Robo strikezone: Not as simple as you think -- Baseball Prospectus

The Gray Eagle

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So baseball's powers have looked at the landscape of sports today and decided that what baseball needs is more video reviews and challenges?
That is so stupid. Just give the umps a silent buzzer that buzzes their wrist every time a pitch hits the strike zone. That's it. That's the only change you need (along with the umps being reviewed and scored based on the calls that they make that don't align with the buzzer.)

Making it challenge-based is just stupid. The umps could miss calls all day but if you don't challenge, then nothing happens. If you run out of challenges, then the umps' missed calls could screw your team multiple times in huge at-bats. It's uneccessary and just wrong. Anyone who watches the Premier League and/or the NBA knows that video reviews and challenges are awful.
 

Spud

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So baseball's powers have looked at the landscape of sports today and decided that what baseball needs is more video reviews and challenges?
That is so stupid. Just give the umps a silent buzzer that buzzes their wrist every time a pitch hits the strike zone. That's it. That's the only change you need (along with the umps being reviewed and scored based on the calls that they make that don't align with the buzzer.)

Making it challenge-based is just stupid. The umps could miss calls all day but if you don't challenge, then nothing happens. If you run out of challenges, then the umps' missed calls could screw your team multiple times in huge at-bats. It's uneccessary and just wrong. Anyone who watches the Premier League and/or the NBA knows that video reviews and challenges are awful.
At the risk of being the old man yelling at clouds, I agree. I hate challenges and replays. I have never been real big on watching football, but the challenges, reviews, and wasted time have made it unwatchable for me. On the other hand, I love watching baseball and don't want to see it ruined by interminable delays while we figure out whether a pitch was an eighth of an inch inside or outside the strike zone. So I agree with Gray Eagle -- get the robot in place and signal the ump. If the ump sees something that is obviously off, let him or her call it. But PLEASE no replay on balls and strikes!

I'll go away now and chase the kids off my lawn.
 

jon abbey

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I love trying to get calls correct via video in every sport, flaws and all. I stopped attending live sports a while back and I almost always watch via delayed DVR, so they’re easy to forward through and presumably they get more right than they fuck up. There’s nothing more frustrating than your team losing on a bad call, replay review cuts that down some at least.
 

Heating up in the bullpen

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At the risk of being the old man yelling at clouds, I agree. I hate challenges and replays. I have never been real big on watching football, but the challenges, reviews, and wasted time have made it unwatchable for me. On the other hand, I love watching baseball and don't want to see it ruined by interminable delays while we figure out whether a pitch was an eighth of an inch inside or outside the strike zone. So I agree with Gray Eagle -- get the robot in place and signal the ump. If the ump sees something that is obviously off, let him or her call it. But PLEASE no replay on balls and strikes!

I'll go away now and chase the kids off my lawn.
I don’t think you’re yelling at clouds. Having to challenge bad strike zone calls is so obviously idiotic. The umps miss dozens of calls a game. Let the robots call balls and strikes.
 

SumnerH

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On the one hand, yeah, letting the robot call balls and strikes is better.

On the other hand, these challenges are super-quick. Watch that clip: even with a challenge it's still faster between pitches than most pitches were last year. It's not like football where they spend 60 seconds looking at the video and interrupting the flow of play.
 

sittingstill

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Having seen the challenge system in action with the WooSox, I have to say I love it. Very quick, the scoreboard graphic is very satisfying in its precision, and you preserve some strategy/tactical advantage in the game through catchers' and batters' knowledge of the strike zone.
 

dirtynine

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No challenges, just tell the umps what the “right” call is via some progressive bio feedback mechanism (like a cuff that squeezes your pinkie harder the more certain the system thinks it was a strike). At some point when the tech is there add a heads up display with real time info. Let the umps become kind of cyborg-like - enhanced humans with decisive, final power. Judge Dredd in blue.
 

Comfortably Lomb

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No challenges, just tell the umps what the “right” call is via some progressive bio feedback mechanism (like a cuff that squeezes your pinkie harder the more certain the system thinks it was a strike). At some point when the tech is there add a heads up display with real time info. Let the umps become kind of cyborg-like - enhanced humans with decisive, final power. Judge Dredd in blue.
Right. I don't think many robo-strike zone proponents ever wanted a challenge system. I want the human element out of it entirely. The system should be calling the balls and strikes. Not the ump.
 

AB in DC

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On the one hand, yeah, letting the robot call balls and strikes is better.

