Why do batters sometimes chase balls well outside the strike zone?


I took an umpiring class this past Spring (2012), so I can offer what we were taught.

Regardless of whether a pitch is a strike or a ball, we were taught to wait a "tick" to be sure of what we've seen. If nothing else, this mindset helps one watch the pitch all the way into the glove.

If the call is a strike, one should rise from the slightly crouched stance, raise the right hand into a fist and pump it forward with authority and confidence while calling out 'HIKE'.

Why 'HIKE' and not 'STRIKE'? Simple, it's easier to call (especially for 7, 8, 9, or more innings), and it sounds close to the same.

The main point is to both call and signal the strike with authority. Oh, and swinging strikes are signaled, but not called out.

In addition, we're taught to make all strike calls, including strike three, where we're allowed a little bit of showmanship, while facing forward – not looking to the right.

Why? Well, home plate umpires in MLB, and I...

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According to MLB's definition of terms, a strike is a pitch in which "any part of the ball passes through any part of the strike zone" and called by the umpire, regardless of whether the catcher catches the ball or not.

An instance in which this is significant is when it is the third strike. If the catcher doesn't catch the third strike, the batter can become a runner (see rule 6.09 (b) quoted below). Base runners, if any on base, can also attempt to proceed when the catcher doesn't catch the ball, but this is more common on wild pitches.

A STRIKE is a legal pitch when so called by the umpire, which --

(a) Is struck at by the batter and is missed;

(b) Is not struck at, if any part of the ball passes through any part of the strike zone;

(c) Is fouled by the batter when he has less than two strikes;

(d) Is bunted foul;

(e) Touches the batter as he strikes at it;

(f) Touches the batter in flight in the strike zone;...

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I don't know if you can exactly quantify this, since you cannot really know fully the intention of a pitcher, and even if you could, he probably doesn't always have a mentality where the pitch has to be either a ball or strike... sometimes, he pitches to the black thinking that it can be ball or strike, just want it to be a tough pitch to drive, hopefully it's a strike but it doesn't always have to be, especially when the count is in his favor.

The bottom line is strikes are always desired, so even the pitches thrown outside the strike zone can often be meant for strike, by getting batters to chase. Those are probably intended to get strikes, though they are not thrown within the strike zone.

That said, you might be able to get a rough idea from PITCHf/x data.

Zone% is the percentage of pitches that go in the strike zone, and the MLB average is about 45%. This means 55% of all pitches thrown are actually outside the strike zone. The strike %, however, is roughly 63%,...

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In August 1951, in a double-header against the Detroit Tigers, St. Louis Browns owner Bill Veeck sent in a batter impossible to strike out. His name was Eddie Gaedel, and at 3 feet 7 inches (1.1 meters) and batting in a crouched position his strike zone was only 1.5 inches (3.8 centimeters) high -- smaller than the diameter of a baseball. With four balls Gaedel was walked, securing this event as one of the greatest stunts in baseball history [sources: Authur, Veeck].

So, where's the strike zone? The best way to think of it is as an imaginary box or rectangle over home plate. If a pitched ball passes inside the box and the batter doesn't swing, it's a strike. If the ball passes outside of this box and the batter doesn't swing, it's a ball. But the strike zone doesn't have set coordinates. In fact, the strike zone varies from batter to batter and, in many cases, from umpire to umpire -- making it one of the most subjective and interesting elements the game of baseball has to...

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You see the stories everywhere. “Baseball teams are striking out more than ever,” blared an NBC Sports headline back in April. In 2015, The Hardball Times wrote a story entitled “The Strikeout Ascendant.” And the year before that, friend of the program Ben Lindbergh hosted a “rising strikeout rate symposium” on his popular podcast, Effectively Wild. Clearly, the baseball world is well aware that strikeout rates are up — way up.

What’s less well-known, but equally true, is this: Baseball’s recent rise in strikeout rates has little to do with how good batters are at making contact. That’s a bit counterintuitive, I know, because strikeout rates have increased (up nearly 26 percent since 2002), and when you think of a strikeout, you usually imagine a batter taking a mighty hack and missing. And indeed, swinging strikes are up as a percentage of all pitches.

But keep in mind that this isn’t only about the batters — pitchers also have a big say in the matter.

And in...

