In My View
The other day , Joe Torre sent out a memo to all MLB managers asking them to refrain from arguing balls and strikes in order to bring some sort of civility back in to this great game of ours . As if the integrity of an umpire is off limits to question ? We were then treated on the MLB Network to a beautiful montage of a dozen or so awful calls that prompted the outrage from several managers including the skipper of my beloved Chicago Cubs , Joe Maddon – a man known for upholding those values we all covet – restraint , civility , humility , and treating others with respect . Joe Torre has unwittingly lit the torch that I have been crusading to be lit for several years now . It is time for MLB to incorporate the K-Zone , the Pitch Trax , Pitch fX , the ESZ ( Electronic Strike Zone ) – Robo Ump for lack of a better term . I will bullet point my argument with hope to create a compelling case .
Why is K-Zone used?
Is it for the entertainment value ? Or the awesome graphics ? No ! The answer is . . . . drum roll please . . . . to EVALUATE the performance of the umpire ! To me this is a no brainer that begs the question . . . . ” Why don’t we just use that instead ? ” If we can be perfect , then why on earth aren’t we ? If not now , then when ? Hitting a baseball is hard enough . Pitchers are throwing harder than ever . We have the technology to measure the vertical and horizontal movement on the ball as well as the RPM spin rate . We can slow it down to a bajillion frames per millisecond . Not only does this technology provide me as a professional hitting instructor with a plethora of incredibly valuable information to utilize in my teaching , it enables umpires to be absolutely beyond a shadow of a doubt the means to be 100% accurate in their strike zone judgment . You cannot argue with a machine . Replay has been so good for this game ( poor Armando Galarraga – Jim Joyce Got Heeeeeeeeem didn’t he ? ) that it has leveled the playing field ( with some restrictions ) . The managers opinion matters now ! It is time to begin ” The Era of the K-Zone”.
Reasons for implementing K-Zone
It makes it fair for both sides . Umpires , on average according to K-Zone , call strikes on pitches out of the zone that were not swung at between 8 – 14 times per game . This is totally unacceptable . I have personally witnessed 34 strike calls ( yes . . . I counted every last one of them ) , according to K-Zone , in ONE game . THIS . . . is PATHETIC ! And it is NOT the same for both sides . In the above mentioned game , 24 went to one team and 10 to the other . For FAR TOO LONG pitchers have enjoyed and reaped the benefits of HUMAN ERROR ( see Gregg Maddux and Tom Glavine ) . The statistics show that pitchers have a tremendous built in advantage in this game . The best hitters in the game fail to get a hit on average between 65 and 70% of the time . Good hitters between 71 and 75% of the time . We have saber metrics that show everything . Hitters are swinging at an alarming number of pitches out of the strike zone . When a pitcher doesn’t have to throw a strike to get a hitter out , why should he ? The umpires play a huge roll in these results . Hitters are forced to adjust to the UMPIRES strike zone instead of the strike zone defined by MLB , which , NOW , can be measured to perfection . Hitters are not rewarded for having the ability to discern between a pitch in the zone and one out of the zone . Baseball is the only sport that tolerates the shortcomings of human beings as a result and inevitably has an effect on the outcome of the game and / or the personal accomplishments of the individual . What if _______________________________ ( you fill in the blank) . MLB has a built in component of incompetence that can show up at the most critical moments of the game . We could not fix this, until now . . . IF we can be PERFECT , then WHY aren’t we ?
A Major League Hitter certainly has a better eye for the strike zone than an umpire
How can a 35 – 40 – 50 – 60 or even a 70 year old umpire have better strike zone judgment than a MLB hitter in his prime ? Or a 15 year veteran ? One would automatically think that an umpire, who has seen probably 10 times as many pitches as a MLB hitter has , would be better at strike zone judgment but they are not . ALL pitches in the strike zone are hittable. Move it just 1 ” out of the zone and it becomes near impossible to hit . MLB hitters know how long their arms are and where to stand in the batters box in order to have complete vertical and horizontal plate coverage. The numbers do not lie . When a hitter looks at strike three out of the zone , where do you think the pitcher is going to throw that pitch when he gets to two strikes on the hitter again ? Probably the same spot ? Only 2-3 more inches out of the zone ? Why ? Because they can ! Fact : over 30 % of ALL THE STRIKES thrown by pitchers in the MLB last year were either called or swung at OUT OF THE K-ZONE ! This is absolutely incredible . A pitcher , who has the built in advantage of the failure component , doesn’t have to throw a strike 3 out of every 10 pitches he delivers to the plate to get hitters out . This , in my view , is directly attributed to the umpire . The hitter is forced to adjust and try to hit an unhittable pitch ! Doesn’t seem fair does it ? But K-Zone is fair .
