The future of baseball is filled with uncertainty these days, but there is one thing we do know about the future of the sport: robot umpires are coming!
Just ask Jayson Stark of the Athletic, who wrote back in January, “MLB is moving purposefully toward the world of electronic strike zones. And now that even the umpires’ union has pledged its cooperation, it’s almost a sure bet: This. Is. Happening.”
Stark’s not new to the robot revolution, as he’s written about the issue here and here as well. The fact is, electronic strike zones are already being implemented through trials in the Atlantic League and Spring Training. The fact that umpires have given their okay to begin testing makes their eventual implementation all but guaranteed.
Not only are electronic strike zones on their way, but it could happen sooner than you think. Stark suggests they’ll be in the majors potentially as early as 2022. Given that most prospects taken in the draft project to make their debuts in 3-5 years, teams are already drafting with the world of electronic strike zones firmly in their sights.
With this change coming, let’s table for a moment the many technical issues the league will face and instead consider the practical implications for the players. As I wrote after Stark’s report back in January, “The mental games used to inch the strike zone this way or that has long been a tool of the game’s best – from the hitters whose impeccable eye define it, to the pitchers’ whose pinpoint control push to expand it – but an automated zone will all but abolish the in-game politicking of the strike zone, giving hitters a new advantage they have long been without: certainty.” Per Statcast data, major league hitters swung at 33 pitches outside the zone per game in 2019 (~80,000 total for the year). It’s no surprise hitters struggle with zone control because the umpires themselves don’t always have a clear conception of where the zone lies.
Roughly a quarter of all called third strikes in 2019 were on pitches that landed outside the zone. Home plate umpires made an average of 14 incorrect calls per game in 2019, which tracks with this Boston University study that looked at umpire accuracy going back more than ten seasons. The fact is, umpire error is making a huge impact on the game on a daily basis. The batter/pitcher relationship is the essential, critical matchup of the game. When this relationship loses integrity, the game itself suffers from existential crises. The whole reason umpires exist is to keep that crisis at bay. Most of us, after all, watch the game to see the talent of the batters and pitchers involved – not the umpires. Like it or not, when an umpire fails to properly adjudicate – when he misses a call – it muddies the waters of the game’s foundational competition.
Or in baseball terms, when ahead in the count, batters reached base at a .477 OBP clip in 2019. When behind in the count, that number drops to .209 OBP. That’s the difference between an absolute superstar and a sub-replacement-level hitter. When a batter falls behind because the umpire gifted a strike to the pitcher, the whole at-bat changes. The nature of the competition changes.
Digging into the data made available through Statcast, it’s not that difficult to find those incorrect calls. Build a book of umpire accuracy metrics for each pitcher by year, and we can get some clarity on how electronic strike zones are going to affect pitchers. The first question is this: are human umpires gifting more strikes to a particular kind of pitcher? To fireballers or workhorses or control artists or power pitchers?
If you’re interesting in walking through the data science behind this question, feel free to check out a video walkthrough of the process here, but the most interesting takeaway was this: there were four differentiating attributes of those pitchers who tended to get extra strikes versus those who did not: velocity, spin, role, and handedness.
Umpires tend to gift more strikes to pitchers with lower velocity, lower spin, to starters more than relievers, and to righties more than lefties. This makes sense if we think in terms of umpire vision. Given the active nature of a strike call versus the passive nature of a ball call, even a moment of uncertainty may lead an umpire to letting a strike go by without making a call. It makes sense, then, that umps might be more liberal with strike calls when they can see the ball more clearly.
The league has trended towards higher velocity, higher spin pitchers in part because those pitches are more difficult for the batter to pick up, both because of their speed, and because the higher spin rate generally leads to a higher effective speed. It makes sense, then, that umpires would have difficulty picking up these pitches as well. Umpires may also have an itchier trigger finger with starters, whom they’re more comfortable with because they see them for longer periods of time, and with right-handers, who at least anecdotally, have less movement on their ball than southpaws.
Let’s look at some examples. Jon Lester has been one of the most consistently umpire-aided pitchers in the league. He runs counter to type by being left-handed, but those who’ve spent time watching Cubs games the last few seasons will tell you, Lester complains from pitch one and doesn’t stop griping until the ball is forcibly removed from his hand. He’s a bully, no doubt, and he bullies his way to extra strikes whenever possible. In 2019, roughly 25% of Lester’s called strikes were on pitches that landed outside the zone (versus ~17% average). He also had a very low percentage of “Stolen Strikes.” Of all the pitches he threw in 2019 at which the batter did not swing, only 2.4% of them were balls that should have been called strikes.
