Over the past few years a couple of MLB on-field matters have clashed head on.
Commissioner Bud Selig is adamant about speeding up the games. He made that a primary point of enforcement with the umpires for this year.
Hitters are to stay in the box with no one on base, bat boys have a new bat in hand for every batter in case one breaks and meetings at the mound are broken up in a hurry.
Speeding the game along rubs up against the current offensive strategy by hitters of taking pitches to force starters out of a game and supposedly create better hitters’ counts.
The Red Sox have taken the lead in the pitches-seen category this year.
Red Sox hitters see 4.04 pitches per plate appearance this year, followed by the Rays (3.94) and Yankees 3.90).
Some on the Sox feel their patience at the plate has actually worked against them at times this year.
Knowing the Sox are going to take pitches may mean that umpires try to force the bats off the shoulders by calling borderline strikes more often, or even giving the pitcher greater leeway as to what is a strike.
Red Sox hitting coach Dave Madigan got tossed from a game earlier this year arguing the strike zone and there has been more than one Sox batter, not that they are alone, turning to a home plate umpire with a questioning glance.
What is and isn’t a strike has always been a part of baseball discussions from game to game. The use of electronic triangulation in MLB parks on every pitch has further added to that discussion.
As Madigan told me this week, “With all the video available now, and all the angles, players go back to the clubhouse during games and look at calls they question and can tell the umpire what they saw on the video while the game is still being played.”
That’s tough on umps.
That puts the umpires under even more pressure to be right and creates a pitch by pitch “review” of every call that is seen on video not only by the players, but TV fans as well.
However, beware what you see in that video.
Teams were told by MLB during spring training that the margin of error between the defined strike zone and what could be seen using the triangulation system was about the size of a baseball.
If you take a baseball and run it around the inside and outside of the plate, that’s a substantial decrease or increase in the strike zone. And who knows which way the electronic system is defining that zone on any given night?
That leaves us right where we started — the umpire’s strike zone is the one that matters and if you are a team noted for taking pitches, that zone may be a little larger to move things along.