On the other hand, these challenges are super-quick. Watch that clip: even with a challenge it's still faster between pitches than most pitches were last year. It's not like football where they spend 60 seconds looking at the video and interrupting the flow of play.
Yeah I'm with you here. If it's as fast as a tennis challenge, then I'm ok with it.
 

jon abbey

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Interestingly, tennis has completely phased out challenges as well as linespeople, the electronic call is the call and there’s no way to appeal because the call’s already been made electronically. Tennis is much easier to call correctly with electronics than baseball and its three-dimensional strike zone.
 

EvilEmpire

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I supported it from the beginning, but a new reason I like the idea of a robo ump calling balls and strikes is that I think the human umps can then focus more attention and energy on getting pitch clock calls correct. Some of those seem challenging. Or at least more than I thought it would be.

Let the umps do that better. Bring on the robots for balls and strikes.
 

grimshaw

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I had some fun with the umpscorecards site.

30 out of the 86 umpires have an average favor of .5 run per game or higher towards one team or another based on balls and strikes.
I took a look at 1 and 2 run games where these umps favor was higher than .5 and found there were 18 such games that could have cost teams wins and losses from a subjective strike zone.

Sox fans will be thrilled to know that the Yanks and Jays have potentially benefited from a game each.

The majority of these games would only have affected these games by a run, meaning the mistakes made by umps could have just helped or hurt a team to tie a game rather than go ahead

Other notes of interest
-76 of the 720 games called through yesterday were 1 run games.
-Of those, 30 were impacted by half a run from umpires calls.
-15 additional games were impacted between .33 and .49 runs by ump favor. Individually, Sox potential outcomes under these circumstances affected 5 games this season. It negatively impacted the Sox by a net of 1 game.
-The Reds lost 3 games where they were negatively impacted by the strike zone by .5 a run or more. There are several teams within a game or two in the standings which also means that draft positioning is likely being affected.

TL/DR, Umps have way too much impact, not just playoff wise, but bullpen deployment but also in draft positioning which is way underrated. A flawed robo system is most definitely a net positive.
 
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zenax

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There is an interesting article from back in 2013 about PITCHf/x inaccuracies. That system has been replaced but some of the problems could still hold. For instance, if the equipment used for "calling" balls and strikes is mounted in an upper deck of a stadium and there is a small crowd, the measurements might not be quite the same as when there is a large crowd because the weight added by fans could cause the height of the equipment to be slightly higher or lower. The same would happen if a number of fans left that area. Maybe there have been ways to override these types of problems but there won't necessarily be perfection park-to-park.

https://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2013/9/13/4720852/basic-2013-pitchfx-velocity-park-effects-error-sabermetrics
 

Mighty Joe Young

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Jason Stark with a nice write up about the AAA experiments with robo umps ..

https://theathletic.com/4791440/2023/08/25/mlb-robot-umpires-future/?source=user_shared_article

In summary - there are three experiments on going -
- fully automated one
- challenge system
- a smaller strike zone (2 inches off the top)

Results so far:
- minimal effect on game length , even with fully automated
- Players dislike full automation and - by a huge margin - prefer the challenge system
- the Hawkeye system seems up to the task. The only caveat is the individual player’s strike zone is based on their height and ignores any crouch (Rickey Henderson would hate it). Stark seems to think that could be easily overcome with individual sensors on each player.

One interesting side note - their height is generally ignored by real umpires - Judge’s strike zone is too small and Jose Altuve’s is too big for example.

If I had a vote , I’d vote for the challenge system.
- it keeps a catcher’s framing skill in the game
- blowouts would be umpired with a feel for the game situation
- it keeps the human element of real umpires and their tendencies.
- challenges would add a fun element. This is entertainment after all.

As for the smaller strike zone, walks have skyrocketed. This effect would be expected to diminish as players adjust?
 

zenax

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Spalding's Official Baseball Guide for 1884 has an article on Balls and Strikes, in which the following is said:

"Time and time again, last season, did we see Umpires call strikes on batsmen when the ball had curved apparently over the plate, but in reality beyond it; and also when it had been over the plate, strikes were called on high balls when low balls had been called for, and vice versa, simply because the Umpire had no defined boundary point in his mind in regard to the either the limit of a high or low ball; and in calling strikes he did not hesitate to give the benefit of the doubt to the pitcher, though well aware that the rules already give the pitcher a sufficient advantage. This season we hope to see men in the Umpire's position who will more equitably and intelligently interpret the spirit of the rules in this respect than was done in 1883, even by experienced umpires."
 

joe dokes

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Havent seen this in another thread. Speier story on AAA robos. Others have noted throughout the season how AAA hitting numbers have gone way up. Speier notes that robo-zone is smaller than MLB zone.
Robo-umpiring has arrived in the minor leagues. Here’s how it’s been working. - The Boston Globe