On the other side, we find one of baseball’s premier villains: Aroldis Chapman. Chapman fits the mold of a guy that umpires aren’t likely to help out. He’s 99th percentile in fastball velocity, 92nd percentile in fastball spin, he’s a lefty, and he only pitches for usually an inning at a time at the highest-leverage moments of the game. Of all the pitches he threw in 2019 when the batter did not swing, he was “gifted a strike” on just 2.4% of those pitches, while 5.4% of those were “Stolen Strikes.”
There are other factors of course, beyond the velocity, spin, role, and handedness of the pitcher. Catcher framing certainly has an impact, and individual umpires themselves will have their own conscious or subconscious biases. But as we look ahead to a world of robot umpires, it does seem that lower velocity starters – workhorses and control artists – are going to lose the little bit of leeway that umpires are giving them now, whereas closers and firemen, guys with amazing pure stuff like Chapman will be even more valuable because they’re going to start getting some calls that umpires aren’t giving him now.
I think they should put up a manic-an for the hitter and coaches to yell at for a called strike they didn’t like. Have robot arms for the strikes.
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Lol at “manic-an”
Mannequin that dumbly
And if the batter wants to argue a called strike, he’ll now get tased instead of ejected.
……made coffee come out my nose….great, just great….
I think with the electronic strikes the calls will be more true. Every empire doesn’t know how to call strikes. It were the ball begins not where the ball ends. which means going through the strike zone first not where the ball ends is when they call the strike.
I think historically most empires favored putting down strikes, often with violent tactics, rather than calling them.
Air strikes. Nukes. Empires know whats up.
Manfred is ruining this sport.
I registered for an account to lol@manic-an hahaha …how could that possibly be how it’s spelt bud?! Lolol ‘murica
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Probably the robot players, mostly. They’re sure to find out.
All American Johnsonville Dogs
Bender and the robot league are appalled they’ve been shunned by the human league.
Wirelesd Joe Jackson and pitch-o-matic 5000. Now THOSE were great players.
Well, apparently we are supposed to have robot players now according to “2020 Super Baseball” on the Neo Geo.
So basically this says Lester is actually a trash pitcher, but a great influencer or just so annoying umps cave.
They should have used any picture of David Price because he would be whining in it.
that’s why I’m glad Boston didn’t resign him…watching him complain over every other pitch got old fast
i would be curious to see though how much is lester’s aggressiveness and how much is pitch framing.
Isn’t Contreras ranked as one of the worst framers in baseball every year?
I think the better question would be how much did Lester’s pitching “improve” Willson’s framing metrics.
I hear what you’re saying, but ‘framing’ shouldn’t ever be in a conversation about the calls. They are either balls or strikes. It’s just a job that a human CANNOT do, consistently. Robot umps are needed!!
Also umpires seem to more often than not, to call borderline pitches on a 2-0 count, a strike. And conversely call a borderline pitch on a 0-2 count, a ball. THAT also contributes to longer games due to trying to make everyone happy. That also tends to encourage hitters to be less aggressive, which makes games longer.
Geez and I thought Chapman was scary enough already.
The writing in this article is really subpar. Just all over the place. A run-on sentence to end it, “lemme” as a word, comma splices… MLBTR needs to use Grammarly or hire a professional editor.
It looks like you should hire a professional editor or use Grammarly on your comments too.
I’m equally upset that my reading of this free site is mildly inconvenienced!
Demand you money back and leave this site forever…..
Greg Maddux would be hating the robo-ump not calling the strike 6” outside the box.
Tom Glavin even more so.. The Indians win that World Series if there had been robo-umps. Glavine was Series MVP winning three games while hardly throwing a strike to Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez. or even pitching through them.
Maybe the Indians would have lost to the Braves in ’97 too if Eric Gregg wasn’t calling pitches a full 18″ out of the strike zone for Livan Hernandez in the NLCS.
In his defense, he was eyeing the cheeseburger on 3rd base.
Actually, I believe that Maddux would just throw the ball on the edge of the electronic strike zone. He was great enough that he would throw to the edge of whatever was being called a strike that day. If he recognized the umpire wasn’t giving him the outside edge, he stopped throwing it there..
