Mike Schmidt: Home Plate Umps Shouldn’t Call Balls and Strikes

On ESPN 97.5’s The Fanatic, Phillies Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt joined Harry Mayes and Jon Marks and dropped this suggestion about the future of calling balls and strikes:

“I think the umpire at home plate should not call balls and strikes. I think they should have a force field over home plate and if the pitcher throws and the ball touches the force field a little bell goes off and it’s a strike. That would expand the strike zone to the point where the hitters would now have to swing [at] the ball, which would shorten the game. The umpire needs to be at home plate for the safe and out calls at home plate and foul balls and fair balls and basically to run the game but we’re going to see at some time — my guess is within the next 10 years – that you’ll see the balls and strikes just like the line calls in tennis. You’d think it would be something very easy to do with what they can do electronically in our world today.” Mike Schmidt on 97.5 The Fanatic

It’s not the first time we’ve heard this suggestion — Bobby Valentine suggested it in 2012 — but it’s certainly an idea worth considering. The technology is there, as Pitch F/X and derivative sites like Brooks Baseball can already tell us in real-time whether a pitch is a strike or a ball.

The expansion of instant replay has significantly curbed the amount of manager/umpire and player/umpire arguments, which added much more time onto the game than replay does now. Rick Renteria of the Cubs became the first manager to get ejected this season by arguing balls and strikes. Getting rid of these arguments, along with Schmidt’s observation that a regulation-enforced strike zone would force players to swing more, helps the pace issue some have with baseball. Additional rules that keep managers in the dugout for pitching changes, get rid of warm-ups before relief appearances (assuming the reliever warmed up in the bullpen beforehand), and limiting the amount of time a batter has to step away from the batter’s box would help in that regard as well.

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  1. Richard

    April 10, 2014 12:46 PM

    “Schmidt’s observation that a regulation-enforced strike zone would force players to swing more”

    not sure I follow this – why would this be the case?

    • Bill Baer

      April 10, 2014 12:48 PM

      Umpires call a smaller-than-regulation strike zone, which favors hitters. A “digital” strike zone would be relatively bigger, even though the textbook strike zone hasn’t actually changed. Bigger strike zone = batters have to swing more.

      • Richard

        April 10, 2014 12:50 PM

        Right. I was forgetting about the high strike.

      • Bill Baer

        April 10, 2014 12:52 PM

        I wonder what would happen to production by left- and right-handed hitters with a digital strike zone. Umpires also have a bias, calling more strikes for left-handed hitters compared to their right-handed counterparts. Wonder if the correction would be small or very noticeable.

      • Dan R

        April 10, 2014 01:42 PM

        It would also devalue catchers with excellent receiving skills, i.e. Jose Molina.

  2. Ryan

    April 10, 2014 01:58 PM

    I really hope that this is put in place some time soon. A bad call here or there at a critical moment can change the outcome of a game. A bad strike zone can be even worse. Also, anything that speeds up the game like this would be welcome. You could also limit the number of times a catcher can visit the mound per inning/game. I remember the Yankees being really annoying about this and the whole stepping out at the plate years ago.

  3. Tim

    April 10, 2014 02:00 PM

    I truly believe that mistakes by umpires are a beautiful necessary part of our favorite pastime. It adds to that wonderful moment of anticipation between when the pitcher starts his windup until the batter completes his swing where anything can happen…. a strikeout, a home run, a slow roller to the shortstop… or even a blown call that sends me into a blind rage. Once you remove the human element your left with a computer program spitting out results. Accurate maybe but how can we deny future generations the opportunity to scream at umpires, it is as much a part of the game as hot dogs, peanuts & cracker jack.

    I am all for speeding up the game and would love to see any (or all) of the changes listed in the final sentences of this article but I think we should keep that blind as a bat no good jackass behind the plate.

    • Carmine Spellane

      April 10, 2014 02:52 PM

      My heart wants to agree with you, but I keep thinking that, had replay been in effect, that young Tigers’ pitcher would have had a perfect game, when the manager would have surely challenged the horrendous call at first base. For that matter the Cardinals would have won the 1985 World Series, thus denying the Royals their only championship. Good or bad? I can’t say for sure.

    • Brian

      April 12, 2014 08:08 PM

      ” but how can we deny future generations the opportunity to scream at umpires”

      I really hope that was tongue in cheek. As someone who actually umpires softball, this comment troubles me. I don’t show up at your JOB and scream at you for every little thing you do wrong, do I?