Minor leaguers were measured for their precise heights in spring training, with the top of the zone set at 51 percent of a batter’s height and the bottom of the zone at 27 percent of his height. By all accounts, that two-dimensional shape with those specifications has created a strike zone that is meaningfully smaller than the one used by umpires in Triple A last year and likewise smaller than the zone in the big leagues.
 

jon abbey

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I think just in the all-prospect games, each team gets three challenges of balls/strikes and you don’t lose one if you’re correct. It was a nice teaser of the future, I can’t wait for a fully electronic zone.
 

joe dokes

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I think just in the all-prospect games, each team gets three challenges of balls/strikes and you don’t lose one if you’re correct. It was a nice teaser of the future, I can’t wait for a fully electronic zone.
Does/did the challenge have to come from a player or can it/must it come from the dugout? (I'd prefer players only; but I could see where managers might disagree.)
 

jon abbey

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Does/did the challenge have to come from a player or can it/must it come from the dugout? (I'd prefer players only; but I could see where managers might disagree.)
It wasn’t well covered by the announcers in the game I watched, but it looked like the NBA in that it had to come from the dugout but was sometimes put into motion by the pitcher believing he had a strike that was called wrong.
 

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I think only batters and pitchers should be able to challenge balls and strikes - nobody else has a good direct view of it and if it's close enough to need calibrated systems to see an error, it's close enough to let slide if the players aren't upset about a call. But managers can definitely keep challenging field plays - trap/catch, fair/foul, all that good stuff.

Also I haven't seen anything about the margin of error on the measurement system, and what they do about that for challenges. Anyone know?
 

zenax

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I think only batters and pitchers should be able to challenge balls and strikes - nobody else has a good direct view of it and if it's close enough to need calibrated systems to see an error, it's close enough to let slide if the players aren't upset about a call.
How well can a pitcher judge the beginning and end of the strike zone?
 

InstaFace

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How well can a pitcher judge the beginning and end of the strike zone?
Probably about as well as an ump, if you discount their emotional reactions to wanting close calls to go their way. Why, do you think pitchers shouldn't be able to challenge calls?
 

zenax

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Probably about as well as an ump, if you discount their emotional reactions to wanting close calls to go their way. Why, do you think pitchers shouldn't be able to challenge calls?
Do you honestly think that a pitcher some 50-odd feet away from the front edge of home plate can tell when the ball crosses that line? Or when the pitch goes beyond the strike zone? Frankly, I think umpires might have a problem...but maybe not to the same extent as a pitcher.
 

Rice4HOF

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Do you honestly think that a pitcher some 50-odd feet away from the front edge of home plate can tell when the ball crosses that line? Or when the pitch goes beyond the strike zone? Frankly, I think umpires might have a problem...but maybe not to the same extent as a pitcher.
Yeah, a catcher makes more sense. I’ve umpired lots of games where a pitcher incredulously asks me where a pitch missed, and many times the catcher will tell him before I have a chance to answer. They have the best view.
 

scottyno

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I think only batters and pitchers should be able to challenge balls and strikes - nobody else has a good direct view of it and if it's close enough to need calibrated systems to see an error, it's close enough to let slide if the players aren't upset about a call. But managers can definitely keep challenging field plays - trap/catch, fair/foul, all that good stuff.

Also I haven't seen anything about the margin of error on the measurement system, and what they do about that for challenges. Anyone know?
Managers can't see any of the other things they challenge either so why shouldn't they be able to challenge balls and strikes? They aren't going to have unlimited challenges, and there will be a downside to being wrong, so if the manager makes a bad decision to challenge that's on them.
 

Van Everyman

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This system is so good. The only thing I’d honestly prefer—assuming technology allows—is that every pitch be called with this as it happens. As fast as these reviews are—and they are light years faster than any other professional sport—it still kills the momentum and feel of the moment to have to wait for the review to take place.

If instantaneous technological umpiring is technologically feasible, I am totally happy to have a human ump do the Enrico Palazzo live call and relay it to the teams and viewers. But it should be done using an earpiece or some kind of monitor that has already confirmed to them whether it is a strike or a ball.
 

SLC Sox

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It also seems to cut down on all the heated arguments and, presumably, ump show ejections. Don’t like the call? Tap your helmet, the call gets made precisely, everyone moves right along.
 

jon abbey

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It also seems to cut down on all the heated arguments and, presumably, ump show ejections. Don’t like the call? Tap your helmet, the call gets made precisely, everyone moves right along.
This is what has happened in tennis, there are no longer any player tantrums largely designed to impact the other player's momentum, it's a beautiful thing.