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The strike zone in baseball is a three-dimensional area that has a width and depth that mirror the shape of home plate and that ranges in height from about the batter's knees up to his or her chest. Different baseball leagues and organizations define the highest and lowest boundaries of the strike zone differently, but they all agree on the width and depth of the zone as well as its purpose and use. If a batter doesn't swing the bat at a pitch and any part of the baseball passed through the strike zone without first hitting the ground, then the umpire will call the pitch a strike; otherwise, it will be called a ball. A strike is beneficial to the pitcher: after three strikes, the batter is out. A ball is beneficial to the batter: after four balls, the batter is allowed to advance to first base.

The Strike Zone's Boundaries

In every set of baseball rules, the left and right sides of the strike zone as well as its depth are determined by the size and shape of home...

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First off, the strike zone is a mystical thing sometimes. While there are specific guidelines, some umpires change it a little based on the height or size of the batter. Most of the time, batters swing at these pitches because from the pitchers windup, they thing it will be a strike. They follow the ball usually as it passes the ear of the pitcher (left for a southpaw and right for a righty) Some pitches such as a slider, fake the batter out by appearing to come down the plate, but fall lower than anticipated, hence the name. A change up or off speed pitch do the same to a batter from their view. They believe that they will cross the plate in the strike zone, therefore they take a whack at it but often whiff if they don't realize the style of pitch. Most good batters can tell when an off speed pitch is coming down the pike, and plan for it, holding off or taking a swing. Hope this helps to clear things...

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Hitting and Getting on Base

To score runs a team has to hit the ball (usually). A hitter will not swing at every pitch, usually he's waiting for a good pitch to hit, and this isn't as easy as it might sound. On average a hitter will only hit safely 25% of the time, and a hitter who can hit over 30% is likely to be a superstar. Bearing in mind that only 25% of swings will result in a safe hit, a walk to first base (for receiving four "balls") becomes quite an attractive proposition.

Why is Hitting so Hard?

To get a hit "all" a hitter has to do is hit the ball on the ground and far enough away from a fielder that he has time to run safely from the plate to first base. When he hits the ball, he isn't in a starter's blocks ready to sprint to first base - he's still completing his swing from having hit the ball.

Any runner who can cover the 90 feet from plate to first base in around 3.5 seconds is considered to be very quick, 4-5 seconds is far more...

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There’s very little doubt in my mind that Major League Baseball’s umpires are the best in the world. Granted, there are minor-league umpires better than some major-league umpires; union rules keep relatively incompetent umpires from being weeded out in good order, so it’s far from a strict meritocracy. But these guys are really, really good at their jobs.

That said, their jobs are really, really difficult. Ever try to judge a 90-mile-an-hour pitch from the batter’s box? It’s really hard, especially if you don’t have superhuman eyesight. Granted, it’s a little easier from behind the plate. But few umpires have superhuman eyesight, plus sometimes the pitches are coming in at a hundred miles an hour rather than 90.

I’m just saying it’s not easy, back there. We should hardly be surprised when umpires miss by an inch or two, sometimes even three or four. And in fact, they are missing from time to time.

Recently, FiveThirtyEight published a tremendously interesting...

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In my last article I began delving into the topic of wasting pitches. The idea of wasting an 0-2 pitch by throwing it well outside the strike zone is something that I know I heard growing up, from my Little League coaches and from major league baseball announcers. But is there any merit to the idea?

When the pitcher has gotten ahead of the batter 0-2, there’s generally not a lot of offense to be found. Joe Posnanski found that batters hit .162/.173/.236 (AVG/OBP/SLG) when the 0-2 was the “action pitch” or last pitch of the plate appearance. For all plate appearances that pass through 0-2, batters managed only a .179/.210/.269 line.

Before we start looking at the results of wasted pitches, we should define what outcomes would constitute “success” for the waste strategy.

There are many possibilities to consider, but I think we can suggest some level of success in one of two circumstances:
1. Overall performance, measured by wOBA, is worse in a plate...

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Based on the 2006-11 data, Kutscher also predicted results for 2012 and found that 24 of 30 teams had poorer plate discipline at the end of the season than at the start. Over all, batters swung at 29.2 percent of bad pitches in April and 31.4 percent of them in September, with monthly increases that varied slightly from the predicted curve on Kutscher’s graph.