Yes, he could, but being forced to hit the corner, instead of 6 inches off, means that the hitters could actually reach his 88 mph heater, instead of having no chance whatsoever.
His pitches on the edge of the strike zone were very hittable; 6″ off the zone, not so much.
Braves would have won more than 1 World Series if the umps were really their sides. Those guys were dominant.
Braves would not have won the 1 WS they did win if the umpires had called pitches correctly. But when Maddox throws 6-8″ off the outside corner for the called strike three, why would he change?
So you’re saying the umpires weren’t on the sides of Maddox and Glavine? You’re delusional.
dominant because they could game the system.
Do Ballplayers Dream Of Electric Umpires?
Wow, a Philip Dick reference, you sir are my official “hero of the day”
That was nicely done, indeed!
No, some good hitters also get the calls.
Flow My Tears, the Crew Chief Said,
The Manfred in the High Castle
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We can call it for you wholesale.
dammit you guys are beating me to it on all of them
Through A Strike Zone Darkly
Eric Gregg at the post game buffet
“Make Room, Make Room”
The three strike-mata of Jim Palmer Eldritch
Goodbye, and good riddance, to framing statistics.
Goodbye, Amen and Farewell
It’s a skill from the catcher you take away.
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It’s not a skill. It’s a parlor trick.
wild bill tetley
Parlor trick is a skill.
having a strong glove as a catcher is a skill and it is/was very important to getting calls or at least not losing them. hate throwing to a catcher with a weak glove. nothing looks like a strike. the defensive catcher will lose value and go the way of the dinosaur. pitchers with the ability to hit their spots deserve border line strikes and wild pitchers don’t deserve border line inside strikes when the catcher is set up away and they miss their spot by a foot and a half. I hate this idea. important aspects of the game will be lost
“I hate this idea. important aspects of the game will be lost”
Nothing important in balls being called strikes and strikes being called balls. Consistency and accuracy are important. Progress.
Defensive catchers were still highly valued before we understood framing. They’ll just again be judged once again mostly by their throwing and blocking abilities.
Who should fear them? Bad ones. Get the hitter to swing and miss, you will never have a problem.
Your life is a perpetual downvote.
grow up, loser
wild bill tetley
You told him…..
I think the Indians pitching staff is going to get hurt the most. Roberto Perez is a terrific framer, and he gets a lot of calls for on the edge strikes, or just plains balls get called strikes.
Who should fear robot umps? Justin Verlander in the playoffs.
Yeah but the robo-ump doesn’t check for foreign substances that help spinrate and revive careers…
You do realize there will still be actual umps on the field, right?
Really? Did not realize that, thought there’d be robots bouncing all over the field like zoombas…
That explains your comment then.
HUGE flaw in this study. It completely misses the point that pitchers and hitters will adjust to the change. It’s nice to pick out two pitchers for analysis but that presumes that moving forward everything will be the same but that completely WRONG. This is a nice study done by well meaning people but to reach any conclusions at all is foolish. The only certainty is change resulting in different results. To presume what those results will be is a waste of time. Let it happen.
Pitchers that pitch up in the zone should benefit. Pitches just below the zone often get called a strike, pitches at or slightly above the belt almost never get called a strike, especially for tall hitters who will see their strike zone increase in size.
Judge gets rung up on pitches 6″ below his knees, time after time.
With the electronic zone, he’ll be getting rung up on pitches a foot over the catchers head.
I wonder if a knuckleballer will be able to confuse Rob O. Ump enough to crash the system?
Thank you for a wonderful article and all of the work that MLBTR does for us. This is my favorite site on the web.
Great, soon we’re going to be required to complete a captcha for every comment.
Just another way Manfred is trying to appease the Johnny-come-lately fan who craves more offense. Just put the ball on a tee and eliminate pitchers already. This way, we can go back to the 19-17 Little League scores that the attention-deficit fans want. Manfred is horrible.
Why? Because they want to get balls and strikes right? Nobody to blame here for that but umps. Their egos get in the way and they all call something different from each other as well as different from what is in the rule book. And for years the AL strike zone was called different from the DL, so at least inter league did away with that.
