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Should MLB Adjust the Strike Zone?

Nick Markakis and the MLB strike zone superimposed.
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As pointed out by Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk, one of the changes that MLB is mulling for the next collective bargaining agreement is the potential adjustment of the strike zone:

Specifically, shrinking it a tiny bit by raising the bottom of the strike zone from the hollow beneath the kneecap back to the top of the kneecap where it was prior to the 1996 season.

Manfred said Major League Baseball is studying the matter, and the article notes that any change would have to be the subject of collective bargaining, meaning that if a change is made it wouldn’t be implemented until 2017.

As I’d imagine it is for many of you, my gut reaction is “What? Nay to that, make the strike zone bigger!” Anecdotally, the scenario that jumps immediately to mind is that of sitting on the couch, watching the game, and thinking “Where the hell was that, blue?!”

The next thought then goes something like this:

Abe Simpson and why today stinks.“Why, back in my day, the strike zone was from the letters to the knees! And that’s how they called it!”

Which is, of course, mostly nonsense. As Calcaterra also points out, prior to 1996, the strike zone was actually smaller, extending to only the top, rather than the bottom, of the kneecap. And, as you’ll see in the first chart a bit down the page, the rate of called strikes per game has increased noticeably during the current era and certainly since my childhood of watching baseball in the 80’s and 90’s.

The MLB Strike Zone

Would shrinking the strike zone – by the size of a kneecap, hardly a dramatic change – increase instances of yelling at the TV wondering where the heck that pitch was?

Probably. But it could also help reverse or at least stabilize the alarming trend of more strikeouts and fewer runs being scored in MLB games.

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 11.05.15 AMsource

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 11.09.01 AMsource

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 11.11.33 AMsource

As an Orioles fan – that is, a fan of a team whose games generally more closely resemble home run derbies than they do pitcher’s duels now anyway, and who just gave an oft-whiffing slugger the biggest contract in team history – I’m in favor of anything that shifts the balance of power even further toward the hitter. We have mashers in Baltimore, and a smaller strike zone just means more mashing!

As a baseball fan in general, I’m also in favor of the change. I enjoy a pitcher’s duel as much as anyone, but the decline in runs and increase in guys walking straight back to the dugout from the dish isn’t good for the long-term health of the game.

And it beats other, weirder measures, like moving in the fences. As pointed out in one of the articles linked to the graphs above (the “called strike rate” one), in his 1988 Baseball Abstract, Bill James wrote that “An inch in the strike zone means far more than 10 yards in the outfield.”

What do you think, Birdland? Change the zone?

[cardoza_wp_poll id=”117″]

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