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Umpiring LL Minors during a walk-fest: Do you adjust your strike zone?

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  • Umpiring LL Minors during a walk-fest: Do you adjust your strike zone?

    I thought about putting this in the Ask the Umpire thread, but wanted to get some coaches input as well.
    Jake - if you want to move this please feel free to do so.

    My son (14y.o.) has been taking umpiring seriously this season and has been umpiring many Little League minor games and a few majors. In minors, as you may know, the pitching can be spotty and can easily turn into a walk-fest. My son knows that the strike zone is armpits to knee caps and a ball's width on either side of the plate. He has been doing just fine and has even been praised by winning and losing coaches alike that he is doing a good job.

    I have been in discussions with my son and other umpires about how to umpire, how to call certain situations, acting professional, not putting up with obnoxious coaches/parents, etc... There is one question that has come up and that is, what do you do as the home plate umpire when the pitchers are not hitting the strike zone? Some umpires have said that they call it as they see it, but if they are late in the game and there does not appear to be any one that can hit the strike zone, they will open up a little to get things moving. Others have said they call a fair strike zone and leave it, and if the game goes long then so be it. Others have said they know Minors can be tough for the young pitchers and have an open strike zone from the beginning.

    I've told my son that if it ever comes up (which it hasn't yet) that he calls it like he sees it and if he feels it necessary (e.g. its getting late or the team has just walked in 7-8 runs in a row and no indication that any ball will be put in play and its extra hot that day, etc...)then open it a little but to open it for all pitchers, not just one that is having trouble. And by no means, discuss this with the coaches or parents in the stands.

    So, as umpires and/or coaches - what would you do? Do you wait until the last inning to open up? Do you keep it the same no matter what? Do you have a wide strike zone from the first pitch?

    Again, this is hypothetical and has not happened to my son yet, but I have seen 20-21 (or more) run games with all scores made off of walked batters, so I know it happens.

    Is there a "right" answer to this?

  • #2
    I can't add anything from the perspective as an ump, but just a parent that sits behind home plate and records all the games. All I'd ask is to PLEASE be consistent. Don't change anything through the game. If you have a larger strike zone for the kids, fine. However, don't change it in the last half of the game to benefit either team. I'll give you an example. My daughter plays on a 9-10yo league and is one of the pitchers for the team. They were winning by a fairly hefty amount. She had the ump calling a fairly tight strike zone on her. She then goes to bat expecting that strike zone. She has a seriously good eye and won't swing at junk. The ump calls stuff that's just horrid, I'm talking in the dirt on the outside of the plate. At 2 strikes my kid is just plain upset. She swung at every pitch after because she didn't trust the ump to make a fair call. She fouled a few ,staying alive, but eventually swung at an obviously high pitch to get struck out. That was just plain unfair to her. She's NEVER swung at pitches like that. It was wrong of the ump to do that to her and the other kids on her team, regardless of the amount they were winning by. So again, stay consistent is my only plea.

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    • #3
      At that age, I'd expand the zone a little high and maybe a hairsbreadth to the sides, except at the knees (kids can't reach any further), particularly to benefit the losing team, but I wouldn't expand low. It also may depend upon whether the winning team is swinging at strikes or is trying to run up the score by taking the first two strikes on the assumption that it's much more likely than not that the struggling pitcher will get to four balls before he throws three strikes.

      But were talking a very small amount of expansion -- barely detectible -- and probably not with two strikes. If none of the pitchers can get that close to the zone, maybe you need to let the league's time limits (or darkness) end the game rather than make the umpire speed the game up.

      Obviously, the ump in the situation described by Clay went overboard. Still, Clay, you need to understand that there are larger issues: yes, your DD's developed batting eye and her batting average shouldn't be sacrificed, but astute kids at that age are also old enough to understand that they should be swinging a little more aggressively, both to accomodate the likely larger strike zone and as a matter of sportsmanship.
      sigpicIt's not whether you fall -- everyone does -- but how you come out of the fall that counts.

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      • #4
        Duplicate post
        sigpicIt's not whether you fall -- everyone does -- but how you come out of the fall that counts.

        Comment


        • #5
          I agree. maybe expand a ball width to each side and call pitches that are an inch or two outside, but don't call shoulder high pitches or pitches at the shoelaces. the pitcher at least has to be able to get it close.

          however if the hitters are just hitting balls down the middle and look at anything near the corners I would call them strikes to speed the game up. you have to do it for both teams however even if only one pitcher is struggling.
          I now have my own non commercial blog about training for batspeed and power using my training experience in baseball and track and field.

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          • #6
            In my opinion, if you are not consistent from pitch to pitch, player to player, team to team, and game to game, you are not helping the hitters or the pitchers learn the game. Minors should start with a liberal strike zone and stay with it all season long.
            WAR EAGLE!

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            • #7
              In my opinion, if you are not consistent from pitch to pitch, player to player, team to team, and game to game, you are not helping the hitters or the pitchers learn the game. Minors should start with a liberal strike zone and stay with it all season long.
              WAR EAGLE!

              Comment


              • #8
                In my opinion, if you are not consistent from pitch to pitch, player to player, team to team, and game to game, you are not helping the hitters or the pitchers learn the game. Minors should start with a liberal strike zone and stay with it all season long.
                WAR EAGLE!