Umps shouldnt be arbitrarily determining the outcomes of games. You want as close to a neutral situation as possible so that the best players win instead of the ones that game the strike zone best. We have definitions of what the strike zone is so it should apply universally. I am one long time fan who will love big stars not getting additional benefits while rookies get punished with a tight zone because of lack of name recognition. Even if they dont mean to umps can have a bias towards thinking Mike Trout has a good eye for the zone and deferring to him instead of him hitting with the same zone as johnny nobody.
Electronic s/zone “robot” trials go all the way back to ST late 1970’s. Ex ump Ron Luciano mentions them and how 1 made “odd earl weaver like noises” while in use.
vincent k. mcmahon
Hmm, maybe I should give robot refs a try.
Maybe in XFL version 3.0 Vince!
Actually not to upset at robocalling of the strike zone. As purist as I am sometimes, I have gotten so tired of pitchers getting calls because of who they are and pitchers not getting the calls that they should because they are one of the “guys who are too new to the show. So tired of catchers pulling the pitch into the zone for a strike when it was never in the zone when it went past the plate. Can’t wait to se the reaction of the constant complainers like Lester when complaining won’t help anymore.
A few pretty good pitchers on really bad teams 5-10 years ago got screwed quite often with not getting calls they should have. That really hurt their numbers and careers.
As long as the system is accurate it will be awesome.
Greg Maddox would have hatted the robot ump.
Never through a strike in his life.
If not through a strike, then perhaps near a strike? Around a strike?
Bypassed a strike.
To make it more realistic they should have a random baseball size “ hole” in the strike zone and another one outside the strike zone that changes with each batter. If any pitch goes through either of the two holes, the call would be reversed. You can’t make the holes too far from the edge or it’ll be silly. As if this idea is not silly.
If guys like Pettitte, Key, and Glavine were around they’d halve something to say
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They wouldn’t quarter something to say?
That’d be “Somethin”
Most pitches don’t end up in the strike zone. The swing and miss aspect will decrease dramatically. No batter will swing at a slider. This will set the all time base runner record.
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Do you understand how baseball works?
no one is swinging at out of the zone stuff simply because they don’t trust umps not to call it
You know this to be a fact, right?
Hitters will still swing and miss regularly at breaking balls that end up well outside the zone.
It matters not where the pitch ends up. It matters where it is when it goes through the area from the front of the plate to the back. A local Pittsburgh station had Adam Frazier on Thursday or Friday. He was asked what he thought of the use of the robo ump. He said pitchers that throw a great breaking ball get the ball through the strike zone but it ends up in a catchers glove in the dirt or somewhere else out of the zone. What was being called a ball will now be called a strike because it was in the zone when it crossed the plate. Batters will actually have to swing more now.
Yeah the electronic zone should help pitchers in general. What looked like a low strike from the CF camera, often did catch the front edge from the side angle camera before dropping off. The high strike never got called before. Now it’ll be a strike every time.
Well, remember, that comes down to how the robots are programmed… If they call the strike zone by the rule book, absolutely (and may give the pitcher another weapon). If they program the bots to call a “knees to waist” strike zone, then same as it ever was, up and down wise. If they do program a “proper” strike zone (the one in the rule book), I bet it takes hitters a significant amount of time to adjust.
wild bill tetley
Or Manfred will have more radical rule changes to adjust the strike zone. Let’s not forget he was looking to make changes to the strike zone in 2017. MLBPA wasn’t on-board.
Wouldn’t surprise if they changed the definition of the strike zone. The zone will get significantly taller if they don’t change it. Bigger zone would obviously benefit pitchers.
Should speed up the game.
sad. just sad.
In general I’m a baseball traditionalist, but I’m in favor of the electronic strike zone. When I listened to baseball on the radio I didn’t know there was a problem, but when I switched to watching TV I saw how wrong the umpires can be.
Catchers will be affected, as a good “framing” has been a valuable skill. Maybe catchers will be expected to contribute more to the offense, since their value won’t be in fooling the umpire.
I too am in favor for electronic strike zone. Worthless catchers ( good framers) will be out of a job.
No, their throwing and blocking skills will just become more valuable.
Greg Maddox would not be in the HOF had there been honest strike calling. He used to get strikes on balls 6″ off the strike zone. Then whine when one was called a ball.
no one gets enough bad calls to make that much of a difference
The results of a pitcher’s appearance, like the results of game, can easily swing on changing the call on of a ball to a strike 14 well-timed pitches. And balls are called strikes far more frequently than the reverse.
Wow. This is a solid article
Curious to see how Chapman pitches now that he he ridiculously jacked.