I have said for years that IMO MLB will instantly be maybe 30 percent more enjoyable of a sport with an (accurate) electronic zone.
 

DeJesus Built My Hotrod

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That pitch sucked, though. I hope any automatic system is calibrated to the more natural rounded corners that the umps call and the players agree are hittable pitches.
The beauty of a uniform strike zone and automated pitch calling is that while it may change how games are called, teams and players will adapt. We see this across baseball as well as other sports.

Frankly, random and arbitrary strike zones - as well as umpiring with a personal overlay - detract from the game. People who romanticize human umpires are either deriving their income from the job or don't coach the sport at any level.

ABS now and robots ASAP.
 

Max Power

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The beauty of a uniform strike zone and automated pitch calling is that while it may change how games are called, teams and players will adapt. We see this across baseball as well as other sports.

Frankly, random and arbitrary strike zones - as well as umpiring with a personal overlay - detract from the game. People who romanticize human umpires are either deriving their income from the job or don't coach the sport at any level.

ABS now and robots ASAP.
The reason for a strike zone is so batters don't let hittable pitches go by. If a pitch is not in a hittable location, then it shouldn't be a strike, regardless of what the rule book defines it as. Umpires, pitchers, and hitters have all come to an agreement one which should count and which shouldn't. Umps don't have personal zones nearly as much as they used to. It's all pretty uniform now, just with rounded corners.

We keep saying "they're professionals, they'll adjust." But sometimes they can't. Strikeouts are higher than ever and nobody was able to routinely beat the shift when it was allowed. Putting balls in play is really hard. We shouldn't be doing anything that makes it harder.
 

DeJesus Built My Hotrod

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The reason for a strike zone is so batters don't let hittable pitches go by. If a pitch is not in a hittable location, then it shouldn't be a strike, regardless of what the rule book defines it as. Umpires, pitchers, and hitters have all come to an agreement one which should count and which shouldn't. Umps don't have personal zones nearly as much as they used to. It's all pretty uniform now, just with rounded corners.

We keep saying "they're professionals, they'll adjust." But sometimes they can't. Strikeouts are higher than ever and nobody was able to routinely beat the shift when it was allowed. Putting balls in play is really hard. We shouldn't be doing anything that makes it harder.
I am open to the idea that the strike zone can be tweaked but I'd like to see data from a few seasons from a ABS or even roboump system before doing so.

The edges of any zone are tricky but we don't teach players to give up on borderline pitches - they are taught to spoil them. And we teach pitchers to put the ball in those exact spots. I'd like to see how those concepts work when both sides are pretty confident about a zone not just across a game but over careers.

I mean imagine some of the great disciplined hitters or control pitchers in the history of the game but with a more consistent strike zone. I could see a Maddux being even more dominant but also Barry Bonds too.
 

DeJesus Built My Hotrod

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I challenge you to spend 10 minutes browsing umpscorecards.
Umpires are human beings and have flaws as well as biases - of course they have personal zones or else they would all be graded uniformly (per your note about the umpire scorecard). While the "strike zone" has been a nebulous concept in the past, it doesn't add anything to the game imo.

The sport should be working toward a uniform zone and using technology to get there. Imagine how hitting and pitching might be developed if players had a consistent zone from at least high school onward. Dinner reservation zones can be amusing but they do nothing for teaching plate discipline.
 

jon abbey

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Hahaha, rounded corners!!!! Do you also think the service box in tennis should be round and not rectangular? It’s really hard to hit serves back when they hit the corners.
 

Heating up in the bullpen

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I am open to the idea that the strike zone can be tweaked but I'd like to see data from a few seasons from a ABS or even roboump system before doing so.

The edges of any zone are tricky but we don't teach players to give up on borderline pitches - they are taught to spoil them. And we teach pitchers to put the ball in those exact spots. I'd like to see how those concepts work when both sides are pretty confident about a zone not just across a game but over careers.

I mean imagine some of the great disciplined hitters or control pitchers in the history of the game but with a more consistent strike zone. I could see a Maddux being even more dominant but also Barry Bonds too.
And Tom Glavine wouldn't be in the HOF because he wouldn't have gotten that pitch 6" off the plate every time.
 

Comfortably Lomb

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Watch some video of Maddux in the 90s. The strike zone he was given was absurd compared to most of the league. No wonder players were hacking at some of his pitches, they'd consistently be called a strike 3" off the plate.

Anyway, this needs to be implemented yesterday for all pitches not in play.