Baseball Magazine

The Umpire with the Small Strike Zone

By Meachrm @BaseballBTYard

Just like players, every umpire is going to vary with regards to their strike zone.  One umpire may have a huge zone and another has one the size of a postage stamp. 

Sometimes these games are more about the plate ump than who the teams are.

Sometimes these games are more about the plate ump than who the teams are.


This post is for the guy with the postage stamp zone.  Umpires with a small zone can be very frustrating to pitchers and coaches alike.  Pitchers are forced to throw the ball practically right down the middle for it to be called a strike and not surprisingly, the result tends to be a high scoring game.  Double-digit runs for both teams are not uncommon when this guy is behind the plate.

The question becomes, is there anything a coach can do when an umpire has what he deems to be too small of a zone?   The answer is yes.  Unfortunately, even though there is a lot a coach can do, most strategies do not produce a good outcome.  Umpires rarely change their zone in the middle of a game so screaming and hollering doesn’t tend to do much good.  It can also get you ejected.  In my experience, when managers criticize an umpire for a bad zone it tends to now produce an angry umpire with the same bad zone.  Not a good combination.

There is, however, a strategy I have used which tends to have a pretty good rate of success.  It will also keep you in the game.  Basically, I hit the umpire where it really hurts – the clock.

Not a single person surrounding the game of baseball enjoys the three hour game.  Players hate it, coaches hate it, fans hate it, announcers hate it, and umpires hate it.  But at least the first four on that list get a chance to sit down for much of the game.  Umpires do not.  They stand for the entire game.  In the hot sun, the biting cold, and everything in between.  Knowing that, the clock angle is a good one.

After a couple innings of a small zone when it’s clear it’s going to be one of those games, I often would go to the mound as if I’m going to talk to the pitcher.  I’d stay there long enough so the plate ump has to come out to the mound to tell me to wrap up.  When he does, this is what I would say.  And I would say it with a smile.  “You have a very small zone today.  You can have any zone you want but if it stays that small, this game is going to take forever to finish.”  And then I would be silent.  Not another word even if he responds.

Here is why this can be very effective.

First, I didn’t yell it from the dugout which would make him mad and might get me ejected.  If I’m on the mound, he comes to me and the conversation is private. Basically, I’m not showing him up.

Second, I’m not arguing.  I’m just making a benign statement.  I recognize his authority to have any zone he wants.  I’m just pointing to what happens when that zone is used.

Third, I’m planting a seed.  Instead of saying how bad his zone is which usually accomplishes nothing, I’m basically leading him to the realization that it is to his advantage to widen the zone.  Remember, he’s the one who has to stand the whole game.  He also knows that whether the game lasts one hour or three hours, he gets paid the same amount.

Using this strategy often gets the umpire to realize that his zone is contributing to the abnormally long and/or high scoring game.  In essence, he reaches his own conclusion that there is ZERO benefit for him to have a small zone.  For consistency, he may not change his zone that game but he may change his zone in the future.  And that’s a win-win for everyone.

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