Watch for the resurgence of the “eefus” pitch!
Also, wouldn’t it be all cute and everything if the robots were equipped with the sixties-sounding mechanical robot voices and yelled out the call and the count?
Robot umps will ruin the sport as much as juiced balls did
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There are memes that (a) veteran pitchers and ace-level pitchers get more benefit of the doubt (think Maddux) and (b) rookies, even those with good eyes, tend not to (think 2019 Cavan Biggio). I wonder if either of those memes are true (I have seen speculation, but nothing like a formal study) and, if so, how that will change the game?
I remember when Dallas Keuchel led the known universe in extra strikes in 2015, but when the umpires became less generous in 2016 his ERA increased by 2 full runs.
Just reading this headline makes me want to watch one of those 1950s movies where something runs rampant. I just pictured Cole Hamels and Clayton Kershaw (along with the token cute girl) running in fear while a cheaply made pack of robot umpires chased them.
I don’t know if anyone else thought of that, but I hope not. I like to think of my mental illness as unique.
In my version they catch Hamels and Kershaw and force them to do unspeakable acts on their person……like eating Li’l Caesar’s Pizzas all day…..and other things you dirty minded guys can think of…..
Oh well, at least it’ll mean no more Angel Hernandez, Joe West, C.B. Bucknor and some other clowns that somehow still have a job as an MLB umpire.
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You do understand that the electronic zone will not replace base umpires I hope. And that there will still be a home plate umpire.
Yes, we will still have Jerry Meals ready to call a runner safe when he was obviously tagged out about 3 feet shy of the plate.. At least replay can overturn that.
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Jerry Meals does his best. And he’s a fine gentleman.
Eric Gregg never said a bad word about Meals.
No, if anything, it will actually help their careers, since they’ll no longer get bad performance reviews on their pitch calling.
wild bill tetley
North/South pitchers will benefit. Those with a 12-6 curve will benefit. Those who can’t stand Angel, Laz or CB begins the dish will benefit.
Catcher mutters “Klaatu barada nikto” to umpire.
Pitcher is spared being vaporized.
I dated Gort’s sister in high school. She gave great beam.
Actor Lock Martin was supposedly 7 foot 7 inches tall. Now there’s a strike zone!
Either way, the Mets will still be terrible.
umpires need not worry about spin rate
Somewhere, Vlad Guerrero Sr. is saying “There’s a strike zone?”
I’m Benito Santiago and I approve of this message.
giants number 1 fan
The game I grew up loving is nearly dead.
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Then stop following it if it’s such a tragedy. No one wants to hear your whining.
And no one wants to hear your condescension.
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Sure they do.
I know giants number… The fact that balls and strikes will be called consistently and accurately is just a travesty of baseball civilization. Makes you want to crawl in a hole and never watch baseball again.
The pitcher that will be helped the most is Sesn Newcomb. The umpires give up on his curve and slider. Newk d’luc wants it now.
Every single Pitcher should be worried about Robot Umpires.
Folks if you want Robots in Baseball then start your own freaking baseball league & only use Robots & leave MLB out of the Robot world.
Robots are a joke in the Sporting world & should never be allowed.
Wait, aren’t you dead?
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Shake that fist at the cloud!
I’ll never understand this traditionalist masochism. You guys clearly see the glaring faults and blemishes on the sport yet any adapting or progress is dismissed out of some sort of ridiculous generational pride.
And based on how you wrote that I honestly think you believe there’s going to be some sort of Rosie the robot character behind the plate.
Don’t be crazy. It won’t be Rosie the robot. It will be the robot from the original Lost in Space TV series. Danger, danger Will Robinson that was a strike.
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Lol I was literally picturing that one but I couldn’t remember it’s name
I want the one from Buck Rogers. “Beda beda beda ball four.”
C’mon…Data from ST-TNG is the only choice. Plays a mean game of poker besides.
Make it so.
Robots in the game of baseball is not progress or anything else it’s a blight on the game.
Now if you want robots in the games then start your own leagues & have robots all you want but leave the game of baseball alone it has been great for more than a 100 years
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Ok now I think you’re just trolling
C-3PO: The possibility of this pitcher throwing a strike are approximately 3,720 to 1.
Greg Maddux: Never tell me the odds!
What about the married ones?
