Ever since 1887, the rules define the strike zone as being over the plate, from the shoulders to the knees. Over the years, there have been small adjustments to that definition. Most notably, in 1996, the Playing Rules Committee changed the lower portion of the strike zone from the top of the knee to the bottom of the knee. The intent was to encourage umpires, who notoriously used to set their own strike zones, to call lower strikes. Then along came Questec system – a computerized pitching analyzer that determines balls and strikes. It is highly accurate, enough so that MLB uses it to grade umpires. No surprise, umpires started calling lower strikes. Over time, this caused an “expansion” of the strike zone.
In recent years, the number of runs per game has steadily dropped. In 2006, baseball scored 4.86 runs per game. In 2014, that number fell to 4.07. In fact, last year was the first year that baseball teams scored fewer than 20000 runs since the strike-shortened 1995 season. This becomes a problem for baseball. The fact is that hitting is more popular than pitching. Fans get more excited seeing a 5-run rally than they do watching a 1-0 pitchers’ duel.
When I first read about this, I did not think it was a good idea. There is something just does seems inherently wrong about changing the rules because you do not like the outcomes of games. Run production is down, so why not change the rules to bring it up. Let’s make it easier for hitters to get hits, get on base, and score more runs. Instead of expanding the strike zone, why don’t we just give hitters an aluminum bat?? However, when I read the details about this change, the more it made sense. This change is about reversing an adjustment to the strike zone made at a time when enforcement was impossible. With Questec, we have a better way to make umpires stick to a standard strike zone.
This season baseball will be watching the relationship between called strikes and hitting productivity. Based on their observations, they may change the rules for the 2016 season. Regardless, baseball needs to get this right and stick to a standard definition of the strike zone. If the rules change, pitchers will need a better out pitch than the hard-to-hit low strike. It is not fair to pitchers to make them adjust to a moving target.
--Ike Dimitriadis, BYB Senior Staff Writer
My blog is: Shots from Murderer's Row
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