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Enforcing the rules “ruined” baseball? Huh. How about that.

Sep 4, 2014, 2:06 PM EDT

Strike zone

There’s an article over at The Atlantic that makes a good observation: since the introduction of Pitch f/x and its attendant camera-aided Zone Evaluation (ZE) system which tracks missed calls after each game and judges umpires by their accuracy, strikeouts have gone way up and offense has gone down. Why?

Before cameras, it turned out, umpires had been ignoring strikes around the knees. Pitches between 18 and 30 inches above the plate, which are technically in the strike zone, had been called balls for years. But the presence of cameras encouraged umpires to lower the strike zone . . . a lower strike zone invited more low pitches, more low strikes, and more strike outs. These variables on their own explain a good chunk of baseball’s offensive drought.


The conclusion, in the form of the article’s headline:


That’s funny. Because the way I read it, what allegedly “ruined” baseball here is a more accurate enforcement of its strike zone as defined.

Which really means that nothing has been “ruined” at all. Because baseball can, if it wants to, change the strike zone. It has many, many times in its history and, if it deems that offense has been reduced to unacceptable extremes, it can simply raise or shrink the zone.  But I guess a story entitled “The simple technology that improved umpiring but which led to an unintended consequence which can easily be remedied” doesn’t really grab the reader.

Personally, I want umpires to call an accurate zone. Whether that results in offense going up or down I don’t care, because that can be dealt with in many ways. But having umpires call balls balls and strikes strikes is pretty damn important. As far as that goes, Pitch f/x and Zone Evaluation have helped baseball, not ruined it.


  1. sandwiches4ever - Sep 4, 2014 at 2:16 PM

    So after years of handwringing about how there was too much offense and the game had turned into HR Derby, we’re now treated to “there are too many strikeouts! Not enough offense!”? Good gravy.

    • 18thstreet - Sep 4, 2014 at 2:56 PM

      Well, one can believe that there’s too many strikeouts and be neutral about how many runs per game is the right amount. Balls in play are more interesting, in my opinion, than strikeouts.

      • scoutsaysweitersisabust - Sep 4, 2014 at 4:26 PM

        I couldn’t agree more. I want balls in play. I want defense to matter. I want 3-4 hits in an inning rather than 3 strikeouts and a home-run. (I dig the long ball, but I also dig the double into the gap or the opposite field single.) Although I do not believe that a more accurately called strike zone is a result of additional strike outs, rather a mentality of free swinging players and swing for power players.

      • simon94022 - Sep 4, 2014 at 5:16 PM

        Yep. Anything that moves the game away from “Three True Outcomes” is good.

        The most exciting plays in baseball are the inside-the-park home run, the triple, the safety squeeze, stealing home, and any spectacular outfield catch or infield fielding play. Any tweaks of the rules or enforcement policies should be designed around promoting these plays and reducing strikeouts, walks and home runs. Whether that means more total runs scored or less does not matter.

      • 18thstreet - Sep 4, 2014 at 5:20 PM

        Thanks, everyone.

        One of the few things that I appreciate about the NFL is its willingness to tweak its rules in order to get a desired outcome. They want more passing, so they encourage it. They want fewer field goals and more TDs, so they make FGs a little harder. I dislike just about everything else about football, but that’s one aspect that I think they’re getting right.

      • churdus - Sep 4, 2014 at 6:10 PM

        you’re right, but won’t that just slow down play (another thing ‘ruining’ baseball)?

      • 18thstreet - Sep 5, 2014 at 9:18 AM

        I don’t think it will slow things down. More two-pitch groundouts as the alternative to 8-pitch strikeouts should move things along.

    • sophiethegreatdane - Sep 4, 2014 at 3:33 PM

      Is there any real evidence, cited in the article, that definitively points to Pitch/FX as being the cause of said offensive decline? Or did he just make the claim out of thin air? (I don’t have time to read it right now, or I wouldn’t be asking)

      • [citation needed] fka COPO - Sep 4, 2014 at 4:47 PM

  2. slizzyslizz - Sep 4, 2014 at 2:17 PM

    Baseball is dying…

    • nothanksimdriving123 - Sep 4, 2014 at 2:58 PM

      Don’t know about baseball dying. I do know yesterday’s Nats/Dodgers game nearly killed me.

    • yahmule - Sep 4, 2014 at 6:25 PM

      Baseball, like the rest of us, is day to day.

  3. cubfan531 - Sep 4, 2014 at 2:25 PM

    I’d much rather baseball be in a pitching dominated era than see debacles like Eric Gregg behind the plate in the ’97 NLCS.

