although this would definitely bring an entertainment factor.
Baseball needs to crack down on umpires who have an inconsistent strike zone, and who call wide strikes. They also need to find ways to speed up the game, while not being afraid to embrace the pitcher duals and defensive juggernaut 1-0 games. Keep the batters in the batters box, yes, this rule has been announced, but it has to be consistently enforced to have a real effect; have some variation of a pitch clock (this will continue to be tested in the Minors during the 2015 season); automatic intentional walks by motioning the batter over to first base, are just some suggestions to improve America’s greatest game, but shrinking the strike zone isn’t one of them.
Right now, baseball is just “studying ” this issue for this upcoming 2015 season. However, judging by this strange quote from Mets GM Sandy Alderson, who is heading up the committee, it almost sounds as this study is all but a formality. Alderson is quoted as saying, “I don’t think the Playing Rules Committee at the time of the last change ever expected that the umpires would call strikes at the hollow of the knee, to their credit, the umpires now are.” Official changes would not start until the 2016 season and would require approval from baseballs Playing Rules Committee.