As is the case seemingly every year nowadays, one of the big topics of conversation around baseball is the state of umpiring. With the advent of K-Zone technology both on broadcasts and available live online, we can more clearly see mistakes being made with the strike zone, and fans don’t like mistakes. Wild, I know. All of this has only heightened the calls for automated strike zones, which are currently being tested in the minors and will almost certainly be in the majors sooner than later. For this week’s staff Roundtable, I asked how people felt about them.
I love it bring on the bots. Overall the umpires do a good job. Something like 98 percent of their calls are correct, a good rate by any measurement, and their blown calls are definitely magnified so they seem worse but I’m just a fan of consistency. So I guess this also comes with a re-writing of the strike zone rule let’s make it the same for everyone instead of knees to chest the width of the plate actually define it so its the same for every batter and then automate it. Take the arguments right out of the game and off of twitter. I think we as a society would be better for it.
My thoughts on robo umps is that I don’t have thoughts on robo umps other than they’re inevitable. While bad calls suck, obviously, I cannot work up the bile of my fellow fans who angrily post pitch charts featuring called strikes an inch off the plate. Maybe I had the energy at one time but not anymore. It happens! A lot! It is not a crime against humanity! It is a missed call in May! That said, robo umps are clearly coming, but that just means the home plate ump will do less, not be replaced. He’ll still be there. Hopefully we can still get some amazing arguments out of it too. Aceves knows about what, but we’ll find out.
I can’t believe we don’t have robot-assisted umps right now. Google Glass was released a decade ago! Every umpire should have a pair of augmented reality glasses to help better judge the strike zone in the age of high velocity. I’m not advocating for replacing the umpires with a message, just for a little help since pitches are being tracked and graded. These folks have a hard job and a little extra confidence in making a call on a questionable pitch seems like the best alternative. We don’t want to expand replay into challenging balls and strikes. That would be a nightmare. We do want umpires to do better. Let’s give them the tools they need.
I’m all for a fair and even strike zone in each game, but I do think robo umps would take away some of the fun of the pitcher and catcher dynamic, particularly as it would likely eliminate catcher framing. In addition, you’re telling me we’re never going to get another Terry Collins jackpot moment? In general, I think it would sterilize the game a bit and my preference is to keep umpires, but with that written, I’m far from up in arms about the seemingly imminent robo ump era. If it speeds up the game and makes for a fairer calling of games, then that’s cool.
I am a believer in the automated strike zone now and for the future. As long as it can adjust hitter-to-hitter (like a different strike zone for Aaron Judge compared to Jose Altuve), I see no reason why it should not be implemented. The home plate umpire will still be needed to make the actual calls and such, so it’s not like the automated strike zone would be taking away any jobs.
I am generally against technology like the automated strike zone. I feel like instant replay has taken all the flow and momentum out of almost all sports in recent years, and am in favor of baseball played by humans and judged by humans.
That being said, if some form of an automated strike zone is inevitable, then I would be in favor of the challenge system currently deployed in tennis. In that sport, the player gets two challenges per set and the Hawk-Eye system is displayed on the video board to quickly show if the shot is in or out. There is no break in the momentum of the match. If a team had 3 or 4 challenges per game, with a quick resolution on the screen, I could get on board. Of course, knowing MLB, they’ll instead have the umpire waddle over to the dugout to make a phone call and then stumble through an announcement after each challenge.
Not too long ago, Kevin Plawecki got hosed by Adam Beck at a key point in the Red Sox’s May 11th game in Atlanta. He didn’t mince his words postgame. With the score tied, bases loaded and count full, Beck made “a terrible call”, according to Plawecki, who struck out instead of drawing a run-scoring walk. He was pissed but not enough to demand robot umpires. He said there’s an art to umpiring that is marred by the pursuit of capital-T Truth.
The argument against robot umpires is irrational and romantic but not unworthy. Baseball has survived for more than a century with human umpires and I think it can survive another one with the same guys calling balls and strikes. I chalk the calls for robot umpires up to impatience and entitlement, quite frankly. We all get screwed sometimes and if you think you’re above that, you shouldn’t play or watch a game as random as baseball.
Honestly, I both love and hate the idea of RoboUmps. On the one hand, I do think it would be beneficial to the game both time and accuracy-wise, but on the other hand, I love seeing people complain about bad strike calls from umps. Like, Alex Cora has already been ejected TWICE this season for arguing balls and strikes... imagine the sort of entertainment value we’d lose with RoboUmps! No more Aaron Boone losing his mind and calling his team “savages in the box” while Red Sox fans laugh at him, and no more weird clips like the time when Brett Gardner randomly started slamming his bat against the dugout ceiling in protest. I guess I’m one for baseball drama, but if we’re just looking at this objectively, it’s probably the right call to create some more consistency in the game (though I would thoroughly miss looking at ump scorecards after games).