Baseball 101: The strike zone

Sometimes, if you’re a pitcher, it seems elusive.  If you’re a batter, it can sometimes seem larger than life.  The strike zone — in some ways, it is baseball’s version of the Twilight Zone: sometimes it’s hard to tell where it really is.

The strike zone is the area over home plate through which a pitcher must pitch the ball in order for the pitch to be called a strike if the batter does not swing.  The idea is that the ball must pass through an area where the batter has a chance to put the ball into play if he swings at it.  According to the MLB’s Official 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. The Strike Zone shall be determined from the batter’s stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball.

Or, to make things simpler, many regard the area from the elbows to the bottom of the knees as the vertical axis of the strike zone.

The size of the strike zone has not remained static through the years.  Major League Baseball will sometimes make the official strike zone larger or smaller in order to maintain a balance of power between pitchers and hitters.  For example, after Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s home run record in the 1961 season, the strike zone was stretched to extend from the top of the batter’s shoulders to the bottom of the knees.  Then, in 1968, pitchers such as Don Drysdale, Bob Gibson, and Denny McLain utterly dominated hitters.  As a result, not only was the size of the strike zone reduced in 1969, but the height of the pitchers mound was also reduced from 15 inches to 10 inches tall.

At the end of the day, though, enforcement of the strike zone lies with the home plate umpire.  As any player or fan of the game knows, the size — and, sometimes, even the shape — of the strike zone can vary from one umpire to the next.  As a result, pitchers and hitters often find themselves having to adjust their expectations according to those of the umpire.  And, sometimes, the umpire can be the most loved or the most hated person in the ballpark.

5 thoughts on “Baseball 101: The strike zone

  1. i think the strike zone change and mound lower for 1969 was a result of a decade long pitcher’s paradise or maybe not. maybe it was due to mclain’s 30 win season. i got some home work to do . Oh and i wanted to ask if you like the strike zone graphic shown on tv these days or the less crowded screens from previous years?

    1. I am of two minds about it. One one hand, I think it’s pretty cool how technology allows us to be able to pin point where, exactly, a pitch crossed through the zone (or how nearly it missed). Other times, though, I do miss the simplicity of judging a pitch with the naked eye. Baseball is a bit schizophrenic that way: a simple game that openly invites complexities in analysis.

      1. with the score, pitch count, rolling scores underneath, and strike zone thing, it requires a new kind of focus, but the technology is of course taking us to unimaginable sabermetric places.

  2. Does the ball have to pass over the front surface of the plate to be called a strike?

Leave a Reply