Selecting a starting position is more than reading the CCA Manual and adhering to its mechanics. The Manual indicates general areas and distances from which base umpires may choose their starting position. This article will discuss guidelines so base umpires in the 2-umpire system will select the best starting positon for the most likely scenarios.
STARTING ON THE LINE
When the base umpire has a starting positon on the line, the options are relatively straight forward – 18 to 20 feet down the first base line, completely in foul territory, in an upright position and walking with the pitch. Move forward a maximum of two steps facing home plate, ending in a prepared set or stopped position as the pitch reaches the front of the plate. It is recommended that the weight remains mostly on the left foot with when the umpire does the prepared set of stopped position, as this is the “push” foot to begin movement after the ball is hit.
But is this starting position as straight forward as it seems? Let’s discuss some interesting factors which the thinking umpire must consider in choosing the best distance between 18 feet and 20 feet to start.
o Height of F3
o F3’s position
o Speed of batter
o Batter’s tendencies when hitting the ball
o Pitcher’s pitch speed
Height of F3
A thinking umpire starts at a specific distance when starting on the 1b line so that he/she may move quickly into position for the most likely play, a force play at 1b, by keeping that same distance from 1b as their calling position.
The height of F3 is important because it allows the umpire to determine the best distance from first base to be able to see all the elements for the force play with his/her viewing angle. What is a “viewing angle?” A study by the Federal Aviation Administration (for flight controllers watching their screens) has determined that for the human eye to process what you see clearly, items should be within 30o around the line of sight. This study also determined that the closer all the information is to the line of sight, the better your ability to see it clearly.
Another study of the human body developed estimates for the average reach for athletes based on their height. Some examples from that study:
o A 5’5” player has a reach of 7’8”.
o A 6’2” player has a reach of 10’1”.
This becomes an important consideration when F3 must stretch as far as she can while keeping her foot on 1b, whether for a high throw or just a good stretch toward the throw.
So how do these things relate to the distance the base umpire should attain on a force play at 1b? Here is a chart which helps. It shows the distance from 1b and its viewing area of 30o around the line of sight.
When we extrapolate this information to a force play at 1b, we need to take into consideration the fact that F3 may drag her foot off 1b by as much as 5” to catch the throw.
So for the 5’5” F3:
o With a reach of 7’8” and stretching while dragging her foot 5” – total viewing angle is 8’1”.
o The closer all the information is to the line of sight, the better your ability to see it clearly.
o Moving back a little will put the elements closer to your line of sight.
o The net of all this is that the best distance for a 5’5” F3’s is about 17-18’.
For the 6’2” F3
o With a reach of 10’1” and stretching while dragging her foot 5” – total viewing angle is 10’6”.
o Moving back a little will put these elements closer to your line of sight.
o The net of all this is that the best distance for a 6’2” F3 is about 19-20’.
So when the CCA Manual states the starting position should be 18-20’ from 1b, there is scientific evidence to support this. Most F3’s will be somewhere in between these two heights, so adjust accordingly.
Most of the time F3 is setting up before the pitch in a position which does not affect the umpire’s choice for a starting position. In the rare occasion that F3 is playing unusually deep, the base umpire should never start in front of F3. Move backwards and adjust your movement to a calling position accordingly.
Batter’s and pitcher’s speed, pull hitter or spray hitter
We have discussed only two factors listed above. The remaining factors will help determine the correct angle for the force play at 1b. And in getting to this angle the umpire should be aware of keeping the proper distance from 1b as he/she moves to the calling position. These factors give the base umpire a clue as to where the ball might be hit and how much time the umpire has to get to the best angle and distance to the play. A very speedy left-handed slap hitter will be at first base in under 3 seconds. Do you have time to get to 45o to 50o to the throw from the 3b line and be completely stopped for the close play?
The pitcher’s speed and the knowledge of whether the batter is a pull hitter or slap hitter will give some indication of the likely place the ball will be hit. This will help you determine how far to move into the diamond as you read the batted ball.
STARTING BETWEEN 1b AND 2b
The starting position for the base umpire with a runner on 1b only is between 1b and 2b, behind F4, no closer to 1b than 15’, no farther from 1b than the midpoint (30’) between 1b and 2b and in a set position. So the umpire has a 15‘ area from which to choose the best starting positon. This is the same starting position for U1 in a 3-umpire system with runners on first and third, so see that diagram in the CCA Manual if you need to visualize this starting position.
The factors to consider when selecting the best starting position in this 15’ area are these:
1. How big of a lead is R1 taking after the pitch is released – big, average, small?
2. Has the catcher shown a tendency for pickoffs – yes, no, sometimes?
3. Is a fielder aggressively moving toward 1b after the pitch is not contacted – yes, no, sometimes?
4. How fast is the runner – fast, average, slow?
5. How fast is the batter – fast, average, slow?
6. Is the batter bunting?
The reason for weighing all these factors – they will give clues as to where most likely next play will develop. We will the table below to demonstrate the thinking which should be used in deciding a good starting position for different scenarios. Take into consideration that the pickoff play will happen quicker than a steal. The table below are guidelines only.
GOOD STARTING POSITION
1-big, 2-yes, 3-yes, 4-average or fast
Possible pickoff. Closer to 15' spot
1-big, 2-yes or no, 3-no, 4-fast
No one covering 1b; possible steal, 20-25' from 1b
1-big, 2-yes, 3-yes, 4-fast
Compromise between pickoff and steal. 20' from 1b
1-big, 2-no, 3-no, 4-fast
Possible steal. Closer to midpoint
1-avg, 2-no, 3-sometimes, 4-average, 5-fast
No big possibility for pickoff or steal. If ground ball most likely play to 2b. Midpoint.
STARTING BETWEEN 2B AND 3B
The starting position for the base umpire when between 2b and 3b is behind F6, no closer than 15’ to 2b or 3b and in a set position. So the umpire has a 30’ area from which to choose the best starting positon. The factors listed in the above section are still to be considered. And also consider that pickoffs and steals are less likely and the umpire is further away from 1b where there is always a high likelihood of close plays on ground balls.
The number of outs also becomes important when in this position. If there is a runner at 3b with two outs the call at 1b can mean either the end of the inning with no runner scoring, or a safe call which allows a run to score. There is a tendency for many umpires to start too close to 3b in this situation, making that call at 1b even more difficult and less credible.
Common sense is the best tool when starting in this position. Is the runner at 2b taking a big lead but does not seem to be stealing, a fielder is covering 2b after the pitch is not contacted, and the catcher has shown an inclination to attempt pickoffs? Then 15’ from 2b would be a good starting position. In the same situation but the runner at 2b has just stolen that base and seems inclined to steal 3b, then closer to the midpoint would be a good starting position.
The speed of the batter becomes a bigger factor. If she is fast then the possibility for a close play at 1b is greater. If there is no runner at 3b and F2 is not likely to steal, then 15-20’ from 2b will give the umpire better angle and distance for the close play at 1b. From this position there is still time to react and move to 3b on R2 stealing.
If there are runners at 2b and 3b and R3 is not taking a big lead, R2 cannot steal and R3 will probably not be susceptible to a pickoff. So with less than 2 outs 20-25’ might be a good spot; with two outs 15-20’ would be a good spot.
There are very few reasons for a starting position to be 15-20’ from 3b yet many umpires are using this F5/F6 hole for their starting position. Do not get that close to 3b unless there is a runner on 3b only, the only possibility is a quick pickoff play, and the batter is an average or slow runner.
Use this method of thinking through the most likely possibilities when choosing where in the middle 30’ to pick your starting position.