  4. kalinedrive - Sep 4, 2014 at 2:27 PM

    Across a range of networks including Fox’s Saturday game, TBS, and ESPN, ratings have fallen by between 25 and 35 percent since baseball’s collective hitting slump started in the middle of the last decade.

    There are also more options for viewing baseball now, especially for viewing the team you actually follow. I might never watch a Saturday game involving the Cardinals and Cubs, but I watch almost every Tigers game on, and for the last few years on Extra Innings. I also pay for the privilege.

    The amounts Fox, TBS, and ESPN bid for broadcast rights are ridiculous, especially for the regular season ratings they get, but I guess they want the postseason rights enough to overpay for the regular season. Which allows owners to do the same with star players.

    • scoutsaysweitersisabust - Sep 4, 2014 at 4:34 PM

      TV Ratings universally across the board are dropping, at around 25-35 percent incidentally. Of course I’m sure that has NOTHING to do with the fact that when I turn on my tv I have options of 500 channels, the internet, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, YouTube, Twitch, downloaded and streamed movies, my cable provider has their own streaming tv, and I can watch whatever I want on the web. Oh, and I also have gaming consoles and cell phones all vying for my entertainment.

      But yea, the problem is pitch f/x.

  5. moogro - Sep 4, 2014 at 2:28 PM

    The offensive draught is partly because hitters have to rely on humans calling balls and strikes instead of relying on a consistent zone.

  6. aceinthehole12 - Sep 4, 2014 at 2:29 PM

    Lol apparently everything has “ruined” baseball. People are getting annoying with this stuff now.

  7. El Bravo - Sep 4, 2014 at 2:34 PM

    This is the best era of baseball ever in my opinion. Mo’ accurate strike zones. Mo’ accurate calls after reviews. Mo’ balanced schedule. Mo’ drug testing. Mo’ Cubans. Mo’ bat flips. Mo’ Ks. Mo’ no nos and perfectos. Mo’ contending teams. Mo’ money per team. What is the problem with baseball again? Too slow? Fine, I agree, but it is fixable without destroying all of the wonderful plusses to the current game that I note above.

    • Rich Stowe - Sep 4, 2014 at 2:38 PM

      but sadly no mo’ Mo’ because he retired last year

    • Francisco (FC) - Sep 4, 2014 at 4:45 PM

      This is the best era of baseball ever in my opinion. Mo’ accurate strike zones. Mo’ accurate calls after reviews. Mo’ balanced schedule. Mo’ drug testing. Mo’ Cubans. Mo’ bat flips. Mo’ Ks. Mo’ no nos and perfectos. Mo’ contending teams. Mo’ money per team. What is the problem with baseball again?

      Too much Slo’ Mo’.

      • El Bravo - Sep 4, 2014 at 4:57 PM

        Super slo mo makes everything better.

  8. thisdamnbox - Sep 4, 2014 at 2:34 PM

    Maybe ratings wouldn’t be as bad on those television networks if they broadened the range of teams show in their Game of the Week broadcasts…I grew tired of tuning in to see the Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox and Angels playing week in, week out, a decade ago.

    • gloccamorra - Sep 4, 2014 at 4:01 PM

      You must not live on the east coast where about half the country’s population lives, one quarter of them in the northeast. That’s where the eyes are, that’s what the advertisers pay for, and that’s where the “game of the week” gets their teams most of the time.

      You’ll see Dodgers-Giants and Angels-Athletics for a change of pace, and a few teams on the periphery (Seattle, San Diego, Minnesota, the Florida teams) if they’re playing one of the Favored Ones. You’ll hear about “east coast bias” from fans of teams west of the Mississippi, but midwest and Great Lakes teams have a beef too.

    • pbastille - Sep 4, 2014 at 4:04 PM

      yanks-red sox games were broadcast nationally on back to back nights by ESPN and MLB network this week. Usually its ok when they show one team I hate, because I can root for the opposing team. When its 2 teams I hate, cleaning up in the basement and organizing the spice cabinet are preferable options

      • historiophiliac - Sep 4, 2014 at 4:10 PM

        So you went with alphabetically or by size of container?

      • El Bravo - Sep 4, 2014 at 4:26 PM

        By amount of usage per spice, then by size, and finally alphabetically. Salt, pepper, dried oregano, cinnamon, and red pepper are examples in the front. Nutmeg, cumin and allspice are some in the back. Unless you have a buttload of spices, that is the way to go.

