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Monday, October 18, 2021

Arizona Fall League experiments gone awry, plus notes on Spencer Torkelson, Brett Baty and more: Keith Law

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Major League Baseball’s plans to test out various ideas for speeding up games in the Arizona Fall League this year have been, through a week of games, a complete flop.

The Saturday night game at Salt River Fields, the spring home of the Diamondbacks and Rockies, exemplifies the entire problem. The game used the automated strike zone, a variable pitch clock and a ban on shifts. The result was a game that was called after seven and a half innings over three excruciating hours because the teams ran out of pitchers. Why did they run out of pitchers in just seven and a half innings, you ask? Because the pitchers they did use walked 22 guys.

I’m an advocate of moving away from a human-called strike zone, which is going to be biased by its very nature, to an automated one, but this year’s experiments in what was once the Florida State League, and now here in the AFL, have shown that simply turning on HAL 2021 isn’t going to be enough. It turns out that the real strike zone is a lot smaller than what umpires called, especially on the horizontal axis (inside or outside). A whole lot of pitches that were probably 1 to 3 inches off the outside corner and had some chance of being called strikes from a human were, of course, called balls — and while that wasn’t solely responsible for the game’s three-walks-per-inning pace, it didn’t help matters. (Some guys just couldn’t find the plate that night if you’d drawn an arrow from the mound right to the dish.)


RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: October 18, 2021 at 10:47 AM | 19 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: defensive shifts, pace of play, pitch clock, robot umpires

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   1. . . . . . . Posted: October 18, 2021 at 12:44 PM (#6047158)
Maybe if the strike zone weren't so ####### big, filling your pitching staff with skill-less, yoked up flamethrowers who don't know where the #### the ball is going (other than that it's going there fast and spinny) wouldn't be a winning strategy.
   2. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: October 18, 2021 at 02:04 PM (#6047183)
Maybe we wouldn't have the worst MLB offenses in quite some time if human umps weren't turning balls into strikes.
   3. Lassus Posted: October 18, 2021 at 02:04 PM (#6047184)
This is a reasonable point, but they've been bred/trained this way for a couple decades by now.
   4. TomH Posted: October 18, 2021 at 02:17 PM (#6047191)
color me surprised and impressed that the hitters were patient enough to take those pitches they would normally swing at.
   5. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: October 18, 2021 at 02:36 PM (#6047193)
The hitters were bred and trained for decades on a bad strike zone, but were able to lay off those pitches overnight. There is no excuse that pitchers can't adjust.
   6. Jose is an Absurd Sultan Posted: October 18, 2021 at 02:43 PM (#6047195)
And then there’s the pitch clock, which at least two of the umpires — the one Saturday night and the one at the night game in Peoria on Friday — decided would allow them to have their Big Moment in the spotlight. They couldn’t wait to call balls or strikes the millisecond the pitch clock expired and let everyone in the park know that they had just rung up Spencer Torkelson. The AFL is a scouting and developmental league, and if you can tell me how any scouting or development purpose was served by Torkelson striking out rather than facing a two-strike pitch from Hans Crouse — who, to his great credit, said “he can hit!” to try to get the ump to allow the at-bat to continue — I would love to hear it.

This seems like a silly complaint. The process is being tested in the AFL, you can only test the process if you USE the process. If you let Torkelson hit there there is no real incentive for him to follow the rule which lets you know if it's working. If only two guys got penalized for it all weekend it sounds like it's not particularly intrusive which is a good thing.
   7. and Posted: October 18, 2021 at 02:50 PM (#6047196)
Games are faster if hitters swing the bats. It's more entertaining, too. Use the roboump but use the zone as it was in the 00s.
   8. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: October 18, 2021 at 02:53 PM (#6047197)
Wait, how would the pitch clock running out result in a strikeout? That would only lead to an automatic ball. If it was actually Torkelson not being in the box when he should be, well, he better *develop* that ability.
   9. Greg Pope Posted: October 18, 2021 at 02:58 PM (#6047199)
The thing is that if MLB wants pitches 1.5 inches off the edge of the plate to be called strikes, they can just adjust the strike zone. This is a good thing.
   10. and Posted: October 18, 2021 at 03:13 PM (#6047204)
Yes, adjust the rule book strike zone. Hitters are too selective now and pitchers are required to throw mashable pitches. Squeezing them even more will just create more runs or more walks.

We need fewer walks and we need hitters sitting on meatballs less.
   11. and Posted: October 18, 2021 at 03:13 PM (#6047205)
Of course, dumping this on a bunch of young prospects is BS.
   12. John DiFool2 Posted: October 18, 2021 at 03:49 PM (#6047213)
I'd have to see the strike zone model that they are using. If it isn't a 3D pentagonal prism, and the ball only needs to nick it at any point in its travel, then they have indeed made it much harder to get a strike.

Paywalled so I can't determine that.
   13. The Gary DiSarcina Fan Club (JAHV) Posted: October 18, 2021 at 04:37 PM (#6047232)
Of course, dumping this on a bunch of young prospects is BS.

It's better than dumping it on major league players in the middle of the season, but it's not great. The only reason to do it this way, rather than testing this out in major league preseason games, would be to evaluate whether it's something that can be discussed and potentially implemented next season. In that case, I think this is the best way to do it, even if it does impact the kids adversely. If it's a certainty that none of these changes will be implemented in 2022, then there's no reason to test it here; test it in MLB and MiLB preseason games.
   14. and Posted: October 18, 2021 at 04:43 PM (#6047236)
I don't know how they've tested it so far. But I would have used it in spring training and kept it silent. That is, let the human umps call balls and strikes officially. Have the system running behind the scenes to see how it did. If it turns out it's calling a ridiculous strike zone, you can tinker. As it is, this is now the story: Robo umps lead to 22 walks.
   15. McCoy Posted: October 18, 2021 at 07:42 PM (#6047262)
Color me shocked that a developmental league game racked up a ton of walks.
   16. Baldrick Posted: October 19, 2021 at 04:18 AM (#6047360)
Yeah, this seems like a system that was set up to fail and then everyone can walk around saying 'what can you do, we tried it!'
   17. Lassus Posted: October 19, 2021 at 06:40 AM (#6047363)
#3 was in response to #1, not #2.

The umpires have an easily identifiable correct call rate in the upper 90th percentile. Blaming umpires is lazy and wrong.
   18. Perry Posted: October 19, 2021 at 12:46 PM (#6047438)
They experimented with automated ball/strike calls in the independent Atlantic League this past season. The New Yorker did a big story on it a month or so ago.
   19. Darren Posted: October 19, 2021 at 12:54 PM (#6047448)
I do not have a subscription but is this the only example given?

Even if this is indicative of what's happening, isn't the whole point of this to try this out in games that don't actually matter?

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