It’s Time for the Robot Strike Zone Caller

The time has come to start measuring the strike zone with laser-level precision.

The time has come to start measuring the strike zone with laser-level precision.

 

“The greatest single difference between a major-league and minor-league batsman is in his judgment of the strike zone. The major leaguer knows better the difference between a ball and a strike. He knows better whether to swing or take a pitch.” ~ Branch Rickey.

If Mr. Rickey had been still-alive and in attendance at Tuesday night’s MMP home opener between the host Astros and the visiting Orioles, he might have chosen to amend that declaration. If the home plate work of MLB umpire Dana DeMuth is any fair example, the greatest single difference in strike zone interpretation seems more likely today to be the way umpires and batters judge the strike zone. It’s probably always been that way, but it’s simply easier to see see now through the high definition television close look we all have of the pitch coming in on the tight screen shot from behind the pitcher – to view a strike zone that is often measured with an electronic vertical rectangle that is set to measure balls and strikes for the particular batsman that stands in to hit.

Colby Rasmus got run from the Tuesday game for whatever he said to umpire DeMuth about his called strike three on a pitch that was arguably out of the zone. It didn’t cost the Astros the game, but it could have. And we need to take “arguably” out of this part of the game and save it for real human-level questions – like “who should our club start in the biggest series of the year with our team’s major rival?”

How do we expect the younger guys coming up to fare any better against the varied interpretations they get of the strike zone from ump-to-ump? The situation is pitiful and needs to be corrected whenever it is feasibly possible from a technical and economic standpoint. We aren’t really faulting umpires in this regard either. We simply don’t observe that it is humanly possible to agree upon a strike zone that is both seen and called consistently from batter to batter, umpire to umpire, and league to league – no matter what its gradient major-minor league level may be. Human beings have had 140 some odd years of major league baseball for organic arbiters to prove that they can handle balls and strikes – and Dana DeMuth is little more than the latest evidence that it isn’t working.

Whenever I see an umpire perform like DeMuth did on Tuesday, I’ve reached the point where I silently think to myself something like: “Oh, so you think you could have hit that ball that was two-feet out of the zone for Colby?” Now I think what I’m really saying is that those same umpires are simply showing us how terrible they would be as hitters, if they were standing in there with the wood to try and hit anything that looked good to them.

Bring on the electronic balls and strikes caller. – It’s time for us humans to surrender yet another job to the superiority of automation.

____________________

The Real Winner from this Change

The game itself.

Pitchers will be helped to develop their pitch location skills with a consistent strike zone in play. And just imagine the help it will be to young hitters like Carlos Correa as he moves forward as a hitter against a strike zone matrix that is consistently called the same way. The fans also get to see a better game – and the umpires get to be people who will always be better suited as humans to deal with those aspects of the game that require human contact for some kind of orderly peaceful settlement.settlement. Some of them may not be the same umpires we have now, but, because the major reason for game ejections has been removed, they will be officials that possess people skills that go beyond screaming “you’re out of here” in all remaining cases of disagreement.

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Addendum by Larry Dierker

Former great Astros Pitcher, Manager, Broadcaster, and Author Larry Dierker just left this comment on this column and we made the decision that his thoughts belong up here for an even greater obvious display to one and all. We know of no one else who could speak to  these points of support for the idea with any greater experience or wisdom. Thanks, Larry!

Larry Dierker Says:

I have been advocating this ever since the technology has been used. As a pitcher, I had no doubt I could call balls and strikes better than the umpire because I had the same view as the center field camera. If you watch, you will see that the umpire is almost never set up behind the middle of the plate. So he’s looking sideways trying to judge when a moving pitch crosses an invisible line five feet in front of him. I don’t blame the umpires. They would do a much better job if they were standing behind the pitcher like they used to. When I watch it on TV, I generally say “that’s not a strike” or “that’s a strike.” When they put up the graphic and replay it, I’m right 90% of the time. The other 10% of the time, I believe the technology is better than my own eyes and judgement. Put buzzers in their back pockets and call the game so that, if not perfect, it is at least significantly better than it is now and it is consistent for nine innings for pitchers and hitters. They would appreciate it. It wouldn’t add a second to the time of the game.