      • El Bravo - Sep 4, 2014 at 4:27 PM

        …and yes, I’m aware that salt isn’t a spice…but you can’t have pepa without salt and some dj spinderella.

      • pbastille - Sep 4, 2014 at 4:32 PM

        alphabetically. easier to keep track of them when you have to buy a replacement and its in a different sized container

      • historiophiliac - Sep 4, 2014 at 4:56 PM

        Free your mind, El Bravo. Move the nutmeg to the front with the rosemary and put that red pepper…somewhere else.

  9. historiophiliac - Sep 4, 2014 at 2:39 PM

    The part outlined with the dotted lines is Miggy’s hitting zone. The blue part is everyone else’s.

    • ppirrello - Sep 4, 2014 at 2:52 PM

      so would that make the entire image Vlad’s zone?

      • nbjays - Sep 4, 2014 at 2:58 PM

        …and the whole page is Yogi’s zone.

    • moogro - Sep 4, 2014 at 2:59 PM

      Between the plate and the foot is part of Trout’s.

      • historiophiliac - Sep 4, 2014 at 3:01 PM

        Is that a short joke?

      • Paper Lions - Sep 4, 2014 at 3:23 PM

        No, just a reference to the fact that Trout often looks like he’s golfing when hitting HRs.

  10. The Dangerous Mabry - Sep 4, 2014 at 2:42 PM

    I thought that we, the internet, had agreed the only factor which changes offensive numbers in baseball is steroid use. The strike zone clearly has nothing to do with anything.

    • Paper Lions - Sep 4, 2014 at 3:25 PM

      Or changes in the sizes of ball parks (those built in the 90s were almost all good for offenses, those built since then have almost all been pitchers parks), or the use of amphetamines, or changes in the ball composition.

      • Reflex - Sep 4, 2014 at 5:03 PM

        Wow, I am honestly stunned. I thought you were ignoring the case I was making for ballparks being a factor…

      • Paper Lions - Sep 4, 2014 at 5:05 PM

        I’ve never ignored the effect of the shift in tendencies of parks being built in the general trend of power numbers. That effect still doesn’t explain why HR rates increased by 50% over night, they built a lot of parks, but they didn’t build them that quickly.

      • Reflex - Sep 4, 2014 at 5:22 PM

        The secondary factor is that the parks largely replaced pitchers parks, often extreme pitchers parks. Even the one pitchers park that was built in the 90’s, Pac Bell, replaced a far more extreme pitchers park, Candlestick.

        I don’t think it had everything to do with it. But I think it was a major factor, along with expansion, better training, more analytics (which btw had been available for pitchers/catchers on notepads for decades but only in the 90’s did hitters largely begin using them), better nutrition and, yes, to some degree steroids (although not the degree people like to believe).

        The curve back to pitching has been largely a reaction and regression to the mean, the newer parks have largely been pitchers parks (and like before, often replacing hitters parks), the end of domed baseball being one of the casualties, pitchers getting more extensive data on pitch effectiveness (Ground Control being one big example), strike zone accuracy, and a larger talent pool that has more than countered the effects of the four expansion teams added in the 90’s.

        There are several problems with the ball composition theory. It too ‘perfectly’ explains the offensive increase, the sites you link to credit it with essentially *all* of the offensive gain. There also seems to be no point where it ‘went away’, despite offense obviously dropping off. If it were more of a factor than the things that changed in the 90’s, it should be a major factor in the swing back the other direction over the past decade, yet it does not appear to be.

        It is too easy to explain the offensive contours of the past 25 years via more likely factors, ones that can be measured and require no conspiracy theories. As a result, there is little reason to even bring it up. Sure it could have happened, but there just isn’t any evidence aside from some people’s opinion that offense jumped more than it should have in a single season (I don’t agree with that assessment btw, it was on a broad trend upwards for several years before, and even the 94 and 95 seasons had equivalents during the pitching decade of the 80’s).

  11. Old Gator - Sep 4, 2014 at 2:42 PM

    I agree; the offensive drought can be dealt with in many ways. Let’s begin by putting an end to steroid testing.

    • SocraticGadfly - Sep 4, 2014 at 2:54 PM

      Right. Craig asked for that yesterday, didn’t he? Of course, he then just wrung his hands over Bosch 5 minutes ago:

      • Craig Calcaterra - Sep 4, 2014 at 3:31 PM

        And i’ve made a pretty clear distinction between drug users and drug dealers — especially ones like Bosch who dealt to teenagers — for quite some time as well.

