Fixing the Strike Zone

 But if umpires were always right, who could we yell at? PC: wikimedia.org

But if umpires were always right, who could we yell at? PC: wikimedia.org

Tyler.jpg

I track a lot of baseball games on my phone. It’s often the only way I can "watch" the Rockies while at school. 

And, over the past few years, I've become increasingly more irate about what constitutes a strike. If you've ever tracked a game on your phone, you probably relate to this sentiment. 

Usually, at least once an inning, there's a strike that’s a called ball or a ball that clearly should’ve been called a strike according to the strike zone displayed on the screen. 

And, if a missed call ends up being a determining factor in the way the inning plays out, particularly if it goes against the team for which you're rooting, it’s upsetting to say the least. 

We have the technology to accurately determine if a pitch is a strike or a ball, so why don’t we use it? My girlfriend will often chant "robo-umps" after a terrible call, and at times, I tend to agree with her. 

However, I must admit that these missed calls can often be explained to some extent. 

Some of the best pitcher-catcher duos know how to turn questionable pitches into sure-strikes through their body language and the way the catcher frames the ball. 

Additionally, some umpires give the benefit of the doubt to better pitchers, which isn’t unlike most sports where the referees favor the stars. Umpires also tend to have a preference for certain pitches (often a low, off-speed pitch that doesn't hit the dirt). 

Conversely, some batters know how to react in order to solicit a ball and induce walks. 

While watching on TV, it's much easier to take these factors into account than it is while tracking a game on a phone, and it isn't as annoying when a call is missed. 

Still, the blatantly missed calls are frustrating, especially when the network puts up a strike zone graphic showing the umpire's mistake. 

When you actually go to a game, however, all the graphics and commentary go out the window. Instead of a media production filled with commercials, commentary and displayed statistics, it's simply a baseball game. 

This serene, uninterrupted version of the game is perhaps why many avid baseball fans, like Logan Kennedy, prefer the “human error” of an umpire to technology. 
 
I've gone back and forth on the issue, and it has led me to a few middle-ground solutions that I think preserve the sentiment behind keeping the umpire while eliminating the truly terrible calls. 

There’s already a challenge system in place that allows managers to request the review of a wide variety of occurrences in baseball. It could easily be expanded to allow a small number of challenges on a pitch's location per game. 

This approach would slow games down, which is exactly what baseball's commissioner is trying to avoid, so perhaps a better fix is necessary. 

If I were in charge, the umpire would wear some sort of earpiece to which information could be quickly relayed. 

If a pitch that was called a ball was actually at least halfway in the strike-zone, he could be quickly overruled, correct his call, and the game would move on. 

He could also be overruled if a pitch that he called a strike was actually an inch or so outside the strike zone. 

Obviously, these margins of error could be adjusted to impact as few or as many pitches as deemed necessary, but they would still allow for some human error as well as pitch framing and deceptive body language. 

Some change will likely take place eventually. For now, though, baseball fans everywhere (myself included) will complain when a missed call hurts their team and do their best to justify any that help.
 


Tyler Dean is a junior studying business administration.