The “strike zone” is the one area of baseball and softball that causes the most discussions, disagreements, concerns and frustrations.
According to the current edition of 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.
THE UMPIRE SHALL DETERMINE THE STRIKE ZONE ACCORDING TO THE BATTER’S USUAL STANCE WHEN THAT BATTER SWINGS AT A PITCH.
The most important part of that definition is “over home plate” meaning that the strike zone will always remain over home plate, and it doesn’t matter where in the batter’s box the batter stands.
… THE STRIKE ZONE WILL ALWAYS REMAIN OVER HOME PLATE, AND IT DOESN’T MATTER WHERE IN THE BATTER’S BOX THE BATTER STANDS.
If the batter is standing either in the very front or very back of the batter’s box, the umpire MUST take the batter’s normal strike zone to the area over home plate and not call the batter’s zone where he/she is standing. This is what causes a lot of misconceptions about whether a pitch should be called a “ball” or “strike.” The strike zone is where the pitch crosses through the batter’s normal strike zone, or is caught by the catcher in relationship to where the home plate area is located.
The batter’s normal stance should be determined when the batter swings at a pitch or takes a practice swing. The umpire should be aware of a batter who tries to give the impression of a small zone by squatting. Once the umpire determines the batter’s normal stance, he/she should call that strike zone no matter what the batter may do to alter his/her stance and zone.
Tips for establishing a consistent strike zone:
- 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.
- A called strike is a pitch that is not swung at, and in which any part of the ball passes through any part of the strike zone. This is a very important concept for all Little League umpires to understand and remember. The umpire should call the strike zone as stated in Rule 2.00 – Definition of Terms, regardless of where the catcher catches the ball or, as happens in many Little League games, doesn’t catch it.
- Consistent plate mechanics, including proper “slot” placement, will establish a quality strike zone. In turn, you are likely to earn the respect of the game’s participants.
The main objective of a volunteer umpire is to support the children’s efforts to have fun and learn to play baseball and softball within the context of Little League rules. Umpires are expected to be perfect at the start of the game, and get better as the game progresses.