The High School Strike Zone

How it's taught to be called

Every pitch that leaves the pitchers hand is a strike until it's proves to you that it's not. Keep the game moving, make the batters swing the bat. This makes for a better game and it all has to do with the strike zone According to National Federation rule 2.35.1 "the strike zone is that area over home plate, halfway between the batter's armpits and his waist and the top of his knees". In reality that's not the case, depending on the umpire and the level of play the zone could be from "toes to nose and box to box" or from below the belt to the knees and over the plate. Wherever you establish your strike zone the most important job as an umpire is to call the first pitch of the game with the same consistency as the last pitch of the game.

BE CONSISTENT! In calling the strike zone, coaches want consistency more than anything else. A key ingredient to consistency is proper timing. The most common problem with umpires at all levels is their timing, which is usually too fast. Slow down, relax, see the pitch, hear the pitch hit the mitt, call the pitch. If you have trouble slowing down your timing try seeing the pitch, hearing the pitch hit the mitt, then read the manufacturers name on the mitt and then make the call. Develop a rhythm, call all balls and strikes, if you just call strikes it's hard to establish a rhythm. Your rhythm will carry your timing through the later innings when your mental focus might begin to fade.

First you must position yourself in the slot (area between batter and catcher) so that you have a full view of home plate, You must be able to see the catcher catch the pitch, especially on the low outside corner. You can't hide behind the catcher, you won't be able to see the plate. If you set up too low, you won't be able to see the outside corner. Generally the height of your head should be where your chin is above the level of the top of the catcher's head. In order to be consistent calling balls and strikes, you must be consistent with your position, especially the height of your position. You must have the same angle or view of the strike zone on every pitch. If your view changes so does your zone, now you loose your consistency.

As the game begins you must decide approximately where you are going to establish your strike zone. Let's say, for example, that at the top end we will call it at a balls width above the belt, on the bottom, any pitch that touches the knees, the inside and the outside we call anything that touches the plate including the black rubber strip. That's your zone today, all day. Every umpire has their own zone.

Let's start with the top of the zone. You have 3 things to help to establish the top of your zone.

  1. The batter, the catcher and you. Use them all to your advantage. First you look at the batter to see the belt height or the letter height. Every batter is different, but not that much different.
  2. You check the catcher, usually catchers are pretty consistent with their stance. Where is the top of the catcher's head in relation to the batter's belt? A lot of times it's somewhere in the neighborhood of the belt, another guide to help out especially when the batter wants to dip with the pitch..
  3. Finally there is you, the height of your stance, the height of your eyes and how you see the zone. See the pitch, the relationship of where it passed the batter's belt or letters. Did the catcher reach up above his head to catch it or was it above his head when it crossed in over the plate before it broke? If you have a higher zone you might want to set your eye level at the top of the zone. It's easy to tell if the pitch was above or below your eye level.

Use whatever you can to help you consistently establish if the pitch was within the top limit of your zone.

The lower end of the strike zone gives umpires the most problems. It's imperative that you position yourself to see the whole plate and the catcher's mitt, so you can see the catcher catch the ball. The way the catcher catches the pitch will give you information to help you determine whether it was a ball or strike. At upper levels of baseball the way the catcher handles the pitch will be a major factor in determining the call. Naturally you look at the batter's knees as a reference point as to the lower limit of the zone. Use the catchers knees also to help you determine what the pitch is, the catcher's knees are usually very close to the same height as the batter. This can also help you with the height of the outside pitch. The way the catcher catches the low pitch will perhaps help you the most. On a fast ball if he has to turn his fingers downward in order to catch the pitch, it's usually too low. On a breaking ball, if the catchers mitt is down next to or touching the ground, the pitch is too low. Get a good look at the low pitch, let the catcher help you. A good catcher will make marginal pitches strikes. Proper timing is crucial on these breaking balls.

The outside pitch is also difficult for some umpires. It's like parallel parking, you can't look out the window and see the curb but after practice you can park without any problems. Here again let the catcher help you. Generally, if the catcher has to reach out or turn his mitt outwards in order to catch the pitch, the pitch is probably outside. This of course, depends on where the catcher sets up. The inside pitch is the easiest since it's right there in front of you.

In conclusion, whether or not a pitch enters your strike zone is your call but you need the catcher to get a lot of information. Most important is to set up your strike zone and keep it the same all game. If you need to move a game along widen the zone to make it larger, never raise or lower it. Coaches can see up and down but can't tell in and out, no matter what they say. Think strikes, make your zone generous, have good timing and be consistent.

Remember, every safe call or walk awarded the batter will add at least 5 minutes to each half inning.