Technically, they’re no more actual robots than the Instant Replay cameras. Should we give up Replay Challenges, as well? What about bullpen phones?
Yankee batters will be hurt the most. For years when they didn’t swing it was an automatic ball. Now every team is on a level playing field.
bitter about the 70s much?
Why don’t they just let coaches challenge balls and strikes? give them 3 challenges a game.
Lol then tino Martinez strikes out in the 98 series instead of a grand slam
You should ask the question, which catcher should free a robot ump
I hope this strike zone will cause hitters to strike out less but also be more inclined to swing at not so optimal pitches, so that there are less home runs, while more balls hit in play. I’m not sure if the strike zone would need to be wider, taller, or the other way around.
Not yet another “existential crisis.” I wonder how the game has managed to survive this constant, foundational threat to its very existence for over 150 years. Not the first time I’ve noticed that the arguments behind the need to rush robot umpiring into the game seem to rely very heavily on this sort of exaggeration and hyperbole. The very fact that nobody really knows how the use of robot umpires will change the game tells me that this is the real existential threat to it. It’s a solution in search of a problem and that is never good.
“It’s a solution in search of a problem and that is never good.”
14 bad pitch calls–mostly balls becoming strikes–per game is a real problem. It changes the outcome of ABs, innings, games many times a week and no doubt has impacted the outcome of whole seasons. That’s a problem.
Hardly a solution in search of a problem, as you say. There’s not a letter of truth in that. Having neither consistency nor accuracy, that’s a problem. Thank god for the robo ump. Not a minute too soon.
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Well said, MoMan
How in the world has baseball survived for so long with the horrifying imperfection of human umpires? A question I can ask until the cows come home that nobody will ever even attempt to answer, probably because they have no answer. And yet it remains an urgent problem. That is the very definition of a solution in search of a problem.
Just because they couldn’t fix the inconsistent and inaccurate calling of balls and strikes earlier doesn’t make it a solution in search of a problem. It has always been a problem. Now we have a solution. Make it a problem solved. There’s no point to progress in your world. Get a clue. We lived without electricity until we didn’t. Then it was better. See?
Not sure how it’s survived with replay ruining some of that imperfection already.
With more pitchers able to throw much faster and more pitches with a ton more movement makes it even harder for umps to truly see where the ball traveled. I still remember Ron Luciano telling the story of being behind the plate the first time he saw Nolan Ryan. He thought something was wrong with his eyesight because it appeared that the ball was exploding. Image having to deal with that in more games than not. An electronic strike zone will make calls consistant for the whole game, every game. The strike zone Weill not change throughout the game anymore unless someone should mess with the programming.
@Mo4ever please reread my original point. I don’t think you understood it entirely. To make it again in another way, this is not an “existential crisis” as stated in the article. Whether you believe robot umpires would improve the game or not, the lack of robot umpires has never threatened the existence of the game and continuing to play the game the way it has always been played cannot in any way, shape or form be reasonably described as a “crisis.” I am skeptical of any argument that relies on such clearly ridiculous premises.
BTW you have no right to tell me what is progress in my world. Just a reminder that arrogance has no place in a discussion if it has any place anywhere at all.
Also it seems to be that the Robo zone is taller and slimmer than the human zone (or better the human zone is wider and shorter as the robo zone is the actual rulebook zone).
This means robo calls more strikes below and above the zone but less inside and outside of the zone which means that robo zone could help vertical over the top pitchers with straight rising fastballs and big 12 to 6 curves and likewise hurt lateral movement guys (sliders, cutters, running fastballs/sinkers).
This also could slightly hurt hitters as swing and miss rates up and down are higher than in and out which could lead to a little more Ks.
Don’t expect a huge effect though, Atlantic league had almost unchanged Ks and only slighty less walks with robo zone.
I think it’s more the catchers who rank near the top in framing like Austin Hedges that should fear robot umps the most.
Fear the robot…. Will Smith… a cross between Will Robinson and Dr. Smith
“The fact is, umpire error is making a huge impact on the game on a daily basis. The batter/pitcher relationship is the essential, critical matchup of the game. When this relationship loses integrity, the game itself suffers from existential crises.”
It works both ways – not just with the pitchers. OBP guys like Votto may find those ball calls will turn into strikes. Those guys waiting until later in the count may find themselves heading back to the bench sooner. Quality hitters are going to benefit with the zone clearly defined. I’ve been looking forward to the day for many years.
