Major League Baseball wants to deploy strike zone robo-umpires in 2024

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Major League Baseball will “likely” introduce an Automated Strike Zone System starting in 2024, commissioner Rob Manfred told ESPN. The so-called robot umpires may call all balls and strikes then relay the information to a plate umpire, or be part of a replay review system that allows managers to challenge calls. “We have an automated strike zone system that works,” Manfred said. 

The comments come in the wake of fan outrage over umpire’s missed calls in recent games, including a brutal low strike error during a Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins tilt. “Enough is enough. Give me robo umps already,” tweeted Grand Rapids ABC sports director Jamal Spencer. 

MLB has been experimenting with robo umps in minor league Atlantic Triple-A league since 2019. It uses a doppler radar system developed by TrackMan, best known for its golf speed measurement devices. The system works thusly, according to CBS: “Pitch gets thrown, TrackMan tracks and identifies the pitch’s location, phone tells umpire whether it’s a ball or strike, umpire physically makes the call behind the plate.” 

In fairness to umpires, calling balls and strikes with 100 MPH fastballs and hard-breaking curveballs caught outside the zone is no easy feat. But that’s exactly why fans, pundits and the league itself thinks that machines should take the job, leaving the plate umpire to judge tags and other more subjective plays. Mechanical systems also made Atlantic league games mercifully shorter by a full nine minutes, according to MLB data. 

Under baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement, the league has the right to change rules unilaterally, provided it gives the union a season’s notice. Manfred already said that such a system wouldn’t be brought in next year, as the new competition committee won’t have its first meeting until 2023. Once it does meet, though, the committee is very likely to approve the changes since it’s dominated by ownership, according to ESPN

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