June 3, 2018

Manfred: "We Are Much Closer Than We Were A Year Ago To Having The Technological Capability To Actually Call The Strike Zone"

Commissioner Rob Manfred, in a recent interview with Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, talked about the possibility of an automated strike zone:
Manfred: The difficulty with the strike zone is that when you talk to really good baseball people, you get vastly different predictions as to what you're going to get if you make a change. That always makes me nervous. ...

Rosenthal: So it's hard to change . . .

Manfred: I wouldn't say it that way. I think with the technology we have, we've shown that you can adjust the strike zone through our evaluation system. The umpires are in fact really skilled. When you motivate them to move in a particular direction, they do. What concerns me more is the unpredictability of the outcome of a particular change.

Rosenthal: Given that, can you foresee a time when the zone is called by technology and not by umpires?

Manfred: Let me say it in two different pieces. I think we are much closer than we were a year ago to having the technological capability to actually call the strike zone. We have worked very hard on PITCHf/x (a pitch-tracking system). ... The accuracy is way up – way better than what it was a year ago. The technology [has] actually moved a little faster than I might have thought.

There remains a fundamental question the owners are going to have to address. When you take away the home plate umpire's control over the strike zone, you take away a principal piece of his authority in terms of managing the whole game. You really need to think carefully about whether you want to make that change.

Rosenthal: I imagine the umpires would be violently opposed…

Manfred: It's interesting. Fifteen years ago, the umpires were violently opposed to instant replay. They came around and actually wanted it. Who knows? ...
I am mystified (yet again) why a interviewer did not mention – and press Manfred on the enforcement of – Rule 5.07(c) "Pitcher Delays", aka the "12-second rule".
When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call "Ball."

The 12-second timing starts when the pitcher is in possession of the ball and the batter is in the box, alert to the pitcher. The timing stops when the pitcher releases the ball.

The intent of this rule is to avoid unnecessary delays. The umpire shall insist that the catcher return the ball promptly to the pitcher, and that the pitcher take his position on the rubber promptly. Obvious delay by the pitcher should instantly be penalized by the umpire.
Because the timing begins when the batter is "alert to the pitcher", the batter could presumably slow things down by dicking around with one foot out of the box. But ... the rule exists, so it ought to be enforced. Manfred told Rosenthal "when you motivate [the umpires] to move in a particular direction, they do". So why not "motivate" them to follow the entire rule book?


Jere said...

The umpires' calls this year have been a great case for automated strike zones. Or at the very least a sensor that can tell if a ball goes over a plate or not--they've been missing so many inside/outside calls.

Jim said...

So Manfred admits that the plate ump has "control" over the strike zone. Not the rule book. And who gets to judge when technological improvements are "more accurate"?
Why do writers who interview this mealy-mouthed corporate shill not hang him out to dry?

allan said...

Also, I love the Manfred quote I used in the title:
"Actually Call The Strike Zone"?
What a concept!!