It’s Enrico Roboto!
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What about the hitters who don’t know where the real strike zone is? I would guess that a significant number of them will piss and moan about the high strike which will now be called all of the time. I don’t want to see the further automation of the strike zone. I don’t think endless replays have improved the game either. All they have done is slow it down and annoy everyone. New York gets it wrong just as often as an average umpire in my opinion. Even if it doesn’t, they are far from infallible. How about real and transparent grading of umpire performance? Make their stats available to the baseball fan the way the players are. Hold them accountable and get rid of the people who can’t or won’t do the job right. The way I would be if I sucked at my job.
“New York gets it wrong just as often as an average umpire in my opinion.“
I don’t think you understand the replay process.
Robot umpires need to fear Brett Gardner.
I watched on Gamecast pitch tracker. Gardner was right 9 out 10 times he argued. That’s why he was so steamed. He’s going to love robo umps if he makes it until then.
I’ve actually started to look into this myself using the pybaseball package. This is a great article and a great analysis. Very well done, thank you! Looking forward to more of your work.
Will they call the high strike this time on hitters who complains it’s “high” when it’s only belt high that’s “high” to them. Like make sure the strike zone is fair with the new pitch system.
The beauty and curse of baseball was that for 150 years it was riddled with errors. Its what made baseball, baseball. Missed call on the bases or a questionable strike has always been there and added an element that created frustration and enjoyment.
I’m not against analytics but ever since its acceptance the quest for perfection has taken over. Hitting, pitching, fielding are all computer models now. The shift and Instant replays have made the game dull.. Yet we push. Now we are doing away with essentially the duel between the hitter and pitcher. Regardless of what you may think it will definitely change the game. Long balls, runs and walks will increase exponentially while strikeouts decrease and ERA rise. Why? Because human error is now a problem? But players constantly make errors that ruin a game but thats ok. Why are we trying to perfect something that was never perfect to begin with?
At any rate this will happen and the game moves on and I will sit in my corner with likeminded people. We will rant and rave and talk about “in my day” but ultimately we’ll be watching.
In which other professions do you endorse more human error instead of less?
In sports? None. That’s my point. Mistakes are built into this game. If it ain’t broke dont fix it
“Now we are doing away with essentially the duel between the hitter and the pitcher” – do explain. How will an electronic strike zone do away with the duel between the hitter and pitcher?
I for one, think the introduction of an ESZ is long overdue. I’m a fan of an MLB team that doesn’t score as many R’s as the majority of other MLB teams. I have watched so many games where our hitters had A-B’s sabotaged by bad calls in high leverage moments. When your team only has a couple of really good hitters it is maddening to see these hitters get frustrated at Umps who just changed the whole complexity of the AB/the game with their bad calls. One bad call can take a 2-1 count to a 1-2 count. So much of that hitter- pitcher duel stems from the confidence a hitter or pitcher gets from being ahead in the count. I’m sorry but my team gets precious few chances to win a ball game, you have no idea how many times I’ve seen an umpire blow a call then ultimately give the pitcher the upper hand in a high leverage moment. ESZ cannot get here fast enough.
Well, with the season on hold because of the coronavirus, i have gotten used to doing other things besides watching baseball. When they switch to robot umpires, i will not want to watch baseball anymore. Luckily, due to the coronavirus shutdown, i will not longer be in the habit so i will not miss roboball. A silverlining.
I can just see the next Astros’ scandal. They hack the computer system to narrow the strikezone when they are at bat and expand it when the other team is at bat. “But the f****** pitch hit the guy in the warm-up circle.” “Sorry, son, but the computer called it a strike. No arguing, machines are infallible.”
Cubs fan since 2016, huh?
Wait — the conclusion here seems to be opposite. If pitchers with slower stuff throw pitches the umps can see clearer, then the umps are getting more calls correct on the lower velocity/lower spin pitchers. Since those calls are already more correct, the robot ump will effectively not change the impact on lower-speed pitchers.
The solution to not having robot umpires is to have the best of the best call strikes and balls every game. No rotation of umpires. That would improve accuracy. You don’t ask players to switch positions. Should be the same for umpires. Then you could even have the robot as a backup or guide for the expert home plate ump. Kind of like a wire that tells you the pitch was in the strike zone. The ump could still decide. The key is no one would know about the wire going off or not. Or you could not bother with the robot at all and see if the umps improve enough to not need it. Either way, something has to change.
