It’s Beyond Time for Robot Umpires to Call Balls and Strikes in the MLB

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Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Major League Baseball took a giant step in the right direction before the 2023 season, when they outlawed the infield shift and, even moreso, when they implemented the pitch clock. But there’s one more major change that needs to be made sooner rather than later. Robot umpires behind the plate.

Well, not a physical robot placed behind the catcher, where human umps currently squat. That would be a bit ridiculous and unnecessary. MLB stadiums are already equipped with technology that tracks every single movement that takes place on the field.

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MLB needs robot umpires ASAP

Statcast, among other technologies, can tell us anything we want to know. Launch angles, exit velocity, pitch speed, pitch movement, run speed, etc etc etc. If a vandal breaks in and spray-paints, “FUCK THE POHLADS” in the outfield, the data team would know in real time how fast the paint leaves the nozzle. And we’re still allowing this to be called a strike?

Thanks to the imaginary little strike box and ball tracker that displays on TV broadcasts during Major League Baseball games — among other real-time pitch tracker technology on a variety of different websites like Baseball Savant and Major League Baseball’s own (and MLB app) — every single person watching a big league baseball game in 2023 knows immediately whether or not a pitch should be called a ball or strike…

… EXCEPT for the umpire behind the plate. If a squirrel runs through the outfield in the middle of the 4th inning, the TV broadcast can relay the exact track it’s bushy tail took and its top speed by the end of the next commercial break. Yet, we’re still letting umpires decide professional baseball games, each of which has millions of dollars on the line.

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Baseball should do whatever it takes to get balls and strikes called accurately

When umpires were first placed behind the plate of baseball games, it was in an effort to do everything possible for the most accurate strike zone. Our baseball ancestors decided that the physical well-being of umpires was less important than getting balls and strike calls right.

But it’s 2023 and we have technology available that is 100% more accurate than putting a human life in danger just so they can negatively impact the game. Umpires should only be used to call balls and strikes when their view behind the plate is the most accurate view of the strike zone.

But in Major League Baseball games, the one person tasked with officially judging balls and strikes is the one person in the stadium or watching elsewhere who doesn’t actually know for sure what’s a ball and what’s a strike. Make that make sense.

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Too much on the line to rely on human error

These moments are too big and there’s too much on the line for these strike zones to be so inconsistent. Yesterday, Eddie Julien came to the plate for the Minnesota Twins in the bottom of the 2nd inning. The count was full, runners were on 1st and 2nd and there were 2 outs in the inning when umpire, Andy Fletcher, called this a strike.

it is beyond time for the MLB to stop relying on human being to call balls and strikes. Implement the automated ball/strike calling system that you’ve already been experimenting with in the minor leagues and let’s move on from this nonsense.

Because what’s even more absurd than the thought of Rosey from the Jetson’s calling balls and strikes behind the plate of major league baseball games? Putting humans in harm’s way to do jobs that they suck at. in the first game of a playoff series, Andy Fletcher tried to give the Blue Jays 1.46 runs. That’s crazy…

And in the postseason, these missed calls are under a microscope because every ball/strike call is a big deal. There’s just no reason to deal with human error, when there are other options. The Minnesota Twins fell victim to human umpire error in a couple of high leverage situations, on Tuesday night, in their first postseason victory in 18 years, vs the Toronto Blue Jays.

But they are far from the only victims, here. In 2023, MLB umpires missed 23,000 ball/strike calls. It was the most accurate they’ve ever been. I mean, the more you think about it, the more ridiculous behind-the-plate umpires really are.

Before we see robot umpires, we’re more likely to see a strike/ball challenge system, which minor league teams have been experimenting with for a couple of years now. It allows a batter or pitcher to challenge a ball/strike call, which triggers a quick replay in the booth, in which the call gets a second look. The process takes about 5 seconds.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan

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