As a young high school pitcher I learned a valuable truth; the major league strike zone isn’t exactly the same as it is at the high school level. It seems strange but it’s true. If a young player watches a lot of major league baseball on television it can fill their head with confusion when they try to understand what a little league umpire’s interpretation of the strike zone is. In this article, we will go through what the strike zone is and how it can be handled at every age.
The Rule as stated in the Rule Book in 1988
“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 aline at the top of the knees. The Strike Zone shall be determined from the batter’s stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball.” In 1996, the rule was changed to say that the knees had been adjusted to include the bottom of the knee.
Does that make sense to you? How many baseball games have you watched where the pitch was a little bit above the belt and it was called high? It happened all the time for me. When I was growing up, Rickey Henderson had the greatest crouch in baseball. Rickey’s job as the leadoff hitter was to get on base and he knew the strike zone very well. He played on the portion of the rule which talks about the stance of the batter. Richie Sexson of the Mariners, on the other hand, is 6 foot 8 inches tall and his strike zone is monstrous so it’s no wonder why shorter players like Joe Morgan and expert “crouchers” like Henderson had such high on-base percentages. They had smaller strike zones and were great at utilizing that advantage.
I tell players in little league that if the ball goes over the plate from your shoulders down the ump will call it a strike. The purpose of little league is to gain confidence playing the game not walking around the bases. Most young pitchers struggle throwing strikes so the umps usually give them the benefit of the doubt. Train to recognize which pitches are outside and inside, but if the ball is set to cross the plate from the shoulders down, swing away!
The same rule applies in high school baseball with a slight variation. I played high school baseball in Iowa and I loved it there. We had great umpires who used their jobs to teach kids instead of just rule over them. Before each game the ump, if asked, would clearly explain what he would call a strike and what he wouldn’t. I enjoyed that level of communication as a young pitcher. That way it was my job to pitch to what he would call and not try to adjust otherwise. Typically, high school is just a little more liberal than the pro game. The umps are not as experienced with seeing certain pitches and certain breaks on balls. They will typically call pitches more liberally on the corners as well as high or low. The ump will typically not squeeze you in high school ball. If you are consistently close on your pitches, he will call strikes for you. As a hitter, take the time to talk with an ump before the game and find out what he typically calls a strike. Don’t argue about it; just learn where the strikes will be so you know what to expect. If the ump refuses to tell you where the strikes will be, be disciplined and watch the calls as the game progresses.