The Count

on baseball's new strike zone


May 08, 2001

Runs per game

-10.6% April 2000, 10.75; April 2001, 9.61

Batting average


April 2000, .270; April 2001, .260

Home runs per game


April 2000, 2.56; April 2001, 2.34

Earned run average

-9.5%M April 2000, 4.96; April 2001, 4.46

Strikeouts per game


April 2000, 12.91; April 2001, 13.61

Walks per game


April 2000, 7.82; April 2001, 6.78

Length of game


April 2000, 2.58; April 2001, 2.54

Throughout his crusade to standardize the strike zone, Major League Baseball vice president Sandy Alderson insisted there was no hidden agenda.

It wasn't to speed up games.

It wasn't to reset the balance of power between pitchers and hitters. It wasn't to assert more authority over the umpires.

Alderson said all along his directive re-establishing the high strike had one purpose - to move baseball back to something resembling the strike zone defined in the Official Baseball Rules.

Who could argue with that?

The strike zone - once extending from the chest to the knees and spanning only the width of home plate - had evolved into a set of individual strike zones, with each umpire applying his own personal standard and each player forced to divine what that was on any given day.

Some umpires had strayed so far from the rulebook that the zone had become a horizontal rectangle, with the upper limit barely reaching the belt and the outside strike often several inches off the plate. Others had simply shrunk the zone to the point where hitters could just work the count until they got something fat.

Alderson, whose casual front office attire as general manager of the Oakland Athletics always gave him the look of a free spirit, decided the strike zone was one area where conformity should be king.

Now, one month into the new season, the change has taken root and the early returns are coming in. Baseball's grand new experiment has gone relatively smoothly, and it has had a significant impact on the sport, whether Alderson and commissioner Bud Selig intended that or not.

"I think things have gone pretty well, depending on your point of view," Alderson said Friday. "I think the strike zone change has gotten a foothold and - by and large - most of the umpires are attempting to apply the new standard, but we still have some work to do to provide feedback and ensure consistency."

Alderson and management officials also are pleased with the overall effect on the quality of play, even though he wasn't sure at the outset what the net impact of the new zone would be on offensive production and the pace of games.

Most noticeably, scoring is down significantly from a year ago.

During the first month of the 2000 season, the average number of runs in a game by both teams was 10.75. That number fell to 9.61 this April, a decrease of 10.6 percent.

Offensive numbers are down across the board. The combined batting average of all major-league hitters in April was .260, down 3.7 percent from .270 a year ago. The number of home runs has dropped 8.6 percent. Triples are down 7.3 percent. Doubles are down 9.1 percent.

There has even been a modest decrease in the average time of game (from 2 hours, 58 minutes to 2:54), something baseball officials have been working on for the past several years.


Probably not.

Doesn't it stand to reason that a larger, more consistent strike zone would affect the competitive balance between pitchers and hitters? Isn't it also logical to assume that more strikes would lead to shorter pitch counts and quicker games?

Perhaps the most striking - and predictable - statistical change has come in the number of walks in April. They were down a dramatic 13.3 percent from the same period last season.

"What I was unable to predict was the net effect of calling the high strike, being more consistent with the inside pitch, keeping the low strike and not calling the pitch off the plate," Alderson said. "Would the net effect be positive or negative?"

The net effect is an average of seven fewer pitches a game so far. And, because it takes about 30 to 35 seconds between pitches, that accounts for the four-minute decrease in the average time of games.

The larger issue is the impact on the way pitchers work hitters and the way hitters work the pitch count.

"It's a pretty significant change," Florida Marlins manager John Boles told reporters recently. "This to me is right up there with the DH and the lowering of the pitching mound."

Even some veteran umpires are hailing the change, though an earlier attempt by management to standardize the strike zone was met with a union grievance by former umpires labor leader Richie Phillips.

"I'm all for it," said veteran umpire John Shulock. "It's a great idea. I think it should have been done a long time ago."

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