Weighing the replay on other calls against the time it takes for a manager to argue with the umpire, it’s probably a wash. So is the outcome, with about half of the calls upheld and half overturned. With 162 games, the same teams would make the playoffs with no replays. Managers arguing with umpires is part of the theater of baseball. Umpires standing in front of the dugout wearing headsets is boring!!!

With the short series’ in post season, I would advocate using the replays. At that point, the time of the game is less of an issue than during the long season and one overturned or upheld call could change the outcome of a series.

____________________

 

eagle-0range
Bill McCurdy

Publisher, Editor, Writer

The Pecan Park Eagle

Houston, Texas

https://bill37mccurdy.com/

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4 Responses to “It’s Time for the Robot Strike Zone Caller”

  1. Larry Dierker Says:

    I have ben advocating this ever since the technology has been used. As a pitcher, I had no doubt I could call balls and strikes better than the umpire because I had the same view as the centerfield camera. If you watch, you will see that the umpire is almost never set up behind the middle of the plate. So he’s looking sideways trying to judge when a moving pitch crosses an invisible line five feet in front of him. I don’t blame the umpires. They would do a much better job if they were standing behind the pitcher like they used to. When I watch it on TV, I generally say “that’s not a strike” or “that’s a strike.” When they put up the graphic and replay it, I’m right 90% of the time. The other 10% of the time, I believe the technology is better than my own eyes and judgement. Put buzzers in their back pockets and call the game so that, if not perfect, it is at least significantly better than it is now and it is consistent for nine innings for pitchers and hitters. They would appreciate it. It wouldn’t add a second to the time of the game.

    Weighing the replay on other calls against the time it takes for a manager to argue with the umpire, it’s probably a wash. So is the outcome, with about half of the calls upheld and half overturned. With 162 games, the same teams would make the playoffs with no replays. Managers arguing with umpires is part of the theater of baseball. Umpires standing in front of the dugout wearing headsets is boring!!!

    With the short series’ in post season, I would advocate using the replays. At that point, the time of the game is less of an issue than during the long season and one overturned or upheld call could change the outcome of a series.

    • Tom Hunter Says:

      Larry, what do think about the vertical strike zone? I remember the letter-high fastball that used to be called for a strike. Now if a player crouches down far enough, he can reduce the area that is considered a strike. And the bottom of the strike zone seems to have expanded below the knee, making it more likely for a golfer to hit a strike.

      I want to be clear that when I go to a game, I want to see a no-hitter. I enjoy pitching and defense, so anything that helps the pitcher is fine with me.

      The problem you addressed in your addendum made me wonder how Ted Williams, with his intimate knowledge of the strike zone, would do in today’s game. Would he be called out more on questionable strikes? I have no doubt that he would be tossed out of more games.

  2. gregclucas Says:

    Except for the fact that only the Major Leagues would be able to install and/or afford such a technology–assuming it could be perfected with hitters moving around in the box and swings resulting in false signals of balls passing thru I would not be opposed. However, I would suggest getting all the bugs out of a system such as this might be a tall task. Better, frankly, would be more umpires making fewer errors. And better yet: more hitters swinging the bat! Baseball is really slowing down to a crawl with the lack of aggressiveness by so many hitters in this era trying to “work the count”–then either striking out or walking.

  3. stanfromtacoma Says:

    I am generally not in favor of taking the human element out of the game. If a young Sandy Koufax is throwing the ball all over the place I have no problem with him not getting a borderline strike that say Greg Maddux or Jamie Moyer would get. The really bad ball/strike umpires should be out of a job. Unfortunately unlike the players incompetent umps aren’t sent back to the minor leagues or given an unconditional release.

    Larry might well be right that an ump directly behind the mound is in a better position to call balls and strikes. If so, and he would not be a distraction to the hitters, I say put him there.

    One other thing— technology is not always foolproof. I had to go back and correct some errors made by the robot speller who lives in my phone before posting this message.

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