I knew the cubs were cheating. Strip that one title in 108 years and bar them from ever playing again.
I kinda like the idea
Thank god, umps ruin the integrity of the game. Should be done on all sports venue so rigging is nearly impossible. Right now pro sports hide behind “human error” With an electronic strike zone there is no error as plate has sensor and it’s always the same.
so is it possible that the strike zone is expanded outside and lower an inch to compensate? Otherwise the good hitter may have the advantage right?
wild bill tetley
Expanding the zone side to size would mean expanding home plate, and thus expanding fair territory in the process.
Well, here we are with 2020 Super Baseball, not with cyborg players but with robot umpires on the horizon.
Judge not having to worry about balls at his ankles being called strikes?
Now he’ll have to worry about pitches above the belt being called strikes…
So will Matt Carpenter see at least a partial reversal of his rising strikeout rates once he no longer gets all those called strikes outside the zone? Until then, he really needs to get more aggressive on two-strike pitches that are “too close to take.”
The only issue I have is the fear that this will be implemented before the technology is perfected. From what I hear, electronic strike zones still are not all that accurate.
wild bill tetley
Plus, a home plate umpire could go weeks or even months without having to call balls and strikes. Suddenly the technology has a malfunction and they have to go back to calling the game. Ump has a pitiful night due to “rust”, and it fuels the argument of never letting umpires call games.
Except they’re still behind the plate watching every single pitch and likely thinking about what they’d call as every pitch crosses the plate… “Rust” wouldn’t be the issue. Being bad at calling a game would be – and that’s the issue we already have.
PLEASE DO THIS AND I’M DONE WATCHING BASEBALL!
If we don’t have the technology to tell whether a little white ball went through a stationary box…
Then PLEASE, as a society, let’s stop it with the self driving car non-sense.
Let’s get the really simple in comparison thing that risks no lives perfected before we get super (over) confident that we can pull off the insanely complicated and potentially deadly thing any time soon.
Basically we will trend to more extreme outcomes of power pitchers vs power hitters. Hitters should get a nice little boost with this. (Good-multi inning) Relievers will definitely trend to be more valuable as they have been already. This should help offensive based teams and put more balls in play. While they’re at it, please adopt a DH for NL and get rid of the friggin shift. Offensive numbers will go up and baseball will be great again. Although this isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, in MLB the show, they have auto strike zones. It is much harder to get good hitters out. I think it’ll be similar to real life.
“Roughly a quarter of all called third strikes in 2019 were on pitches that landed outside the zone. “
That is absolutely insane.
I’ll be the first to say, Robot umps are definitely why the Mariners have not won a World Series.
I’ve long wanted a robo-ump. No more pitch framing, no more calls that benefit CYA winners. We can finally get it right.
I’m more interested in the exact implementation. What I’m hoping is they use every guy’s height and assign a strike zone based on a standard batting stance. Most guys have one, but every now and then, you come across a weird stance that would dramatically affect the strike zone if used: Jeff Bagwell’s taking-a-poop-in-the-woods stance, Moises Alou’s my-legs-are-tied-together-just-above-the-knees stance, and Craig Grebeck’s look-my-chest-can-almost-touch-my-knees stance come to mind. Also, Frank Thomas, Tony Bautista, a few others. Point is, these stances would affect the strike zone, but when the pitch comes, most of these guys had more normal swings. If the zone were based on their stance, I can see more guys adopting a Grebeck pose just to get a lot more walks.
How is this electronic strike zone adjusted for individual players of differing stature such as Judge and Altuve? Who controls it, the umpire or the MLB video judges? Has there been cases where the robot umpire malfunctioned and failed to make a call or made an obvious bad call? If so, can the human umpire over rule or make the call?
this change will change how teams look at catchers. no need to have that gold glove guy back there, just hit and slow the pitches down.
They dont need robot umpires. What they need to do is have a rule where the home plate impute isnt allowed to call a check swing a strike. The rule is no matter what on a check swing they need to appeal.
Robot umpires will be like leslie nielson in naked gun
The former pitcher Bob Walk, who has repeatedly spoken out against robocalls, put it this way: “It is a human game played by humans.”
People take it too seriously, it is only a game. It doesn’t matter if the umps don’t get every call right. If you want to have perfection, play and watch a video game. If you want perfection, get rid of all the players as they are humans and humans are prone to error.