We often see baseball in movies and on TV networks, and I’m sure you have probably observed a white triangular shape above home plate during at-bats. The contents of this box represent the “strike zone baseball,” which is one of the essential elements of the game.
Wondering what the strike zone in baseball is all about? Rest assured, once you are done reading this article, you won’t be running out of explanations the next time someone asks you questions about the strike zone!
Let Us Start With The Basics (On Strike Zone Baseball)
MLB Rules’ Definition
First things first, what is even a strike zone? Well, according to the 2019 Official Major League Baseball Rules, “The STRIKE ZONE is that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap.”
Now, why is it dubbed as one of the most debatable topics in baseball, you ask?
Because the strike zone shall be determined from the batter’s stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball, and the umpire will have to decide where the strike zone is located in a short period.
You may be wondering how big it actually is the width of a home plate is at 17 inches; therefore, so is a strike zone for both baseball and softball.
On the other hand, a strike zone’s height varies from player to player as each of them has a different batting style and height. Due to each player’s unique approach to batting, the umpire is given the discretion and flexibility to determine the strike zone’s height per player.
The umpire then will have to make imaginary lines and mental calculations in calling in their decisions. The umpire cannot exactly establish the strike zone until the batter begins their swing.
However, the umpire may be able to work out where the strike zone is for a batter by observing the batter’s set up in the batter’s box.
The strike zone is considered pitches that the batter can realistically hit. This is important to note because it defines the strike zones purpose.
MLB versus LLB
Since we have already discussed the Major League Baseball Rules’ definition of a strike zone, let us now go over Little League Baseball’s. It is equally a hot topic and causes discussions among the players themselves and parents and audience alike.
As stated on the Little League’s Rules, Regulations, and Policies, the “STRIKE ZONE is that space over home plate, which is between the batter’s armpits and the top of the knees when the batter assumes a natural stance.
The umpire shall determine the strike zone according to the batter’s usual stance when that batter swings at a pitch.”
According to Little League, the essential part of the definition is “over home plate,” which points out that the strike zone will constantly be in the home plate, and it doesn’t matter where in the batter’s box the batter stands.
Strike Zone Rules
When watching or playing a baseball game, you will hear two words very often: Ball and Strike. At this point, we will distinguish how an umpire calls for these two.
As per MLB.com, strikes and balls are called by the home-plate umpire after every pitch has passed the batter unless the batter contacts the baseball (in which case the pitch is automatically a strike).
An umpire will call it a “ball” on the condition that the pitch touches the ground and bounces through the strike zone and when the batter does not swing, while it will be called a “strike” provided that a part of the ball must cross over the home plate while in the said area.
Aside from “ball” and “strike”, it is also handy to be familiar with the term “check swing”. It is when the batter makes a swing but the bat does not cross home plate, and it does not count as a complete swing or a swing at all.
In this event, the umpire will call a strike, ball, or foul ball based on the strike zone.
The strike zone can also be called the “hittable area” keeping in mind that the pitches thrown within the strike zone can be really hit by the batter.
An important thing to remember is that a batter only has three strikes to hit the ball before he is out (or a strikeout).
History of Strike Zone
Fun fact: Did you know that the vertical specifications of a strike zone have been changed several times? Yes, you have read that right! Let’s take a look at the changes made over time in the history of baseball.
1876: The batter must call for a high, low, or fair pitch, and this cannot be changed until after the first pitch is made. And these are the corresponding measurement for each call:
High – the pitches over the plate between the batter’s waist and shoulders
Low – the slopes over the plate between the batter’s waist and at least one foot from the ground
Fair – the pitches over the plate between the batter’s shoulders and at least one foot from the ground
1887: The batter can no longer make a ‘high’ or ‘low’ call pitch, and the strike zone was set as a pitch that passes over the home plate above the batter’s knee and below his shoulders.
1950: The Strike Zone was modified as the space over home plate, between the batter’s armpits and the top of his knees when he assumes his natural stance.
1963: In this year, the strike zone rule was adjusted again where the strike zone is between the batter’s shoulder and top of the knee like before 1950 and was stretched to be a pitched ball that crosses the home plate.
1969: The strike zone was brought back at the batter’s armpits and top of the knee.
1988-1995: This is when the strike zone looks similar to what we know of it now. The height of the strike zone was between the midpoint between the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, to the top of the knees.
1996: The last change was made and has been retained since. The strike zone is now the space at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap.
After going over the several changes made through time, it is about time we learn some tips and tricks on how to practice the strike zone.
Tips on Strike Zone
Different pitchers have their own unique styles in pitching too! As a batter, you should be able to adjust and adapt your swings to different pitches. It is important to always hone not only your batting skills but also to develop a good eye.
One of the best ways to learn the strike zone is to probably do batting drills where pitches are thrown to the batter on the inside and outside corners.
Another tip would be to practice with high and low pitches. Through time and multiple constant practices, these drills would help the batter not only with his swing and form but to be able to see the strike zone so much better!
- A common mistake during practice, however, is to let the batter think that because it is only a practice, he could swing at all the pitched balls. It is important to always remind the batter to only swing at strikes. Even though it may look as if it is easier to teach a batter when to swing, it is also very important to teach them when not to hit.
- Umpires should always “think strikes” and make a ball convince you that it is a ball. “Borderline” pitches should always be called strikes. This will encourage the batters to be more aggressive at the plate and swing the bat. This is not showing favoritism, because the teams switch sides each half inning.
The reality is that different umpires will have different strike zones. Some may call strikes when the ball is a bit wide of the plate. Some umpires may have a smaller strike zone, while others will have a large strike zone.
The important thing for baseball players to do is recognize this and understand that the strike zone may not always be the same. Watch how the umpire is calling strikes and try to take advantage of this during the game. DO NOT argue with the umpire over balls and strikes.