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Using technology to call balls and strikes


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#51 Eric Van


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Posted 06 October 2008 - 03:10 PM

I think the issue w/ the minor leagues is interesting. I fully agree that it would be difficult to implement in the minors (though MLB should be willing to foot the bill to outfit minor league parks w/ the necessary equipment). And it would impossible in HS/Babe Ruth and on down the line - you'll still need people to call 'em at those levels unless a cheapie version can be put together.

Quick note on this point (more on everything else later). 90% of the hypothesized system is the existing pitch/fx system, fine-tuned. Having pitch/fx data for AA and AAA would be hugely helpful for sabermetrically-inclined MLB teams. The use of MLB pitch/fx data by MLB teams will grow over the next 5-10 years and with it will come a desire to have the data from the high minors as well.

A good umpire is going to have to learn how to call balls and strikes. He would learn that in the low minors. He would then learn to use the automated system in AA and AAA.

#52 BroodsSexton

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Posted 06 October 2008 - 03:53 PM

The home plate umpire wears a headset which reports to him one of five values: strike, borderline strike, borderline ball, ball, no data (system knows it has malfunctioned). The "borderline" is a buffer zone, probably an inch wide but maybe 1.5", centered around the edges of the agreed-upon strike zone.

The same data is reported in real time to both dugouts (and ultimately to fans) but in three buckets: strike, ball, borderline.

He is urged to called borderline pitches the way the system sees them but has discretion to do otherwise. The intent of the discretion is to maintain consistency with certain types of borderline pitches that the system sees one way but umpires have historically seen the opposite.

If the intent is just to maintain historical consistency, then I don't really see the point of the "borderline strike" and "borderline ball" calls. Rip the band-aid off and go all-in (choose your metaphor). If you think that there really is a "borderline" strike call that could fairly go either way (even though it does or does not meet the strict definition of "strike"), then I would just report "borderline" to the ump and let him make his call. There's also the virtue of keeping the system simple.

Also, why would you report the pitches to the dugout? All it's going to do is inflame a team one way or another based on the ump's calls when they won't be able to do anything about it anyways (what, protest the game?). What you really need is credible enforcement based on the accumulated data. But if MLB were willing to do that, then you might not have this problem from the outset.

Finally, an alternative to piping it into the dugout: Let's make this a true Survivor-style Umpire Efficiency Program. No headset for the umpire. He's allowed to make his call however he sees it. But the computerized call is displayed on the stadium scoreboard. If the umpire gets it wrong, the call is reversed. Now THAT is a program I can get with.

Edited by BroodsSexton, 06 October 2008 - 03:53 PM.


#53 Ananti


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Posted 06 October 2008 - 05:17 PM

Finally, an alternative to piping it into the dugout: Let's make this a true Survivor-style Umpire Efficiency Program. No headset for the umpire. He's allowed to make his call however he sees it. But the computerized call is displayed on the stadium scoreboard. If the umpire gets it wrong, the call is reversed. Now THAT is a program I can get with.


What's the point of that? if every time the umpire disagrees with the computer, the computer wins, then just get rid of the umpire altogether. He adds nothing.

#54 YAZ

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Posted 06 October 2008 - 05:38 PM

I think it's just too hard to be consistent calling strikes/balls standing behind the catcher. Move the ump behind the pitcher so they can see the damn ball cross the plate. Hell, you can eliminate at least an ump.

#55 Savin Hillbilly


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Posted 06 October 2008 - 07:20 PM

If you think that there really is a "borderline" strike call that could fairly go either way (even though it does or does not meet the strict definition of "strike"), then I would just report "borderline" to the ump and let him make his call.

I agree with this. If the umpire's data stream includes values that he's allowed to override, then what happens when this becomes public information? I.e., say the ump gets a 'borderline ball' reading and calls it a strike, and that costs a team the game, and news of the overrule comes out later? The fans of the 'victim' team will howl to the rafters, and rightly so.

If the system gives the umpire discretion on certain events, then its evaluation of those events should be neutral. Either it's a ball, or it's a strike, or "you decide." Not "I THINK it's a strike, but you decide." That way madness (or at least excessive & preventable kerfuffle) lies.

#56 danlmac

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Posted 06 October 2008 - 09:07 PM

I'm all for giving technology a try, but in the meantime...

This would admittedly be a minor tweak to the current system, but might it be beneficial to rotate the umpires every three innings during a game? (They're supposed to be interchangeable, after all.) Watching the game last night it really struck me how exhausting it must be to be calling balls and strikes for close to five and a half hours. (Hell, when I'm trying to focus, say, behind the wheel of a car for that length of time, I'm a wreck when the drive is over.) To my eye, the calls got worse as the game progressed.

This wouldn't solve the problem of erratic strike zones or eliminate vindictive calls, but maybe a fresh pair of eyes behind the plate every couple of innings could help with the fatigue factor, even during a nine inning game. Has it ever been tried before? What would the arguments against umpire rotation be?

#57 ookami7m

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Posted 07 October 2008 - 12:31 PM

What would the arguments against umpire rotation be?


The biggest argument to this would be as of right now each umpire has his own strike zone. Imagine having a wide strike zone for three innings then a tiny one for the next three. I can't imagine either the batters or the pitchers viewing that as a good idea.

#58 BroodsSexton

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Posted 07 October 2008 - 12:39 PM

Finally, an alternative to piping it into the dugout: Let's make this a true Survivor-style Umpire Efficiency Program. No headset for the umpire. He's allowed to make his call however he sees it. But the computerized call is displayed on the stadium scoreboard. If the umpire gets it wrong, the call is reversed. Now THAT is a program I can get with.

What's the point of that? if every time the umpire disagrees with the computer, the computer wins, then just get rid of the umpire altogether. He adds nothing.

The point would be the sheer and utter humiliation of the umpires. Much better than just getting rid of them.

Edited by BroodsSexton, 07 October 2008 - 12:40 PM.


#59 danlmac

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Posted 07 October 2008 - 01:45 PM

The biggest argument to this would be as of right now each umpire has his own strike zone. Imagine having a wide strike zone for three innings then a tiny one for the next three. I can't imagine either the batters or the pitchers viewing that as a good idea.

I think you're right about these objections, but they point to a very serious (and obvious) flaw in the system: the strike zone isn't supposed to vary according to the whims of an umpire. I wonder if having to share the duties behind home plate during a game might make umpires less likely to cling to their "own" strike zone; it wouldn't "belong" to them for an entire game. I'd like to think that umpires would want to serve the game rather than serving their own egos, but that's probably just wishful thinking. Bring on the technology.