With each batter and before every pitch, umpires must do pre-pitch preparation. The CCA Manual has a checklist of the topics to review. It is a long list and requires all umpires to know it well and be able to review it in their minds quickly between pitches. We will address topics listed in the CCA Manual, but umpires must also know the game situation (which is not included in the CCA Manual checklist). Umpires should know the basics, like the number of outs, count, and score. But it is also good to know or consider the strategy by the offense and defense.
• Is it a sacrifice bunt situation or a hit-and-run situation?
• What are the batter’s tendencies?
• How are the fielders positioned for each batter?
At the higher levels of all sports the opponents have thoroughly scouted each other and know what to expect when they compete. Do you think it might be helpful, as an umpire, to know something about the teams who are competing? See the article Team Tendencies in the Protocols Corner/Game Preparation section for specifics. Umpires should know the game situation as much as the players. Now, let us get to that checklist. Some of these are not included in the CCA Manual but are also important.
• Are my partners in the correct starting position? (not just the plate umpire’s responsibility)
• Do I have an umpire-to-umpire signal to give or receive then echo?
• Who has check swing responsibility? (both plate and base umpire should be aware)
• Do I have responsibility for a runner leaving early?
• What is the potential for a steal or pick-off?
• Do I have any tag up responsibilities?
• What is my fly ball coverage area and where are the defenders in my area?
• Is there an opportunity for a full rotation?
What is the score?
Is the score tied, lopsided or are both teams within a run or two of each other? The inning and score may determine if an offense will attempt to squeeze a runner from third across the plate or ask the batter to swing away. Is it 8-0 in an 8-run rule game that is in the fifth inning? The team that is trailing will often do everything possible to score a run to keep the game going.
How many outs are there?
There are different situations for the number of outs. Especially if the field does not have a scoreboard, it is important that you and your partner(s) stay on the same page.
Fewer than two outs
• Tag-ups and the infield fly situation may be possibilities.
• Dropped third strike may apply; umpires should get into the habit of saying to themselves “yes” or “no” so as to be ready to react. Example 1 – plate umpire says “no” but retired batter tries to advance to first base…plate umpire should loudly declare “batter is out” and repeat as necessary. Example 2 – base umpire is not caught sleeping when either the retired runner or other runners attempt to advance on the ball in the dirt, wild pitch or passed ball.
• Aggressive base running may be in play to get a runner into scoring position.
• Offensive strategies may indicate a bunt
• The timing-play or two-out signal must be indicated to partners.
• Play situations include whether a run scores on a timing play; be ready even if not involved in the play
• Put more emphasis on the call for the third out even if it does not involve a runner at the plate.
What is the count?
Depending on the count, baserunners are likely to take certain actions. With a full count and two outs, they will take off upon the release of the pitch. An umpire might add emphasis to a call if asked to rule on a checked swing that is strike three. Players or coaches will often ask a base umpire the count or number of outs. Knowing it improves credibility and creates a positive perception. If you do not know the count, do not hesitate to ask your partner. With two strikes on the batter, all umpires must consider the dropped third strike rule
Where are the runners?
• Know which baserunners you need to watch and where the next play will likely take place. Will it be a force play or tag play? T
• Tag-up situation or not?
• If a runner is on third base late in a close game, will the defense likely make a play on that runner instead of a force out at first?
Where do I go?
Where do I go if a partner chases?
Where do I go on a hit to the infield?
Where do I go on a hit to the outfield?
How is the defense pitching to the batter
With two outs, a runner on second and a good hitter at the plate, the defense may try to “pitch around” that batter with pitches out of the strike zone. If they walk that batter, so be it. That sets up a force play situation at first, second and third for the next batter. Perhaps the batter often pulls the ball. If that is the case, the defense may feed that batter with a steady diet of outside pitches.
With a runner on first and fewer than two outs, the batter may attempt a sacrifice bunt to advance the runner to second. A speedy slap hitter may try to do the same. There are certain situations where a steal may be more likely, especially with a fast runner on base and a good hitter at the plate. The offense may also try a hit-and-run in that kind of situation. And if you sense that runner will attempt to steal or leave as part of a hit-and-run, it is possible that the runner may be more likely to leave the base before the pitch is released.
Is the batter a power hitter or contact hitter? Tracking batter tendencies will help you know what to expect. Is she a long-ball hitter or will she be lucky to hit it past the infielders?
Position of defenders
Take a peek at the infielders and outfielders with each batter. Where are they set up? Is the infield in, anticipating a bunt? Are the outfielders also positioned closer to the infield? Has the defense shifted in a certain direction?
Wrapping it up
Whether you are on the plate or the bases, take a moment before each pitch to not only pre-pitch plan but also get a handle on the game situation to put yourself in the proper mind-set. You will be a step ahead mentally and likely be in a good position to make a call.
By reviewing as much as you can before every pitch, you not only maintain focus but also increase your ability to recognize and respond to the action without hesitation. And, when pre-pitch planning includes the game situation, you will react to a play much quicker because you have mentally rehearsed that situation in advance. You will instinctively know your plan of action instead of thinking for a moment and then reacting. That kind of exercise benefits all levels of umpires but is especially helpful to newer umpires.