Lower zone problems

This topic contains 10 replies, has 8 voices, and was last updated by  sowjanaya863 10 months ago.

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  • #171716

    mike_howard
    Participant

    Hello all. First year HS umpire here. Only previous experience has been the dad plucked from the stands when the LL ump didn’t show up. I’m a student of baseball, but only as a player to this point. Umping is way different than just simply spectating, as I’m sure you all know.

    I am looking for tips on how to improve calling the lower part of the zone. I know it’s the bane of every ump at every level, but I’m having trouble adjusting. I had one manager (in a friendly way, not a confrontational way) come to me the other night and remark, “You have to give us that lower part of the zone. You’re killing my pitcher.” I responded, “Doing my best, coach.” He said he understood, but he had pitch count concerns and felt like his guy was hitting his spots.

    I actually agree with him in retrospect. I should have had a bigger zone low, but it was already the third inning and I felt it would be poor form to expand the zone when most of the batters had already had 1 or 2 at-bats.

    I’ve found my “trick” for the upper zone: If it comes at my eyes it’s a ball, at my chin is a strike. I get literally zero complaints–not an eye roll from the batter or a grumble from the crowd–on this. Inside is the same way. If I have to move my eyes left it’s generally a ball (for a righty; reverse that for a lefty). If I don’t move them or move a tad right it’s a strike. Again, no complaints from anybody, including the batter for the most part.

    I set up in the slot with my nose on the inside corner. The only exception is if the batter is crowding the plate and I have to shift towards the middle of the plate to pick up the ball from the pitcher’s hand.

    Low balls are another story–especially low and out. I get lots of groans, complaints, dirty looks etc. I just cannot seem to find a way to track them properly. I am doing my best to avoid zoning the pitch, but it is possible that I am losing the ball and anticipating the location.

    Last game I tried to slow my call down to about 1.5 seconds after it popped in the glove, but after the game (and after I specifically asked his opinion) my partner said I was calling it too tight on the bottom and should have given them a bit more. Otherwise I was OK. It was a C team game, so the pitchers weren’t exactly working the corners. Besides, the hitters were swinging the bat. I think I had only 3-4 walks and maybe 2 called strike 3. All in all an easy game that was taken out of my hands for the most part. (Just the way I like it.)

    I’m 43, so a latecomer to amateur umpiring and am looking to move up to varsity games by next year. I’m reading everything I can on the topic, but nothing has been really helpful in terms of finding how to consistently get the low strike.

    Looking for good, constructive advice here. TIA

    #370927

    mturman
    Participant

    The low zone can be tough…

    For starters, make sure you are in the slot properly with good head height position.

    Viewing the zone all begins with quality plate mechanics in getting into the slot, head height, etc. Once you have the nailed, it’s all about timing.

    See the pitch all the way to the glove…don’t predetermine it before it’s received. See it THROUGH the zone. Let the pop of the ball in the glove dissipate before making a final determination, then make the call.

    As for things that can help you determine the low zone, there are a few to consider…

    1. How does the catcher receive the pitch: Does he raise his glove after catching the ball, which indicates he may think it was down to. This can be a tough one to use if the catcher is younger with less arm strength though.
    2. Is the catcher receiving it well below his own knees: Check his knee position in relation to the knees of the batter when they step in. Apart from a significant eephus type of pitch can still cross through the zone and be gloved in a low area.
    3. Use the catcher to help create a window for the zone…a square across the shoulders, down to the knees…if he catching it in the window?

    Ultimately, it takes time and patience. In the end, even the best will still grab a few that shouldn’t have been so don’t be too hard on yourself in the early going.

    In the end, consistency is the real key…miss them or call them for both sides and there is little to be grumbling about.

    Finally, affiliate with an umpire group and get to some clinics…get some cage work in.

    Good luck!

    Aloha,
    Mike

    #370956

    mike_howard
    Participant

    Hi other Mike–

    Thank you for the great advice. I appreciate you taking the time.

    🙂

    #370949

    Anonymous

    @mike_howard 207158 wrote:

    I’ve found my “trick” for the upper zone: If it comes at my eyes it’s a ball, at my chin is a strike.

    Low balls are another story–especially low and out.

    If a pitch at your eye level is a ball, and one at your chin is a strike, then I would suggest you may be set up too high. Try dropping down a bit. A good rule of thumb is to have your chin at or just below the top of the catcher’s helmet. Some very, very good umpires set up even lower. Few set up higher. I know that’s tough in some JV games, when one catcher is 6’1” and the other is 4’11”. Unless I’m squeezed, my eyes will always be below the top of the zone, and that can be tough with some small batters, but you have to get down there, especially for them, because the bottom of their zone will be even lower.

    Take a look at a batter’s knees as he steps in. At a JV game in particular, there’s going to be a huge disparity in knee height.

    Are you actually tracking that pitch all the way into the catcher’s glove and watching it be caught, or are you perhaps stopping your tracking when the ball gets to the plate and just perceiving the catch? As Mike Turman says, it’s important to see how and where the catcher is gloving the pitch. Mitt on the ground (that’s a ball). Ball caught palm up (98% that’s a ball). Ball caught fingers up and in the web (that’s usually a strike unless you’ve got a JV pitcher hurling 80 mph darts, then that may indeed be low). Curve ball caught below the batter’s belt (that ball crossed through the strike zone). Curve caught at or above the batter’s belt (that’s usually a ball). Curve caught almost on the ground but fingers up (ring ‘em up!). Curve caught with the mitt on the ground (that’s a ball—and if you know that was a wicked bender that was a strike, ball the first one and tell your catcher exactly why you balled it—if you’re calling curves strikes that are being caught with the mitt on the ground, they could very well be strikes, but you’re going to have an unpleasant afternoon).

