Baseball

Optimal Positioning at Home Plate

 

 
The evolution of the mechanics of calling plays at home plate has been fascinating to observe.
 
Plate umpires can make decisions on 250 to 300 pitches in a game, but one call at the plate might decide the outcome of the game. Consequently, the umpire community commits a lot of training to developing the best ways to judge plays at home plate. For many decades, umpires approached plays at the plate using the first-base line extended method, commonly referred to as 1BX. Plate umpires stand at an imaginary line that would extend the first-base foul line into foul territory past home plate.
 
About 20 years ago, a new technique emerged called third-base line extended known as 3BX. This is the opposite position from 1BX with plate umpires standing on an imaginary line from the third-base foul line.

One Call at the Plate Might Determine the Outcome of the Game

The gradual change in this practice recently produced a new tactic called, “The Wedge.”
 
“I first learned The Wedge at a camp three years ago in New Jersey,” said Mike Lum, a 20-year umpire who has worked on the college level for the last five years. “I’ve had conversations with minor league and college umps about The Wedge and we all wonder why we are just hearing about this. I think the major league umpires have been using this method for a while, but someone coined the phrase The Wedge only recently.”
 
From all accounts, The Wedge has been practiced for 5-7 years in the northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., area before blossoming recently into a hot trend on the East Coast over the last 2-4 years. The other dynamic that has widened the use of this new mechanic is the increased movement of catchers who want to avoid violating new obstruction rules during plays at home. Catchers are now starting several feet in front of home plate as opposed to standing on or near it in the past.
 
So why is it called The Wedge? Think of a shape of a wedge or a triangle. The two sides of the wedge represent the path of the runner and the flight of the ball. An umpire using The Wedge would be in between those two lines to see the point of the play where the tag is applied.
 
Chris Marshall is a major advocate of The Wedge. Marshall has worked college baseball for the last 21 years and appeared in his fourth NCAA Division I Super Regional last year at the University of North Carolina.
 
“I’ve completely bought into using The Wedge,” said Marshall, who is the interim president of the New Jersey-based United Collegiate Umpires. “I can remember missing two plays at the plate in a Division I postseason tournament game a few years ago because I was using the old-school thinking. I read the plays correctly but they developed differently than I expected and I got them both wrong. The Wedge now gives me a whole new view of plays at the plate.”
 
The 1BX and 3BX positions have been commonly taught as places to stand and watch. The Wedge, however, is all about movement and putting umpires in a position to see the play completely and correctly. A key difference between The Wedge and the 1BX-3BX methods is that the home plate umpire is keying off the catcher’s movements to gain a good position to see the play. Using 1BX and 3BX, umpires use the flight of the ball. It is a new mindset.
 
“In the past, umpires would choose a pre-determined place to stand, either at the point of the plate or at the first-base or third-base line extended. That puts umpires in a pretty good position to see most plays. But if the play explodes, they will not get the best angle,” Marshall said.
 
Marshall cites four specific plays where The Wedge helps umpires get the optimal view at plays at home plate:
 
  • Swipe tags (when the catcher applies a tag using a swipe motion)

  • Crash plays (when the catcher and runner collide)

  • Block plays (when the catcher blocks the runner from reaching the plate)

  • Dropped balls (when the catcher drops the ball)

“I had been using third-base line extended for years until I learned The Wedge at a clinic two years ago in Binghamton (N.Y.),” said Sal Algozzino, a 23-year umpire who has worked two D-II regionals in his career. “The Wedge allows you to see all types of plays at the plate, but you can’t just stand in one place like we used to do. You must be very aggressive and be ready to move.”
 
When using The Wedge, some instructors say umpires should act like backpacks for the catchers while others urge umpires to stay on the catcher’s glove-side hip. Here are the mechanics of working the wedge:
 
  • Locate the ball.

  • Position yourself 2-3 feet immediately behind the catcher, lining up with the catcher’s left hip.

  • Move in-step with the catcher and remain 2-3 feet behind him.

  • Be prepared to make a final step — the “Read Step” — to see the tag applied. Marshall added, “Umpires need to take quiet, purposeful steps as the ball arrives to put themselves into that window to see the play.”

Two key parts of The Wedge mechanic contradict traditional thinking about home plate coverage, according to Marshall. First, umpires have been taught to keep 4-8 feet away from the play to have a wider field of vision. Second, umpires have been advised not to go into fair territory to call plays at the plate. Umpires using The Wedge often wind up in fair territory in front of the plate or even up the third -base line.
 
Marshall said, “The Wedge can be difficult to grasp right away but it is worth sticking with it because of the advantages it gives you in seeing the play. The game is changing and we need to change with it. As umpires, we might see a close play at the plate once a month so it may take a while to practice it. I wish we had more bangers at the plate so we could work on it.”
 
Tim Gaiser, a 23-year umpire who has worked college baseball for the last 18 years in upstate New York, is another proponent of The Wedge.
 
“I learned The Wedge four years ago and I now apply the wedge fundamentals to plays all over the field,” said Gaiser. “The Wedge has helped me immensely. I look at it this way: I umpire baseball games involving boys ages 15-22. They stay the same age every year but I get one year older every year, so I need to find ways to be more efficient. The Wedge challenges what has been taught for years, but it puts us in the best place to see the play. It makes us better umpires.”

