Baseball is experimenting with quite a number of possible rule changes in the minor leagues. They include a pitch clock, larger bases and the subject of this article, a ball/strike challenge system.
Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com recently wrote about one game where the ball/strike challenge system was used, Saturday, August 20 in the Triple-A International League between Charlotte (a White Sox affiliate) and Syracuse (a Mets affiliate).
Here’s how the system is designed:
In the challenge system, the home-plate umpire calls balls and strikes in the traditional manner, but teams can appeal to the Hawk-Eye “robot ump” on certain calls they deem to be incorrect.
• Each club starts the game with three challenges.
• A correct challenge is retained; an incorrect challenge is lost.
• Challenges may only be made by the batter, the catcher or the pitcher (i.e., no help from the dugout).
• Challenges must be made immediately following the umpire’s call.
This seems eminently reasonable; it wouldn’t slow games down too much if used in the major leagues, and the fact that players on the field must immediately use the challenge with no help from the manager or coaches is also quite intriguing.
Castrovince wrote that five challenges were made in the August 20 game and only one resulted in an overturned call. Here it is:
The strike zone challenge system they are testing in the minors is pretty cool. Challenges can only come from pitcher, catcher, or batter and have to happen right away. pic.twitter.com/yXspD8Qlmw— Jomboy (@Jomboy_) August 26, 2022
You can hear the plate umpire call “Ball!” in the video, and even the announcers thought the pitch was a strike. It was challenged and immediately overturned. The entire process took less than 30 seconds. Remember that bad call on Christopher Morel last Saturday in Milwaukee? The Cubs would have challenged that, got it overturned and then they’d have had runners on first and second with two out and Nick Madrigal due up in a game that was still 0-0 in the seventh inning. Obviously we’ll never know what might have happened, but the Cubs would have at least had another chance to take the lead. This is how such challenges can have real impacts on game outcomes.
Eventually, I think we will have a complete automated ball/strike calling system in the major leagues; that’s also being tested in other minor leagues this summer and likely will be again in 2023. But until such a system is in place, why not have this sort of thing in MLB games? Three challenges per team wouldn’t slow things down much and likely, managers would instruct the players responsible for making the challenge on the field hold them for critical situations in the game. The one shown here, on a 1-1 count in the fourth inning, probably wouldn’t qualify, but again, you can see how easily and quickly the system works.
One other thing from Castrovince’s article, about the length of this game, a 4-3 win for Charlotte in which there were 13 hits and eight walks, seems important:
... this 2-hour, 17-minute game was also a much crisper, faster-paced brand of baseball than many of us are accustomed to.
Two hours, 17 minutes. A game similar to that in MLB nowadays, with the home team not batting in the bottom of the ninth, likely runs about 2:50 to 2:55.
Incidentally, since teams retain their challenges if they are correct, there can be more than three per team. Wednesday, that happened in a game between the Triple-A Sugar Land Space Cowboys and Albuquerque Isotopes (and yes, those are real team names):
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.
The system was very fast, around 5-10 seconds for each challenge.— Josh Suchon (@Josh_Suchon) September 1, 2022
The videoboard here at Constellation Field showed the location. All the players turned around to see for themselves the precise location.
Only 1 hitter used a challenge. The other 12 were by pitcher/catcher.
So even with that many challenges, it didn’t slow this game down too much. Sugar Land won 8-6 in a game that had 21 hits and 13 walks, and even with all the challenges it ran 3:12.
I really like this ball/strike challenge system and hope they are considering adopting it for MLB games in 2023.
A ball/strike challenge system similar to the one shown in this article...
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Love it! Great idea to help make the calls right
Hate it! Leave the human element in the game
Something else (leave in comments)