Over the last several years, the strike zone has been expanding downward for whatever reason. Jon Roegele did some great research a year ago and Jeff Sullivan followed up later in the season. Pitches at or below the knees are being called strikes more often and it’s taken a bite out of offense. It’s not just the extra called strikes either. Hitters have to better protect the bottom of the zone now and those pitches are mighty hard to hit with authority.
According to Jeff Passan, MLB is considering addressing the expanding strike zone in an effort to help boost offense around the league. The Playing Rules Committee will monitor the zone in 2015 and could adjust the textbook definition of the strike zone in time for the 2016 season if it is deemed necessary. So nothing’s going to happen with the zone this year. Next year at the earliest. Here’s more from Passan:
The problem, sources said, stems from technological leaps that caused unintended consequences. In 1996, when the league last changed the strike zone to extend it from the top of the knees to the bottom, beneath the hollow of the kneecap, it did so to encourage umpires to call knee-level strikes. The lower end of the zone, in practice, was about three-quarters of the way down the thigh, so the idea was that by adjusting the eye levels of umpires to look lower, the result would be a more traditional strike zone.
Then along came Questec, the computerized pitch-tracking system, followed by Zone Evaluation, the current version tied in to MLB’s PITCHf/x system. With a tremendous degree of accuracy – especially in recent years – the systems tracked textbook balls and strikes, and the home-plate umpires’ performances were graded on a nightly basis. Over time, not only did umpires’ strike zones move down to the knees, they went to the hollow and even a smidge below.
“What we’ve done is eliminate one variable (through technology), which is the varying application of the strike zone among umpires,” said Mets GM Sandy Alderson, chairman of the Playing Rules Committee. “Now, as a result, one can decide how the strike zone should be defined with some confidence that the umpires will call it that way. There’s a lot less slippage between the policy reflected in a rules change and the actual outcome.”
A week or two ago Ben Lindbergh looked at how the strike zone has hurt offense around the league and, simply put, the answer is a lot. Correcting the strike zone won’t get offense back up to a “normal” level all by itself, but it would be a step in the right direction. I’d much prefer a correctly called strike zone to eliminating the shift or forcing relievers to face two batters, something like that.
Anyway, in order to MLB to act, we have to hope the strike zone either continues to expand downward or at least stays the same as last year. That sorta stinks, but it is what it is. Either way, I’m glad this is being looked at. The strike zone is the strike zone, it is explicitly defined in the rulebook, and it should not growing with each passing season.