    The three key secrets to calling balls and strikes: tracking, tracking, and tracking.

    You shouldn’t hear the pop. You’ve got to see the pop.

    #370945

    mike_howard
    Participant

    @msmith 207197 wrote:

    If a pitch at your eye level is a ball, and one at your chin is a strike, then I would suggest you may be set up too high. Try dropping down a bit. A good rule of thumb is to have your chin at or just below the top of the catcher’s helmet. Some very, very good umpires set up even lower. Few set up higher. I know that’s tough in some JV games, when one catcher is 6’1” and the other is 4’11”. Unless I’m squeezed, my eyes will always be below the top of the zone, and that can be tough with some small batters, but you have to get down there, especially for them, because the bottom of their zone will be even lower.

    I probably didn’t explain well enough. I use this method for when it is a normal-sized batter. JV this equals ~5’9″ – 6’1″. Although there is one team whose games I work who have FOUR kids at 6’5″ and above.

    (One kid hit a pitch ~400ft. Even though he did not clear the fence he wase able to more or less jog around the bases to get a triple. I had started in A for both, and even though I could cut the 45 to call the play at third I was winded. I told him not to do it again. His next at bat he did it again. I called another game with these guys and he hit a 375′ bomb over the fence.)

    Anyway, I work the slot (unless the batter sets way inside on a righty and vice versa for lefty), in which case I move more into the box. In the slot I might get my chin a bit beneath the catcher’s helmet to line up just about with my nose at the belt. That’s how I call it using eyes and chin, and I think I get it right 95% of the time based on coach, batter, and catcher reactions.

    Of course, this is also contingent on how far forward he is, too.

    Shorter guys I do squat down and get myself in more or less the same spot (nose at the belt). I try to stay consistent.

    Tracking is something I do need to work on. I think I’m decent–above average–but still room to grow. I need to find a group to work with where I can get someone to stand behind me and hold my head steady and be able to describe exactly where the catcher’s glove was when he caught it.

    Thank you for the kind advice. I’m really wanting to put every ounce of effort I have into this because baseball is the only sport about which I’m passionate.

    #370942

    Anonymous

    @mturman 207163 wrote:

    The low zone can be tough…

    1. How does the catcher receive the pitch: Does he raise his glove after catching the ball, which indicates he may think it was down to. This can be a tough one to use if the catcher is younger with less arm strength though.
    2. Is the catcher receiving it well below his own knees: Check his knee position in relation to the knees of the batter when they step in. Apart from a significant eephus type of pitch can still cross through the zone and be gloved in a low area.
    3. Use the catcher to help create a window for the zone…a square across the shoulders, down to the knees…if he catching it in the window?
    Mike

    This is exactly what Mike is talking about:

    https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2013/apr/11/marty-foster-joe-nathan-300-saves-barry-zito

    #370934

    typikon
    Participant

    @bigblue2u 207205 wrote:

    This is exactly what Mike is talking about:

    https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2013/apr/11/marty-foster-joe-nathan-300-saves-barry-zito

    What’s interesting about this video clip, if you look at the “FoxTrax”, it shows that the pitch was not low. It was outside. Had the catcher stuck that pitch a little higher, it might have been merely a sketchy call.

    If you slow Youtube down to .25 you can see that the pitch is technically a rule book strike (with respect to the height of the pitch) because as it crosses the plate it is very close to the “hollow of the knees” (confirming the “FoxTrax”) but it has insane break on it and crosses the batter a ball beneath the “hollow of the knees”, and is finally caught above the ankles, but the catcher dips his glove and makes it look like the ball is in the dirt. Classic example of how appearance is everything. Several factors combined to make this pitch look terrible. No one realizes or cares that it’s way outside.

    #370932

    Anonymous

    That video clip is living proof of what happens when you grab a bender that’s gloved on the dirt. Imagine how long your afternoon would be if you were grabbing those all game. Both teams would run out of coaches really quick.

    There’s a HC I’ve worked with a lot and respect (a lot). Last week I could tell he really wanted me to be grabbing his pitcher’s curves that F-2 was gloving at the batter’s belt line. After he switched out his pitcher, I shared with him (at least my) starting rule of thumb about curve balls, and told him that most umpires aren’t good enough to really know where that bender broke, and they rely a lot on and how and where that pitch is caught. I even told him how to argue balls and strikes and usually get away with it.

    “____, you know you can’t argue balls and strikes, but here’s how you can and almost always get away with it: ‘He caught that below the belt, Mike!!'” Is he technically arguing balls and strikes? Yep. Anyone going to warn, restrict, and then eject him for saying something like that? Usually not.

    #370964

    mturman
    Participant

    @bigblue2u 207205 wrote:

    This is exactly what Mike is talking about:

    https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2013/apr/11/marty-foster-joe-nathan-300-saves-barry-zito

    I recall come on this site questioning as to how a catcher can make or break a strike with the glove…

    I recently worked a HS playoff game…Catcher was trying to glove pitches well off of the plate…He AND his pitcher had such a look of incredulity when they were called as balls…I, and several others, have spoken to the catcher about his practice with no luck…

    Aloha,
    Mike

    #370973

    bobjenkins
    Participant

    @mike_howard 207201 wrote:

    Shorter guys I do squat down and get myself in more or less the same spot (nose at the belt).

    That’s too low.

    On your original question, try scooting back just a couple of inches. You’ll see the bottom of the zone at a “flatter” angle — the pitches won’t look so far down.

    Also, try glancing at the batter’s knees sometime during the setup — you’ll get an idea how far your eyes can move and still have it be a strike.

    #371954

    sowjanaya863
    Participant
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