New Season, New Strike Zone

James Dubreuil ‘19
EE Managing Editor

A computer analyzing a professional pitcher’s pitch.

The MLB has been evolving to maintain its popularity among millennials and incorrect calls in the strike-zone could be the root of the next change. This spring training, the league is using a pitch clock to speed up games; however, the MLB also has the opportunity to turn to computerized home plate umpires that will be able to call balls and strikes with more accuracy than human beings, and could save hitters from bad calls made by home plate umpires.

PITCHf/x, created and maintained by Sportvision, is a system that tracks the speeds and trajectories of pitched baseballs. This system, which made its debut in the 2006 MLB playoffs, is installed in every MLB stadium. The data from the system is often used by broadcasters to show a visual representation of the pitch and whether or not a pitch entered the strike-zone. For more than a decade, PITCHf/x technology has shown television viewers of baseball an idea of whether the pitch was a ball or strike, and whether or not the home plate umpire made the correct call.

Starting April 28, in the independent Atlantic league (minor league), computers will begin calling balls and strikes in all games. Plate umpires will be there wearing earpieces, and will be told whether to signal a ball or a strike.

Brian Hance, a varsity player on Trumbull High School’s baseball team said, “I think that to make baseball as popular as it was in the past, things are going to need to change. With all that the technology the MLB has, I think that it would make sense to eliminate all human error and turn to computerized umpires.”

In a concurring opinion, Eric Sorge, an avid baseball watcher said, “I really think that computerized umpires will help the game. I hate seeing bad calls that cost teams games, and I think that computerized umpires could help keep the game alive.
The MLB would not be the first league to turn to the use of technology. The NFL and the NHL have both began incorporating video replay and other aspects of technology into their seasons to ensure that the amount of bad calls that are made is minimized.

However, not all aspects of umpire computerization are great. Even the computers are not perfect, as there are some instances where blatant mistakes are made. Furthermore, the computer program does have some restrictions at this point in time, the biggest of which is the fact that it only works if the ball crosses home plate without bouncing.

“As a technological matter, I believe we will get to the point that balls and strikes can be called in real time by a machine,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a 2017 ESPN article. “I think you have to make that bet, if you have watched what has happened in recent history.”

As the accuracy of machines get higher and higher, the MLB may have no choice but to turn to eliminating the human element of the sport, but until the majority of people are trusting of the program, it is unlikely that the current system is replaced.

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