NFHS 2020 Baseball Rules Changes - Expanded Designated Hitter Role Coming to High School Baseball

 

The role of the designated hitter in high school baseball has been expanded to give coaches an additional option for the 2020 season.

The revision to Rule 3-1-4 was the only change recommended by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Baseball Rules Committee at its June 2-4 meeting in Indianapolis. The change was subsequently approved by the NFHS Board of Directors.

“The game is in the best shape it has ever been in the history of high school baseball,” said Elliot Hopkins, NFHS director of sports and student services and liaison to the NFHS Baseball Rules Committee. “This has allowed coaches to coach, players to play and umpires to umpire. This change, which was organic and intuitive, expands the role of the designated hitter and meets the desires of the high school baseball community.

There are now two scenarios in which a designated hitter may be used.

The first scenario is the traditional use where the designated hitter may be a 10th starter who hits for any one of the nine starting defensive players. The team begins the game with 10 starters: nine defensive players and nine hitters in the batting order, one of whom is the designated hitter hitting for a defensive player.

“The traditional designated hitter role remains intact,” Hopkins said. “However, the committee felt it was necessary to make an additional option available to coaches that could be strategic but also maximize participation.”

The change to Rule 3-1-4 now allows the starting designated hitter to also be a starting defensive player. Utilizing this option, the player has two positions: defensive player and designated hitter. The team would begin the game with nine starters -- nine defensive players -- one of whom also assumes the role of the designated hitter.

“With the change adding pitch-count restrictions to high school baseball, this will allow pitchers to remain in the game as a hitter while removing them from pitching,” Hopkins said. “Typically, pitchers are stronger hitters as well. However, the intent of the rule is not for it to become strictly a pitcher-designated hitter role. The rule provides additional avenues for other position players as well. The change allows coaches to strategize how to keep players in the game to contribute offensively while allowing another player a chance to participate on defense.”

Additionally, a prior rules change involving baseballs and chest and body protectors will take effect on January 1, 2020. As of that date, all baseballs and chest and body protectors used in high school baseball competition shall meet the NOCSAE (National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment) standard at the time of manufacture.

According to the 2017-18 NFHS High School Athletics Participation Survey, there are 487,097 boys participating in baseball at 16,196 schools across the country, and 1,762 girls playing the sport in 317 schools.

All baseball rules information will be available on the NFHS website at www.nfhs.org. Click on “Activities & Sports” at the top of the home page and select “Baseball.”

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NFHS 2019 Baseball Rules Changes - Focus on Pitching Mechanics

 

The elimination of the requirement for the entire pivot foot to be in contact with the pitcher’s plate is among the changes approved for the 2018-19 high school baseball season.

This revision in Rule 6-1-3 was one of three changes recommended by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Baseball Rules Committee at its June 3-5 meeting in Indianapolis. All changes were subsequently approved by the NFHS Board of Directors.

“We are very fortunate that the state of high school baseball is in an excellent position, which is indicative of the few rules changes that were passed,” said Elliot Hopkins, NFHS director of sports and student services and staff liaison for baseball. “We appreciate the hard work of dedicated coaches who, in addition to minimizing risk associated with the sport, teach the game in a way that makes our young people enjoy playing for their high school. We must also acknowledge the highly professional and responsible game umpires. Without their thorough knowledge and implementation of NFHS rules, we would not be able to enjoy the small injury rate and increase in player participation.”

The rationale behind the change to Rule 6-1-3 is a result of the difficulty for pitchers to consistently make contact with the pitcher’s plate when pivoting. Before starting the delivery, the pitcher shall stand with his entire non-pivot foot in front of a line extending through the front edge of the pitcher’s plate and with the pivot foot in contact with or directly in front of and parallel to the pitcher’s plate.

“The committee concluded that many pitching mounds are such that it is problematic for a pitcher to have his entire pivot foot in contact with the pitcher’s plate,” Hopkins said. “Therefore, no advantage is gained by having some of the pivot foot not in direct contact with the pitcher’s plate.”

The committee also approved two new umpire signals. The two new signals, indicating calls for “Correct Rotation” and “Information Available,” were approved to further improve communication between partners.

“It is always wise to be able to communicate clearly with your partner(s) during a game,” Hopkins said. “With so many moving parts (defensive players, base runners, umpires), it is imperative that umpires communicate easily and inconspicuously from players and fans. These mechanics say a lot without brining attention to the signaling umpire.”

The “Correct Rotation” signal comes when in a three- or four-man mechanic, the umpires indicate to their partner(s) where they are rotating to a specific base for coverage of an anticipated play. The umpire(s) points with both hands in the direction of the base that they are moving toward.

To assist in providing pertinent information between partners, the “Information Available” signal occurs when the game umpire is indicating that he/she has some information that is relevant to their partner by tapping two times over the left chest (heart).

Additionally, the NFHS Rules Review Committee extended the implementation date to January 1, 2020, for baseballs to meet the NOCSAE standard. According to the 2016-17 NFHS High School Athletics Participation Survey, there are 491,790 boys participating in baseball at 15,979 schools across the country, and 1,145 girls playing the sport in 269 schools.

A complete listing of the baseball rules changes will be available on the NFHS website at www.nfhs.org. Click on “Activities & Sports” at the top of the home page, and select “Baseball.”