By: Mark Lester and Steve Furtado
Rumors have been flying for the last two seasons that MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is considering a ban on the “shift,” which for you casual fans is basically having infielders and outfielders shift away from their normal positions to adjust for the opposing hitter’s tendencies, thus resulting in a better chance of getting the batter out. I think that this idea is absolutely ridiculous, and my stance on the issue is perfectly summed up here: [Banning The Shift Takes Baseball Away From The Truth: https://www.thedugoutonline.com/blogs/the-dugouts-finest/banning-the-shift-takes-baseball-away-from-the-truth]. I’m open to rule changes, just not ones that are ridiculous and impractical. So, that begs the question: is the idea of a computer calling balls and strikes ridiculous and impractical, or is it the kind of change that Manfred should really be considering? Before presenting the arguments for and against having a computer determining balls and strikes in a real game, let’s establish how exactly that system would work. I’m not 100% sure how the MLB would tackle this issue, but I’m going to make my best possible educated guesses based on what I think would be the most efficient way for MLB to tackle the issue. Speaking in very simple terms, the system would do the following:
- Create an automated strike zone adjusted for each individual player’s height and batting stance to make the most accurate strike zone possible - Relay the ball/strike call to the home plate umpire, who would signal the call as they normally would, unless the batter does a check swing or foul tip
- those calls would remain with the home plate umpire
Would a system that, in theory, improved the accuracy of home plate calls, be good for baseball, or would it compromise the integrity of the game? Should it be a part of the modern day MLB?
Yes - Mark Lester
I strongly believe that the automated strike zone being used in the
majors is not just an idea, but an inevitable reality. Major League Baseball claims that home plate umpires get 97% of their ball-strike calls correct. An independent study conducted by Yale professor Dr. Toby Moskowitz show that number is closer to 88%. That study was conducted over 3 1/2 MLB seasons, and all the missed ball-strike calls added up to an average of 30,000 missed calls per season. Think about that for a second... 30,000 ball-strike calls
are missed every year. Divide that by the 2,430 MLB games that take place every season, and that adds up to about 12 missed ball-strike calls per game. For a human umpire, only 12 missed calls in an entire game really isn’t bad. People wearing face masks who are as old as 68 will obviously have trouble determining whether a ball traveling upwards of 105 mph is an inch above or below a player’s chest. I have past experience as a Little League umpire, and trust me, it’s not easy, even when most of the kids are throwing around 60 mph. The fact of the matter is, as skilled as major league umpires are today, they’re put in a position to fail. And they do. An automated strike zone, in theory, completely solves these problems. Ball-strike calls would be much closer to MLB’s grossly exaggerated 97% correctness rate and home plate umpires would be able to focus on getting check swing and foul tip calls correct. Overall, the change would result in a better officiated game. Sure it would take some things away from baseball, things that would never come back. Catcher framing would become virtually non-existent. Players wouldn’t be screaming at the umpire over balls and strikes (I must admit I will miss that). And the most prevalent argument against the implementation of this system is that it would take away the “human element” of umpiring. What exactly is the “human element”? It’s hard to define, but I would say it’s the tendency of umpires to call big or small strike zones, ones that favor pitchers or batters. Some fans claim that it adds an extra unique layer to baseball that can’t be found in many other sports. And I completely agree with that. However, should something like the human element be accepted as a part of baseball when we have the technology to make ball-strike calls irrefutable? We’re already using replay technology to make sure that calls on the bases are correct; why shouldn’t we do something similar to make sure ball-strike calls are right? Are those calls any less important to the outcome of a game? Why, even though it’s clearly established in the MLB rulebook, should the strike zone be in any way subjective? The obvious answer is that it shouldn’t. The “human element” of umpiring is a mere byproduct of the imperfections of MLB officiating, and now that we have the tech to fix these imperfections, it would be an injustice to the game to simply ignore it. Sure, a few small elements of the game that most of us enjoy will be gone forever. But this is baseball. If we were still playing baseball the same way we were in 1900, I bet you wouldn’t enjoy it as much. The game evolves. An automated ball-strike system would be just another step in the growth and change that’s been happening since the invention of America’s pastime. I don’t know about you, reader, but I believe that losing that small aspect of baseball is more than worth it if it means that ball-strike calls will be virtually guaranteed to be
correct, something that’s never been seen in the history of the game, but
what the founders of baseball intended all along.
I’ll leave you with this... if your favorite team was up to bat in Game 7 of the World Series, who would you want making the calls... a system built to call balls and strikes 100% accurately every time... or Angel Hernandez?
I rest my case.
Even when there is an automated strike zone implemented, many people would still get upset over certain calls. Either way, there will be people upset about the outcomes of games that do not benefit the team. Plus, it is not the umpire’s fault a good amount of times. Studies show that pitchers are throwing faster and faster each baseball season. Going along with that the average age of major league umpires is 45.8 with some being as high up as 68! When you are getting baseballs thrown at your face at 90+ mph and taking into account old age of umpires, it’s understandable why some calls will be missed. Fault of missed calls can also be blamed on catchers. Catchers will typically try to frame balls to where it looks like the ball is in the strike zone when really it was out if the strike zone. If it’s a close call between a strike and a ball, an umpire may reference the catcher’s glove position. The 30,000 ball-strike calls that are missed is highly misleading as when you break down the math, that’s only 12.3 missed calls a whole game! Breaking that down even further, if each team pitches on average 146 times, then that means that only 4.2% of calls are incorrect per game. That is in fact, a very low number. Another thing is that, when an incorrect call is made and people start arguing that’s what’s fun about baseball. Having automated strike zones is like programming an algorithm to determine if a player was safe. Taking away that human element will disconnect people from the sport as there is one less
aspect of traditional baseball removed. This is why a good majority of players do not want to implement an automated strike zone, the reason being it will take away the human element that makes baseball unique. So for the reason that, stats against umpires are highly misleading once you get down to it, it’ll still anger people about calls, it takes away a fundamental aspect of baseball, and players don’t want it, that is why baseball should not implement an automated strike zone.