MLB and the Automated Strike Zone

A bad way to ruin a good game.

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Recently, one of my teammates, Tanner Reklaitis, gave a speech on how the MLB should not adopt the Automated Strike Zone. Before hearing his case, I believed that it was a good idea because it would quicken the pace of games and there would be no reason for a player to blow up on the home plate umpire. After hearing his reasons, though, I completely changed my mind to think that the Automated Strike Zone is a bad thing for baseball; it will ruin the purity of the game.

Tanner, for credibility sake, is a pitcher who is quite involved in #PitchingTwitter. He understands the complexities of the game and realizes how bad – and how good – umpires can get.

This debate has been long drawn out. At least twice a month, a player will blow up on an umpire because of the strike zone and the whole Automated Strike Zone argument is brought back into the lime-light and blown out of proportion. Humans are fallible; not everyone can be perfect, especially umpires. They make mistakes and that is why the MLB has introduced the NFL-style replays. Though they have brought replay into ball-in-play calls, they have not expanded that to ball and strike calls, for good reasons.

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Umpires call strikes inside of the strike zone 87% of the time.

As Tanner pointed out, umpires are very good at their jobs. According to Scott Lindholm of SB Nationumpires make the right call about 85% of the time. For what they have to do, and knowing the constraints of the human eye, that is actually incredible. They have to follow a tiny white sphere as it hurdles toward their face at around 95 mph through an imaginary zone somewhere over a white square.

The difference between a strike and ball in the MLB is so minute that many normal people can’t even tell the difference. But, these umpires that have seen over 10,000 pitches can; it’s second nature for them. Of the 13.2 and 15 percent of pitches that were “incorrectly” called, Lindholm says that he is sure many of these pitches were considered borderline or just outside the strike zone. These “missed” pitches could have gone either way which says a lot about how keen an MLB umpire’s eye really is. 

Unfortunately, not many people appreciate what umpires do for baseball. They all don’t have a uniform strike zone because they are not robots but by looking at the numbers, it is incredible to see how well they actually do behind the plate: anything within the strike zone is almost always a strike. Though there isn’t a uniform strike zone, this helps add a variability to the game that no other sport has.

Joe Sheehan, one of the most outspoken critics of umpires had this to say in Rob Neyer’s article “So, about automating the strike zone,”

“It’s time to stop pretending that human eyes are the best available technology for the job. We have systems already in place that do a better job of calling a consistent, rulebook strike zone than human umpires could ever possibly do. Let them do the job… Now, with PitchF/X in place, indicting umpires every single day, we have both the data to make the case and the technology to do something better. An automated strike zone will be more fair to all the players, while putting an end to a condition in which virtually invisible movements are as valuable as the acrobatics of a Gold Glove shortstop.”

I’m not gonna say he’s completely wrong because he’s not. He’s right that human eyes aren’t the best things for the job. He’s right that there is a better technology for the job and while it would be more fair for all players, this would take away from the variability of the game.

Everyone who has ever played baseball at a high level can fairly say that they have learned or experienced something new almost every day that they have played baseball. These new learning experiences are part of the game and dealing with umpires is certainly one of those experiences. The umpire is your boss, he is the one that calls the shots and pretty much tells you what to do and you have to respect that and as I said before, each umpire is different so you must adapt.

When I played JuCo baseball my coach always preached that you must “adapt or die.” This is the exact thing he was talking about. You must adapt to the umpire or you will be eaten alive by this game. It’s simple as that. Umpires add a variability to the game that must be overcome. If that does not happen, you will drown. That is what makes baseball great; you never know what will happen. You’re constantly learning.

There is a baseball purist in everyone who has been around the game long enough; no changes, the game is completely fine as is. And I believe so. The replays are a great addition that gives a certain edge to the game in late innings. A blown safe call will not be the turning point of the game anymore. But automating the strike is a bad idea that will ruin a good game.  Don’t let it happen, it will change the whole atmosphere of baseball.

 

Big shoutout to Tanner Reklaitis for the information.

Sources:

Lindholm, Scott. “How Well Do Umpires Call Balls and Strikes?” Beyond the Box Score.

        SB Nation, 27 Jan. 2014. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.

Neyer, Rob. “So, about Automating the Strike Zone …” FOX Sports. N.p., n.d. Web. 29

        Oct. 2015.

Sheehan, Joe. “54. The Case For Automated Strike Zones.” 54. The Case For

        Automated Strike Zones. N.p., 19 Aug. 2014. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.