With some teams, the difference was drastic. The Houston Astros, for example, had an O-swing rate of less than 26 percent in April and of 34 percent in September. At the other end of the scale, the 2012 San Francisco Giants actually improved their O-swing rate to 33 percent in September from 34 percent in April.

“It would be interesting to see if a team’s won-lost record goes down as they’re swinging out of the strike zone more,” Mets catcher John Buck said.

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Every season major league pitchers throw tens of thousands of pitches inside off the plate, yet they hit batters “only” about 1500-1800 times in a season. Why do some inside pitches hit the batter, while others do not?

Albert Lyu’s graphs of hit-by-pitch locations in an article about Javier Vazquez hitting three consecutive Rays batters on September 23, 2010, spurred my investigation of this question. I was initially curious about using hit-by-pitch locations and rates as a way to identify how close each batter stands to the plate. The data has some utility for that purpose, as discussed previously, but I also became fascinated by the question of why pitches hit batters.

The BP Wayback Machine publication of Dan Fox’s old article on HBP rates and a comment by Keith Bart goaded me to organize and publish my research. Keith postulated the following:

It would seem to me that the two main factors that determine whether a pitch hits a batter are the...

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In baseball, batting is the act of facing the opposing pitcher and trying to produce offense for one's team. A batter or hitter is a person whose turn it is to face the pitcher. The three main goals of batters are to become a baserunner, drive runners home, or advance runners along the bases for others to drive home, but the techniques and strategies they use to do so vary. Hitting uses a motion that is virtually unique to baseball, one that is rarely used in other sports. Hitting is unique because unlike most sports movements in the vertical plane of movement hitting involves rotating in the horizontal plane.[1]

In general, batters try to get hits. However, their primary objective is to avoid making an out, and helping their team to score runs. There are several ways they can help their team score runs. They may draw a walk if they receive and do not swing the bat at four pitches located outside the strike zone. In cases when there is a runner on third and fewer than two...

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Softball is a variant of baseball played with a larger ball on a smaller field. It was invented in 1887 in Chicago as an indoor game. It was at various times called indoor baseball, mush ball, playground, softball, kitten ball, because it was also played by women, ladies' baseball. The name softball was given to the game in 1926.

A tournament held in 1933 at the Chicago World's Fair spurred interest in the game. The Amateur Softball Association (ASA) of America (founded 1933) governs the game in the United States and sponsors annual sectional and World Series championships. The World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) regulates rules of play in more than 110 countries, including the United States and Canada; before the WBSC was formed in 2013, the International Softball Federation filled this role. Women's fastpitch softball became a Summer Olympic sport in 1996, but it (and baseball) were dropped from the 2012 Games; they will be reinstated for the 2020...

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(This article originally appeared in the March 6, 2009 edition of Collegiate Baseball.)

Special To Collegiate Baseball
© 2009 Collegiate Baseball

HOUSTON, Tex. — On opening day of the 1999 Division Series, I watched the Houston Astros defeat the decade’s best pitcher, Greg Maddux, 6-1.

The Astros took the four-time Cy Young Award winner deep into counts repeatedly, drawing four walks and 10 hits. Maddux left after seven innings and 110 pitches.

In 1997, the Florida Marlins beat Maddux during their championship run, drawing an unheard of number of free passes by forcing the right-hander to throw extra pitches. The 1998 New York Yankees saw more pitches than any other team enroute to their World Series title.

These are major league examples of hitter discipline helping teams beat an elite pitcher and win championships at the highest level. Creating a sense of discipline throughout a lineup is one of the secrets of...

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Ever since the PITCHf/x system debuted in the 2006 playoffs, people have been interested in what it says about the strike zone that the umpires call.

John Walsh and Jonathan Hale provided some of the seminal work on the topic. John observed how the umpires called a strike zone that was wider than the rulebook definition but not as tall and that it was shifted toward the outside for left-handed batters. Jonathan also looked at the umpire zones and broke down the results by umpire and pitcher.

Jonathan and recent BP addition Dan Turkenkopf built on this work by examining how the strike zone changed in a variety of situations: by inning, by pitcher age/experience, by pitcher control, by home/away team, etc.

More recently, John Walsh and J-Doug Mathewson raised the profile of the discussion with articles about how umpire zones change based on the ball-strike count and other factors. Jonathan Hale and Dave Allen had observed many of these effects previously,...

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