                Comment


                • #9
                  In my opinion, if you are not consistent from pitch to pitch, player to player, team to team, and game to game, you are not helping the hitters or the pitchers learn the game. Minors should start with a liberal strike zone and stay with it all season long.
                  WAR EAGLE!

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    If there is an issue with a walk fest you talk to the head coaches quietly between innings and get them involved in deciding what to do.

                    Is there a time limit on the game?
                    Is there a mercy rule?
                    Can one team quietly concede? We've been on both sides of a blowout. The coach tells the winning team to swing at everything. We've arranged for pick offs to end an inning. We've arranged for an extra half inning of batting for the struggling team.

                    Like Flush, I generally don't favor playing around with the strike zone. Consistency is critical to being a quality umpire. I know my kids, regardless of the situation, get frustrated when the strike zone moves around.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Our league has a run limit per inning. This helps a lot with keeping it consistent because even if it is a walk fest they can only score so many runs. I ump LL Minors and will not change the zone. If a pitcher struggles, he or she needs to learn to deal with that.

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                      • #12
                        I feel the "legal" strike zone is detrimental to learning at this age. I would call anything the hitter can get his bat on.
                        "He who dares to teach, must never cease to learn."
                        - John Cotton Dana (1856–1929) - Offered to many by L. Olson - Iowa (Teacher)
                        Please read Baseball Fever Policy and Forum FAQ before posting.

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                        • #13
                          Arm pits to knee caps, within the corners, for some batters creates a strikezone Roy Halladay couldn't hit 3 times in one plate appearance.

                          I talked about this the other day, but the strikezone actually becomes "easier" as you get older. How crazy is that?

                          If you call a "real" strikezone at 7-10, you're going to get walkfests for most kids.

                          My preferences are ....

                          1. Shoulders are top of strikezone.
                          2. Bottom of kneecaps are bottom of the strikezone.
                          3. Baseball width on either side.

                          If not, we're not really helping the batters. They're learning the lesson that they can simply not swing and get on base a lot. Which they can at this age, and then steal bases like they were Vince Coleman. Furthermore, we see teams teams that are put together to capitalize on this type of thing.

                          I'm a sabermetric guy and IMO some of my thoughts have been counterproductive to my son's batting development. He has 16 walks in 34 plate appearances. On a 2-0 cockshot, I want him to knock the centerfielder's hat off. He's already thinking "walk". He does have excellent recognition of the strike zone which will come into play in the upcoming years. But at ages 7-12 I want to see a "swing league". We cannot continually reward kids that won;t swing, step out, duck under, and everything else kids do to make close pitches look worse.

                          We also want pitchers at this age to, at least, start pitching to "one side of the plate" or the other, instead of just throwing it down the middle to hit the "milk crate strikezone".

                          Batters are using bats that are too long for their height, getting by with it by employing really large barrels and negative drops. In short, they can "reach" these pitches via artificial means. I don;t think you can give the batters these bats and then have the youth pitcher throw to a "legal strikezone". You wanna switch to wood bats where the batters of these ages would have to use 26-28 inch bats, then fine call the legal strike zone. Pitchers could live off throwing cockshots for most batters.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by The Flush View Post
                            In my opinion, if you are not consistent from pitch to pitch, player to player, team to team, and game to game, you are not helping the hitters or the pitchers learn the game. Minors should start with a liberal strike zone and stay with it all season long.
                            ^ I would agree. To the OP, good for your son for taking on a tough job. I am bothered by the lack of respect shown to the umpires at the youth games I see.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by CircleChange11 View Post
                              Arm pits to knee caps, within the corners, for some batters creates a strikezone Roy Halladay couldn't hit 3 times in one plate appearance.

                              I talked about this the other day, but the strikezone actually becomes "easier" as you get older. How crazy is that?

                              If you call a "real" strikezone at 7-10, you're going to get walkfests for most kids.

                              My preferences are ....

                              1. Shoulders are top of strikezone.
                              2. Bottom of kneecaps are bottom of the strikezone.
                              3. Baseball width on either side.

                              If not, we're not really helping the batters. They're learning the lesson that they can simply not swing and get on base a lot. Which they can at this age, and then steal bases like they were Vince Coleman. Furthermore, we see teams teams that are put together to capitalize on this type of thing.

                              I'm a sabermetric guy and IMO some of my thoughts have been counterproductive to my son's batting development. He has 16 walks in 34 plate appearances. On a 2-0 cockshot, I want him to knock the centerfielder's hat off. He's already thinking "walk". He does have excellent recognition of the strike zone which will come into play in the upcoming years. But at ages 7-12 I want to see a "swing league". We cannot continually reward kids that won;t swing, step out, duck under, and everything else kids do to make close pitches look worse.

                              We also want pitchers at this age to, at least, start pitching to "one side of the plate" or the other, instead of just throwing it down the middle to hit the "milk crate strikezone".

                              Batters are using bats that are too long for their height, getting by with it by employing really large barrels and negative drops. In short, they can "reach" these pitches via artificial means. I don;t think you can give the batters these bats and then have the youth pitcher throw to a "legal strikezone". You wanna switch to wood bats where the batters of these ages would have to use 26-28 inch bats, then fine call the legal strike zone. Pitchers could live off throwing cockshots for most batters.
                              This all makes sense, especially when you consider the size of the batters. At this level you're asking inexperienced kids to hit a strikezone that most ML pitchers would have trouble with. How would Cliff Lee do if the average size of the ML batter was 4' 10"?

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