      • Tim

        April 15, 2014 10:57 AM

        Relax Brian, yes my tongue is planted in my cheek. My comments are in reference to the article which is about changes to Major League Baseball, where like it or not “every little thing you do wrong” is scrutinized. My point was only that it’s the good and the bad calls, and the emotions that come with them, that make baseball & life interesting. Perfection would be boring. It does not appear that many around these parts share my opinion but that’s ok with me… different opinions and facetious remarks keep baseball & life interesting as well.

  4. Bob

    April 10, 2014 04:00 PM

    I’m all for this. We need to remove the subjective aspect of the k-zone and the dynamic strike zones. A strike zone that is defined the same for every batter will give us better data sets to evaluate both hitters and pitchers. The added consistency in zone could be huge for batters and hitters a like instead of feeling out at the start of each game what the ump is going to call and his personal zone. This will eliminate some of the “make up” calls and partiality on the part of home plate umpires. It could have some psychological effect on players as well. There will be no more batters turning to look at the umpires in dismay or arguing calls or players thinking that certain umps are biased against them. Calibration reports could be generated before every game ensuring that the system was properly working and accurate. It would allow the games to be decided by the players – not certain umpires with god-complexes or even the inadvertent blown call.

  5. Steve

    April 10, 2014 04:32 PM

    This would be cool.. like when i used to play wiffel ball in the backyard and hung a bed sheet with tape on it for the strike zone.. except if you have wicked breaking pitch it could be at the batters nose 5 inches away and break and hit the bed sheet withing the taped strike zone… i get this should be a bit different for real baseball and all.. there have to be some pretty advanced algorithms going into effect to generate this “electronic zone” that the ball must pass through to be a strike

    i agree it can be done, but needs to be though out very well and implemented in a lot of test environments before bringing into the real deal game, excited to see some of this stuff play out.. enjoying the replay aspect they brought in so far!

    • crow

      April 10, 2014 06:39 PM

      An “electronic zone” isn’t really necessary. Pitch F/X uses multi-positional radar. Seems to me a relatively simple extension to send a sound signal with a back-up hand-held device to an umpire behind the plate, who can make the ball-strike call. You still need a home-plate umpire for things like foul tips and other calls not related to balls-strikes.

  6. Dale

    April 10, 2014 11:10 PM

    Love it ! I swear I’ve been saying it for years. You have a sensing system that says definitively if the ball crossed over any part of the plate or not. ( the idea in my head always had a chip in the baseball and a sensing system of some sort installed under the plate) You still need another system to properly define the “up and down” ( I always thought it was knees to chest of the player,but with umps today i have no ides what the proper zone is, please define this for me MLB so it can remain consistent). If both conditions are met a signal goes to a light on the field and its a strike …or not.

    I”m so happy to finally see a legitimate replay system in baseball that can correct a clearly wrong call on the base paths (safe -out). The tech exists….USE IT!

  7. Mark66

    April 11, 2014 10:28 AM

    I want to know who LIED about Howard’s knee ? Was it Howard or the front office ? Get HOWARD off the field. He hurts this team so many ways

  8. Chet

    April 11, 2014 02:42 PM

    I agree. The velocity and movement on today’s pitches are beyond the umpires ability. The human factor has also made the strike zone horribly inconsistent. There’s something wrong with a belt-high, down-the-middle fastball being called a ball.
    I also think the replay review should be made by a fifth party, like the official scorekeeper. The manager throws out the red flag, the ump confers with the 5th guy, decision is made, move on.

  9. Brian

    April 12, 2014 08:03 PM

    Love this idea. I always thought they would do it with 2 HD cameras instead, but if this works too, I say go for it.

    I HATE the guesswork that goes on with umps calling balls and strikes. I always thought it gave the game a slightly illegitimate feel.

  10. dkk

    April 13, 2014 11:00 PM

    I approve of this idea if – and only if – instead of a bell, the “Charge!” fanfare is played every time.

    Otherwise, keep the noisemakers out of it.

  11. wes boyd

    May 18, 2014 07:43 PM

    called third strikes six inches off the plate is redicklous

  12. Craig Chamberlain

    July 30, 2014 03:51 PM

    Dump the home plate ump. Computers would be consistent. Pleas no more art in umpiring!

  13. Jack Smith

    August 20, 2014 12:02 AM

    I am all for it, I have been frustrated for years over bad ball and strike calls. If it was something that happen only occasionally I could live with it. The problem is every batter has bad calls against them. I spend my money to see the players perform, I could care less about the umpires. If a pitcher is going to get a called strike he needs to earn it, to many times umpires give strikes away unearned. It would allow the games to be decided by the players – not certain umpires with god-complexes or even the inadvertent blown call.

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