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Robot Umpires Newsbeat

Thursday, September 07, 2023

The Athletic: MLB just tweaked Triple A’s electronic strike zone: What you need to know and why it matters

Let’s try to clear this up:

The “old” zone: Hopefully, you recall the piece we published last month, looking at what’s gone on while MLB was spending this season trying out electronic ball-strike technology (aka “ABS” for Automated Ball-Strike System) across Triple A for the first time. As part of that experiment, the league also lowered the top of the strike zone by about two inches. So has that lower zone been a popular change? Ha. Let’s just say it’s been a zesty topic of nonstop chatter among hitters and pitchers in those leagues. Imagine that.

The “new” zone: The magic word to describe what’s changing isn’t “bigger” or “smaller.” It’s more like “personalized.” The league is now empowering its all-powerful Hawk-Eye technology to make every hitter’s electronic zone more individualized. Sounds simple, right? Not that simple, actually.

Before this, every hitter who was, say, 6-foot-3, was assigned exactly the same zone by the robot umps. But perhaps you’ve noticed that not every 6-foot-3 human has the same build. All those 6-foot-3 baseball-playing humans certainly did. So thanks to Hawk-Eye, now they won’t all have the same strike zone anymore.

For the rest of this season, the top of each hitter’s zone will be a spot defined as “two baseballs above the midpoint of his hip” — which works out to approximately one baseball’s width higher than his belt. The technology makes it possible to determine precisely where that is, no matter who’s hitting. That wasn’t true in the early days of the robot ump era.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: September 07, 2023 at 05:04 PM | 9 comment(s)
  Beats: automated strike zone, robot umpires

Friday, August 25, 2023

The Athletic: Are robot umpires ready for their MLB debut? Not so fast.

In truth, the bigger issues have very little to do with the once-fundamental question of whether it’s even possible to produce a world in which every strike is a strike, every ball is a ball and 100 percent of all pitches are called correctly. Instead, the biggest holdup is this:

Now that hundreds of minor-league players, managers and coaches have spent a season living on Planet Robo-Ump… they’ve decided that they don’t want to live on that planet.

Oh, they still want The Big Calls to be 100 percent correct. They definitely don’t want games decided on calls like this.

But do they want every pitch to be called by non-humans, strictly by the rulebook strike zone, in, say, a 17-2 game? Or when it’s the eighth inning and ominous dark clouds are gathering? No, they do not! They almost unanimously prefer a challenge system, in which (theoretically) only The Big Mistakes are addressed with technology.

We know this because we’ve been asking minor leaguers about ABS/robot umps for weeks – and that’s what they’ve told us. We can only imagine what they’ve told the folks at Major League Baseball, who actually have some say over where this goes from here.


RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: August 25, 2023 at 11:18 AM | 52 comment(s)
  Beats: automated strike zone, robot umpires, umpires

Thursday, May 25, 2023

ESPN Insider: Robo umps in MLB? Inside baseball’s latest ABS experiment

In Triple-A games this season, the day of the week matters. On Tuesdays through Thursdays, the strike zone is adjudicated by Major League Baseball’s automated ball-strike system (ABS), which tracks pitches using a dozen ultra-high-speed cameras and spits out the result into an earpiece worn by the home-plate umpire in less than half a second. Even though Hendriks’ fastball appeared to clip the edge of the zone on the digital rendering of the pitch seen in MLB’s app and on its website, ABS deemed it a ball—and the system, which the league says is accurate to less than one-tenth of an inch, is judge and jury.

The next day, as the Charlotte Knights again hosted the Durham Bulls, another borderline call. Charlotte catcher Evan Skoug snatched a low 1-1 pitch and froze his glove in the strike zone. Paul Clemons, the home-plate umpire, didn’t bite and called it a ball. Immediately, Skoug tapped his head—a motion that only matters on Fridays through Sundays.

Over the weekend (no Triple-A games are scheduled on Mondays), balls and strikes are judged by the umpires’ eyes, but players are allowed to challenge a call three times per game and retain their challenges if correct. During Skoug’s challenge, which from start to finish took less than 10 seconds, the scoreboard displayed a graphic of the pitch’s trail toward home plate, shown from the catcher’s perspective. As the pitch neared, the screen pivoted 180 degrees, to the pitcher’s perspective, to render the definitive judgment. The call stood. It was a ball, and it wasn’t particularly close.

Two varieties of the future of balls and strikes are playing out in Triple-A this season, and whether either wins out in the eyes of MLB will offer a fascinating insight into the league’s priorities going forward. The league’s faith in the ABS system’s fidelity and accuracy is clear. After nearly 20 years of tinkering, upgrading, testing, failing and repeating the process, the current incarnation of ABS is a technological marvel, its pieces and parts big league ready. But installation at the major league level breeds a bevy of philosophical hesitations, all perfectly practical, each a sub-issue of the overarching question that continues to puzzle league officials and owners who aren’t quite sure of the answer.

Would robot umps really make baseball better?

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: May 25, 2023 at 10:28 AM | 102 comment(s)
  Beats: robot umpires



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