Baseball - fixed strike zone?

This is a follow-on to discussions about computerized ball-strike calls.

Hypothetically, suppose setting a strike zone customized to each player’s dimensions proves troublesome. What might be the effects on the game of the following:

  1. A completely fixed strike zone, the same for every player, every at bat. Top and bottom are each a defined distance above home plate (chosen to be approximately the average of current strike zones).

  2. A strike zone of a defined height, with its bottom defined by the player’s kneecaps, as at present. (Presuming the automatic system could easily spot the player’s knees.)

I’m not a baseball fan, but I played as a kid. I was always amazed that #1 wasn’t the real rule.

It would penalize taller players (or potentially shorter players depending on how it is set up). If it’s fixed, you’d be selecting for players of a specific height and reach. If it’s based on a specific distance above the knees you’d want a shorter player to have better access to the zone. Or taller batters would modify their swing to be more of a golf swing to have power through the zone.

José Altuve is 5’ 6", Aaron Judge is 6’ 7", and there have been taller and shorter players. Designing a fair strike zone for all of them would be pretty difficult.

The whole concept of the strike zone is so that a batter will get some balls it is possible to hit.* Not adjusting the strike zone for the height of the player will mean those away from the average will get fewer balls they can hit. They will have lower batting averages, and will be selected against in comparison with players closer to average height. The result will be that there will be fewer short and tall players in baseball.

*It has been said that baseball is a zen sport: The point is to throw the ball in such a way that it is possible to hit it, but it is not actually hit.

Do we see this height-selection effect in cricket? That is a good example of rules under which there is a fixed ‘strike zone’.

I don’t know, do we? What is the height of the shortest and tallest cricket players?

I am not a trivia expert, but a quick search claims the shortest-ever player was ‘Tich’ Cornford at 5 feet, and the tallest is Mohammed Irfan at 7’ 1". And you definitely see batsmen 5’3" to 6’5"+. Maybe someone can tabulate the actual distribution of heights versus how good the players are statistically, but at first glance it’s not obvious that top players are all the same height.

ETA of course the pitching/bowling technique is quite different from that used in baseball, so any comparison may be pointless

I’d argue that those below MLB average height would suffer far more than those above it. Taller players have larger strike zones, thus going to a set size for everyone will shrink the zone they have to “protect” from before, whereas shorter players will now have a larger danger zone. There definitely won’t be any strikes high in the zone for Judge to turn on and blast into the cheap seats anymore, though, and he’ll have to contend with strikes that feel like they’re coming across at his ankles.

Either way, I don’t like it. I can see moneyball types being attracted to it, however, because it gives a set parameter to judge players by.

This is a total furphy.
But to give it a suitably quick and deep burial.

Yes, Mohammed Irfan is over 7’all, but he’s a bowler.

If the fixed height of the cricket stumps was an equivalent factor to the fixed height of the baseball strike zone, you’d think that there’d be a distinct advantage to bowlers being short. But in fact the opposite applies. Bowlers are almost without exception tall. In the current Australian team only one (Nathan Lyon) is not over 190cm (6’3").

On the other hand there is a distinct advantage for batsmen to be short. International standard batsmen over 190cm are about but they are uncommon. Of the incumbent Aust Test team only one batsman is over 190cm, (Mitchell Marsh … and be fucked if I’ll allow him to be classified as a Test standard batsman). Almost all of the worlds best batsmen over time have been under 180cm (5’11")

Batsmen scoring over 10,000 Test runs
Sachin Tendulkar 5’5"
Ricky Ponting 5’10"
Jacques Kallis 6’0"
Rahul Dravid 5’11"
Alastair Cook 6’2"
Kumar Sangakkara 5’10"
Brian Lara 5’8"
Shivnarine Chanderpaul 5’8"
Mahela Jayawardene 5’7"
Allan Border 5’9"
Steve Waugh 5’10"
Sunil Gavaskar 5’5"
Younis Khan 5’9"
Don Bradman 5’7"

It is partially fixed in terms of the width (In some cases the batsman’s waist is used as the limit for a fair ball) but there is no lower limit to it (a delivery can be fairly aimed at the toes) and it is also fair to bowl the ball at the body, head etc.
In other words the “strike zone” such as it is, is much bigger and with more leeway so that it works OK for pretty much any human being across a wide range of heights and you can’t really bowl in such a way as to completely disadvantage one height of person over another.

I thought he meant the stumps - which is kind of a fixed ‘strike zone’, but of course bowlers aren’t penalised for not bowling at them.

yep, so in the case of a potential LBW decision the stumps are used as the target against which the technology makes the judgement of “out” or “not out”. That’s not the only criteria but I’ll not delve into details.
Perhaps the key difference is that each team gets a certain number of “challenges” and only in those circumstances is the technology called into play.
It generally works very well in eliminating the umpire howlers whilst keeping the game moving but it isn’t something that is used for every delivery as it would be for baseball.

I don’t see a problem with the OP’s proposal. In many other sports, it’s the athletes who have to conform to the standard-sized targets/equipment and not the other way around. You don’t see shorter basketball players being given a shorter basket to shoot at, a 5-foot tall guy will always be disadvantaged in dunking vs. a 7-foot guy. So for every batter in baseball to have to swing at a standardized fixed strike zone seems totally reasonable. Those who are abnormally tall or abnormally short would just have to deal with it.

How about a strike zone of fixed dimensions L x W x H, but it’s set so that the top of the zone is at the batter’s shoulders, or armpits, or wherever the top of the strike zone is defined these days.

You may have noticed the basket isn’t moving at 98 MPH while the players are shooting at it.

Because in this situation a tall batter will never see a strike below his knees while a short player will see many strikes below the knees giving the taller player a huge advantage.

Look, hitting a baseball is unlike anything else (I don’t know anything about cricket so that may be similar). It needs specific rules.

Hitting a small round ball moving around 100 MPH with a cylinder is crazy.

I’m not sure this analysis works for taller-than-average players.

Wouldn’t such players tend to prefer a smaller strike zone - so that it’s a bit harder to strike them out, and walks become a bit more common?

Just having it smaller isn’t necessarily beneficial. In particular, this doesn’t work for your option 1. The lower edge of a strike zone defined for an average player will be below a tall player’s knees. A pitcher will find it much easier to strike him out with low pitches.

For option 2, a tall player will benefit from having what were formerly high strikes be balls. But it would be much easier to strike out a short player by pitching him high.

I think that the reason the strike zone is based on the batter is that prior to TV cameras and expensive pitch tracking software there was not a good way for the umpires to judge the absolute height of a pitched ball. It is more about trying to get some kind of standard that an umpire can judge than making the game fair for all body types.