The umpire strike zone can vary as much as the umpires themselves

Elvis Elvis

The umpire strike zone, unfortunately for both hitters and pitchers, or in some cases fortunately for one side or the other, often varies from the official strike zone as defined in the rules.

These varying and fluctuating umpire zones can make it hard to grasp what will and won’t be called a strike, especially early in games. Thankfully most umpires do remain consistent with their zone throughout a game, so after the first couple of innings all players typically have a good idea of the umpire’s strike zone for the game.

Having a book on the umpire strike zone.

Having past familiarity with an umpire can help give you a sense right from the opening cry of “play ball” what the umpire strike zone for the game will be like. Many major league umpires have developed reputations for leaning one way or the other.

The late Eric Gregg was a well-known pitcher’s umpire, and there are many hitter’s umpires as well, that give pitchers fits by calling minuscule strike zones that often force them to groove pitches down the middle to get a call.

This discrepancy in umpiring is evident at all levels of the game, and needs to be considered when stepping into the batter’s box, or hurling from the rubber. Take time to learn how the umpire calls a game – maybe taking notes for later use.

Ask your coaches and teammates if they’ve had any experience with the umpire working the game. Learn from their experiences and use it to your advantage.

The umpire strike zone can vary as much as the umpires themselves

Expansion of the official strike zone.

Always be as thorough as possible when analyzing what an umpire is and is not calling, and not just whether the zone is big or small. Some umpires may have a tendency to expand the zone inside and out, or up and down, particularly when you have two strikes.

As a hitter you need to be cautious of this and may need to take a simpler approach at the plate. Consider if you should move closer to the plate, and focus on maintaining control of the head of the bat in an effort to just make contact. These measures may even include resorting to the choke grip. However, do not expand your comfort-hitting zone in all areas if you don’t have to.

As a pitcher, your goal in these situations is to stay off the plate and hope the batter chases, or freeze him with a borderline pitch, so these expanded strike zones can do nothing but help you.

Attempt to recognize early on in the game what pitch location is being called a strike and what isn’t, and be sure to make good use of that information in your approach at the plate.

When an umpire strike zone is inconsistent.

The most frustrating thing as both a hitter and pitcher is when the umpire strike zone is inconsistent. Most players and managers do not necessarily have a problem with larger or smaller strike zones, as long as they are consistent throughout the game, and most importantly consistent for both teams. When an umpire seems to make calls at random, this can make your job as a hitter or pitcher that much more challenging and irritating.

The main thing is to not become obsessed by the calls and let it affect your came. As frustrating as it may be, it’s out of your control. All you can do is keep pitching or keep swinging.

As a hitter, it will force you to be more aggressive, both by swinging at borderline pitches, and by swinging at first strikes, as falling behind early in the count could spell trouble with an inconsistent strike zone and may cripple the rest of your at bat.

As a pitcher, you may need to come closer to the heart of the plate than you would like on some pitches when a strike is needed.

Consistent umpires.

Having a consistent umpire strike zone gives you a chance to be more patient at the plate, as much guesswork is taken out of the equation. If you are fully aware of the strike zone it affords you the chance to take a pitch or two, making the pitcher work harder and giving you a chance to swing at the pitch you want.

You’ll come to find that a consistent umpire, even if their strike zone is slightly off from the official strike zone, is a hitter’s best friend.