February 27, 2019

MLB Will Use Robot Umpires This Season ... In The Independent Atlantic League

Major League Baseball has taken the first steps toward the use of a computerized strike zone!

MLB and the independent Atlantic League have announced a three-year agreement allowing MLB to use the league as a testing ground "to observe the effects of potential future rule changes and equipment".

Baseball America reports that one of the changes for the 2019 season will be using Trackman to call balls and strikes.
MLB will install Trackman radar devices at all eight Atlantic League stadiums so that all 30 MLB teams can receive in-depth data on each and every pitch and ball put in play at any Atlantic League game. ...

"A numbers of scouts had suggested over the past few years that if we could ever get Trackman it would make a difference in the exposure players receive," [Atlantic League President Rick] White said. "Because of the nature of our players, virtually every one of our games is scouted. But the challenge those scouts had was they were having difficulty interpreting their personal view versus the advanced analytics that every affiliated player has at the Double-A/Triple-A level. This gets past that." ...

By testing in the Atlantic League, MLB will get significantly more data than it could in any spring training or Arizona Fall League trial. The league will have eight teams playing a 140-game schedule. ...
In May 2018, Commissioner Rob Manfred said:
I think we are much closer than we were a year ago to having the technological capability to actually call the strike zone. ... The accuracy [of PITCHf/x] is way up - way better than what it was a year ago. The technology continues to move ... and it actually moved a little faster than I might have thought. ... When you take away the home plate umpire's control over the strike zone, you take away a principal piece of his authority ... You really need to think carefully about whether you want to make that change. ... Fifteen years ago, the umpires were violently opposed to instant replay. They came around and actually wanted it. Who knows?
The Atlantic League may also move back the pitcher's mound, but the article does not elaborate. (This article, also in Baseball America, suggests that increasing the distance from the mound to the plate may help pitchers, which is the opposite of what MLB wants.)

Back in 2013, the league first rolled out new rules to speed up their games, limiting the time between innings to no more than 125 seconds and instructing umpires to call the high strike. In 2014, the league cut the number of warm-up pitches from eight to six, eliminated the need to throw pitches for intentional walks, and allowed each team only three timeouts for defensive meetings per game. It also emphasized that umpires should apply the rule stating that batters remain in the box.

The 2019 Atlantic League:
Liberty Division
High Point Rockers - High Point, NC
Long Island Ducks - Central Islip, NY
New Britain Bees - New Britain, CT
Somerset Patriots - Bridgewater, NJ

Freedom Division
Lancaster Barnstormers - Lancaster, PA
Southern Maryland Blue Crabs - Waldorf, MD
Sugar Land Skeeters - Sugar Land, TX
York Revolution - York, PA


FenFan said...

Yes, yes, yes to robot unpires!

allan said...

Fuckin A!!!!

(I have wanted to post about the new changes being proposed and discussed by MLB and the Union, but (a) it feels overwhelming and (b) what else can I say besides "oh god NO!")

allan said...

Also: If this truly happens this year and anyone goes to a game - the league covers a wide area (Connecticut to North Carolina to Texas), please give us a report!!!

FenFan said...

It's too bad that the Nashua (NH) Pride no longer exist. They were part of the league until about ten years ago. Butch Hobson was the manager for several seasons. Sam Horn and Rich Garces both played in a game I attended.

Jim said...

Thanks for posting this. I had to read Manfred's comments 4 times. Did he really say that? He actually sounded sane. I'm 72 and before I depart to that great seat behind home plate in the sky, I would dearly love to see robot umps down here on my MLB-TV.

Jere said...

Just learning now that Beehive Field, home of the New Britain Red Sox when I was a kid, had a new park built *right* next to it...yet it still stands. The new park is where the new Bees play, the old is used for high school games. Might have to check this all out and see the robot in action.