Umpires and Spring Training

This morning Buster Olney linked to an article about umpire preparation in spring training. There is lots of good stuff in here.

The topic is near and dear to my heart as I have a scrimmage this afternoon (weather pending). I try to see as many pitches as I can before the season. My first real game is a week and a half away.

Here are some of the more interesting parts of the article presented with my comments.

“It’s spring training for everybody,” Sanchez said afterward of the umpires’ non-call. Catcher Russell Martin said the same thing in a separate interview.

Mr. Sanchez and Mr. Martin have not read this book. In all seriousness, I am sure umpires don’t read these sorts of things. It still seems like an odd quote.

The 46-year-old Connecticut native estimates it takes him five games working behind the plate before he’s ready for the regular season. “At about three you’re feeling confident in your zone; four you’re polishing things up; five it feels like the regular season.”

I found this interesting. By the time the season starts, I will have worked 3 days of clinics and 3 practice games. Of course, I am not nearly as good as Mr. Iassogna. I hope my preparation will be enough.

Thanks to extensive research by Jon Roegele of The Hardball Times, we know that MLB’s called strike zone has expanded in recent years. Roegele found that since 2010 the called strike zone has grown by 39 square inches, mostly at the bottom of the zone.

 

Iassogna says he thinks the expansion is the result of umpires calling a truer zone. When he was first called up to the big leagues in the late ‘90s umpires didn’t call anything above the belt or below the knees, he said. “You took all that stuff that you would’ve called and you put it on the corners, mostly on the outside corner. It was acceptable with the players because they could foul that pitch off.”

There is probably another entire post on this topic. I have read a lot about the growing strike zone. None of the analyses I have seen address what Mr. Iassogna mentions – is the growth correct? It is empirically true that more “low” strikes are being called, but are there more “low” balls being called?

If the answer to that question is “no”, then shouldn’t people be happy with the change. It seems backwards to advocate for instant replay to “get the call right” and then get mad at umpires for calling the rule book zone. The strike zone is on page 20 of RuleGraphics.

The hardest part of the job, Iassogna says, is moving on after you know you missed a call. He admits he struggles to follow the advice he gives to minor-league umpires about not taking the job home at night. “It eats you up, it really does. I don’t know if I’ll ever have a good way of dealing with that.”

I agree with this 100%. I hardly remember the great correct calls I have made. I can recall in great detail the ones I kicked. My association recently had an umpires panel. Experienced guys took questions from newer guys. Great stuff in the panel but the one comment that resonated with me was on this topic. It was “always try to understand the ‘why’ behind a missed call – not the call itself”.

Point being that umpiring is about process, mechanics and judgement. Often times small changes to process can put you in better position to not kick a call again. The key is being open to feedback on if a call was kicked.

Have you ever practiced your strike-three call in front of a mirror?

“Always. Well, it’s probably been 10 years, but in the early days, definitely. We used to laugh because in the minor leagues you couldn’t pass a mirror without making an out call or something. But I don’t really practice it now.”

I am very guilty of this. I have also been known to watch a baseball game standing up to practice getting set for a pitch. My family thinks I am crazy.

Has a family member or friend ever given you grief for a call you made?

“If I miss a call, even if it’s in a west-coast game, I will look at my cell phone afterward and my Dad has left me a message that says, ‘Missed it.’ If I get it right he’ll also say that, but yeah, more than any supervisor I’ve had my Dad is very critical of me, which is good because he’ll shoot straight with me.”

That is pretty intense. My family has never done that to me. It sounds like this support system works well for Mr. Iassogna.

All in all this is a great article that provides some great insights into a man at the top in his chosen career.

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