The hitter is in a better position than the umpire to judge the pitch
K-Zone defines a strike as a pitch that crosses the FRONT of the plate in a rectangular box that is 17″ wide and VARIES in height between the bottom of the knee cap to just below the pectoral muscle of the hitter . A 6′ 6′ tall hitter has a larger strike zone than a 5’11” hitter . The hitter is simply much closer ( at least four feet ) to the front of the plate than the umpire thus giving him a clearer view as to just when and where the ball enters the strike zone . There is absolutely NO WAY possible that an umpire can see a pitch with any type of consistency that moves up to 6″ horizontally and up to 12″ vertically Yes . . . this is measurable . Pitch Trax does so with 100% accuracy . Ever been to PNC Park in Pittsburgh ? They have a scoreboard dedicated to measuring these movements . Some pitchers are easier to call than others . For example : Aroldis Chapman , although he throws 140 MPH (sic) is much straighter than say Bartolo Colon who has a two seamer that moves up to 8″ horizontally and 4″ vertically . Colon is more difficult to call because of his late movement which results in a lot of errantly called strikes out of the zone .
It will bring some semblance of civility back in to the game
Isn’t this precisely Joe Torres objective ? There will be no more arguing balls and strikes and the strike zone will become completely objective . It will be exactly the same for both teams , and the integrity of the umpires will be beyond reproach .
The umpires will not lose their job
Fear not , MLB umpires union , there will be an earpiece placed in the umpires ear that beeps for a strike and buzzes for a ball . Umpires are needed to make calls on plays at the plate , catchers interference , and check swings . Catchers interference and check swings should be subject to challenge as well . These are , to many fans , obvious and should truly become objective and not subject to human error . Again, IF WE CAN BE PERFECT , WHY AREN’T WE ? IF NOT NOW, WHEN ? Then , when a pitcher pitches a perfect game , it really will be … a perfect game ( see Milt Pappas and Armando Gallarraga ) .
Now , to be fair , there needs to be some changes to K-Zone . We obviously have the technology to make it better and one minor change will make it even more accurate . In order to make a strike a pure unadulterated pitch , we have to redefine how K-Zone judges it . If the edge of the ball touches the laser sensor on the edges of K-Zone , it has effectively EXPANDED the zone by at least 3″ ( the width of a baseball is 3 1/2 ” ) . There needs to be an inner line AT LEAST 1 3/4 ” less wide and less high . This change will insure that at least HALF of the baseball has to be inside the strike zone for it to be called a strike . The plate is only 17″ wide and that should be reflected in how K-Zone judges the MLB strike zone . After all , it has been said that baseball is a game of ” inches “.
The speed of the game has increased dramatically . Pitchers are throwing harder than ever . When I played , there were 5 pitchers in the whole league throwing 95+ . Now there are 8 – 10 pitchers on each team throwing at those speeds . Bullpens are harder than ever to deal with . Strikeouts are exploding . Replay has been awesome for the game . There is a plethora of information on every pitcher and hitter because of a wonderful thing we call ” saber metrics ” . Defensive shifts are changing the numbers in the game dramatically for some hitters and and it is definitely changing the way pitchers locate and sequence their pitches . The key word here is change . The final frontier in this game is ” The Strike Zone ” . ( and check swings ! ) Because we don’t have K-Zone , their has NEVER BEEN a PERFECT GAME pitched in the MLB . It is noones fault ! It is just that technology presents us with the opportunity to be PERFECT .
Now is the time !
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