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The automated strike zone is moving on up to Triple-A in 2022

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Robot umpires are edging closer to MLB.

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

A week or so ago, it was announced that the trial of the automated strike zone in the independent Atlantic League (in partnership with MLB), used in that league since 2019, was going to end.

Now we know why: The experiment is being promoted to Triple-A.

MLB’s website posted a hiring notice seeking seasonal employees to operate the Automated Ball and Strike system. MLB said it is recruiting employees to operate the system for the Albuquerque Isotopes, Charlotte Knights, El Paso Chihuahuas, Las Vegas Aviators, Oklahoma City Dodgers, Reno Aces, Round Rock Express, Sacramento River Cats, Salt Lake Bees, Sugar Land Skeeters and Tacoma Rainiers.

For now, that excludes the Iowa Cubs and other teams in what’s currently called “Triple-A Central,” though I suspect that league (along with other minor leagues) will get a sponsor name before the 2022 season begins. (Also, the Sugar Land Skeeters are rebranding this year and are going to be Space Cowboys.)

While the hiring notice linked above specifically names the 10 teams of Triple-A West and one Triple-A east team (Charlotte), it does not specifically exclude other markets:

Major League Baseball (MLB) will be operating the Automated Ball and Strike system (ABS) in select Spring Training venues in Florida, in AAA West and Low-A Southeast, and potentially in other non-MLB games and venues.

ABS will leverage optical tracking data to determine and communicate ball and strike calls to plate umpires. It is critical we provide quality support to the umpires and the technology while capturing data around system performance.

We are accepting applications for all markets.

That implies that if MLB gets enough applications, this system could be used in other minor leagues (“potentially in other non-MLB games and venues”).

The system is not without its flaws. I saw it in action in the Arizona Fall League championship game at Salt River Fields, the only AFL park that had the system set up. As is the case with some human umpires, the system made calls that made me and other fans roll our eyes. Clearly, the automated strike zone needs work before it is unleashed on Major League Baseball.

So this news is actually welcome, in my view. Test this in as many different leagues and venues as needed, take as much time as is necessary to make the system as perfect as possible. Is it ever going to be 100 percent accurate? Probably not, but it’s got to be an improvement on human umpires. Here’s an article I wrote last October on some horrendously bad calls made in a postseason game. This just can’t continue to happen.

For those of you who think “the human element” should be kept and we shouldn’t have an automated strike zone, I say only this: Shouldn’t the “human element” be what the players actually do on the field and not what one guy dressed in blue thinks they did? Beyond that, why should we have a different strike zone depending on who’s behind the plate on a particular afternoon or evening? Happens all the time. The automated system will call balls and strikes by the book. And why should veteran pitchers get calls that rookies don’t? Again, call the rule book strike zone.

This isn’t going to be part of Major League Baseball in 2022 (if we even have a 2022 season), and maybe not in 2023 either. As I said above, MLB should take as much time as needed to make sure this system is as flawless as possible.

In the meantime, I’ll make a suggestion I’ve made before. Give each manager two ball-and-strike challenges per game (in addition to the two they already have). That shouldn’t slow down games too much, and it would help eliminate the most egregious of bad calls. Managers would likely save these for critical situations in games. I’d love to see a challenge system like this until the automated strike zone is implemented.

It’s gonna happen, so we should all get accustomed to the idea.

Poll

The automated strike zone (robot umpires)...

This poll is closed

  • 71%
    Love it! Do it as soon as possible!
    (253 votes)
  • 17%
    Hate it! Keep the human element
    (62 votes)
  • 11%
    Don’t care either way
    (40 votes)
355 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Allowing two ball-and-strike challenges per game...

This poll is closed

  • 58%
    Great idea! Helps get rid of the worst bad calls
    (178 votes)
  • 28%
    Bad idea! Slows the game down too much
    (86 votes)
  • 12%
    Don’t care either way
    (38 votes)
302 votes total Vote Now