      • pbastille - Sep 4, 2014 at 4:07 PM

        Trolling Craig used to be so much more fun before he switched therapists. But good for you for defending your position more frequently, Craig

      • yahmule - Sep 4, 2014 at 6:30 PM

        Steroid usage among teens has everything to do with steroid usage among pro athletes. Anyone who denies that is lying to themselves.

    • temporarilyexiled - Sep 4, 2014 at 3:50 PM

      Excellent suggestion…or just excellent that you suggested it. We all need to lighten up. So is it crazy to suggest that more low strikes means more hitters swinging at low pitches means more ground balls means more opportunity to look more closely at the neighborhood play at second base and make double plays somewhat less automatic thus prolonging innings and the offense and is this sentence a bit too run on?

  12. nomoreliesfortoday - Sep 4, 2014 at 2:53 PM

    First time reading an article?

    Headlines are not designed to be informative or give you an accurate idea of the article, they are designed to get you to read it.

    • Jack Glasscock's Cup - Sep 4, 2014 at 3:03 PM

      kinda like this post’s title? yer learnin me.

    • Paper Lions - Sep 4, 2014 at 3:49 PM

      In this case, the headline was an accurate characterization of the article, it is the article that is way off base, not the headline.

  13. rmccleary97 - Sep 4, 2014 at 3:27 PM

    The problem with calling the strike zone was never the low pitches – it was calling the high pitches. For years, the pitch that went over the plate and was at the belly button was a ball; even at the waist, most umpires were calling it a ball. It effectively rendered the strike zone to be from the top of the knees to the upper thigh. Umpires are doing good to know where the outside part of the plate is; as much as they screw that up (and the plate is fixed on the ground and never moves), one can’t possibly think they’ll all be able to accurately figure out what the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the pants is on a batter. Go back to “armpits” (which they can reasonably see when they’re in the stance behind the catcher), and then work on them calling the high strike; if they succeed there, then we can start worrying about getting them to learn when a pitch is inside/outside of the plate.

    • gloccamorra - Sep 4, 2014 at 4:10 PM

      I don’t know how many years you’re talking about, but I remember guys like Curt Gowdy saying, “that’s a strike at the letters.” That was when umpires had balloon protectors and stood upright. They were pretty good with high pitches and on both inside and outside, but were guessing at low pitches, making sinkerball specialists very effective.

      Now with umpires looking over the catcher’s shoulder on the inside, they’re calling the low and the inside pitches accurately, but guessing on outside pitches (where most pitchers throw), and they won’t call a strike on anything above their eye level, even though the top of the zone is 5-6 inches higher. Anybody in favor or re-positioning the umpires?

      • moogro - Sep 4, 2014 at 7:15 PM

        It’s shocking how taboo this conversation is. Great points. People need to strap on the gear and umpire to realize you can’t see the strike zone. Baseball is a system based on a lot of guessing by (sometimes lazy and stiff) umpires each game.

  14. miguelcairo - Sep 4, 2014 at 3:37 PM

    Pitch/fx on-screen during games is stupid. So friggin stupid.

    • 18thstreet - Sep 4, 2014 at 5:02 PM

      Really? I like it. I enjoy seeing that the pitcher is trying to work one side of the plate or the other. Stuff like that.

  15. miguelcairo - Sep 4, 2014 at 3:41 PM

    And is does suck that now a fastball over the middle of the plate an inch above the belt is “high.” A ball.

    • Paper Lions - Sep 4, 2014 at 3:53 PM

      That would suck. Luckily, it isn’t true.

  16. candlestickkid - Sep 4, 2014 at 5:57 PM

    I think the enforcement of the strike zone, as the article states, is the cause of the results we’ve seen. The variable that has not changed, is the batters becoming accustomed to the “new”, lower strike zone. Once the batters reprogram their brains to the new zone, it should level off. The batters have been working with a specific strike zone their entire careers, and now pitches that they are accustomed to being called balls are being called strikes.

  17. bluntsmokinskinsfan - Sep 4, 2014 at 7:28 PM

    A consistent strike zone is important

  18. jdillydawg - Sep 4, 2014 at 8:01 PM

    The ironic thing about this article is the author calling out the Atlantic for an attention grabbing headline. Isn’t that what they teach you in Journalism 101, these days? Grab the attention, then just write about something that sort of relates to the topic?

    That said, I don’t even know why they have behind the plate umpires anymore. Look, technology made them perfect! Oh wait, Ray Charles can now be an umpire with today’s techology.

    Umpires are obsolete. Technology wins. And I think that’s pretty sad.

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