Let’s take a break from the Dansby Swanson discussion and talk about the automated strike zone, the so-called “robot umps.”
Based on this tweet from J.J. Cooper of Baseball America posted Wednesday, we might not get it at all — instead, a ball-and-strike challenge system could be instituted. This was confirmed by Astros broadcaster Robert Ford:
MLB more or less confirmed this in a conference call with broadcasters in September. Depending on how things go in the minors in 2023, the challenge system could be in MLB parks by 2024.— Robert Ford (@raford3) December 14, 2022
I’ve written about this challenge system previously, most recently last month. To refresh your memory, here’s how it would work, per Zach Buchanan in The Athletic:
Each team enters the game with three challenges, keeping the ones it wins for repeated use. Challenges must be issued immediately, and only by the catcher, pitcher or hitter. Unlike in the replay review system currently in use for non-ball-and-strike calls in the majors, a manager cannot challenge a pitch. Umpires do not huddle or retreat to a headset, but instead watch along with the rest of the stadium as the correct call is displayed on the scoreboard.
This is a surprisingly good and efficient idea. It was used in some minor leagues in 2022 and will be expanded in 2023. Since the challenge must be made immediately, and only by on-field personnel, it doesn’t take very long — per Buchanan’s article, only 15 seconds or so. And the kicker: If you’re right, you retain the challenge:
We had a whopping thirteen (13) ball/strike "ABS challenges" tonight. (You start with 3 and only lose them if you're wrong.)— Josh Suchon (@Josh_Suchon) September 1, 2022
Sugar Land was 6-for-7 on challenges.
The Isotopes were 4-of-6 on challenges, including a ball 4 that was overturned to strike 3 to end an inning.
What this would do, most likely, is eliminate the most egregiously wrong ball-and-strike calls (I’m looking at you, Angel Hernandez and CB Bucknor) while still leaving the good ball-and-strike umpires authority to make calls, thus placating those who still want “the human element” in the game.
I’m all for this system. I’d love to see it in MLB in 2023, but I understand if MLB wants to practice with it further in the minor leagues for another year to make sure it works the way they want it to.
The reason I didn’t embed the JJ Cooper tweet above is that it included the following tweet, which I wanted to specifically highlight:
When the automated strike zone comes....— Codify (@CodifyBaseball) December 14, 2022
Larger relative zone size decreases:
Larger relative zone size increases:
Soto is 2" taller than Bichette. pic.twitter.com/wWUGhmMiv7
Now, if we actually don’t get a fully automated strike zone that won’t matter, and please correct me if I’m wrong, but the way I read that, the implication here is that Cody Bellinger and the others listed as having a smaller strike zone with an automated zone is that Bellinger and the other five listed have good strike zone judgment. This might help Bellinger draw more walks, at the very least.
Again, if I’m wrong in my interpretation please let me know.
In any case, I am very much looking forward to a time when bad ball-and-strike calls can be reversed. In some cases those calls have major impacts on games. That’s the whole point of reviewing umpiring calls in the first place — so they reflect what the players actually do, rather than what one guy thinks they did.