During the All-Star break, the Atlantic League All-Star Game started to do MLB's bidding by using a new robotic umpire system. The home plate umpire wore an earpiece. A person in the press box would relay to him whether the pitch was a ball or strike based upon a computer evaluation.
The home plate umpire then relays the call to the players and fans in attendance in his normal manner. Under this robotic call rule, the umpire can also override the call.
The last item makes the rule stupid. If the umpire can override the call, then why have a man in the press box make the first call?
MLB is all about speeding up the game. But using a computer strike zone actually delays the call of each pitch. Currently, an umpire's call is nearly instantaneous. Now, it has to be relayed from above. Even if it a 5 second delay per pitch, that adds another 17 minutes to the game.
But there is no agreement that the new technology is accurate.
The strike zone system, provided by MLB, was created by Trackman, a sports data firm. Software in the press box relays the call to a smart phone, which relays to the bluetooth earpiece the umpire wears. A square array well behind home plate monitors the strike zone.
MLB's executive vice president of economics and operations Morgan Sword told ESPN it was "an exciting night for MLB. One of our focuses is not to replace the umpire. In fact, we're trying empower the umpire with technology. The home plate umpire has a lot more to do than call balls and strikes, and he's going to be asked to do all of that. We're in touch with our umpires' union, and this is the first step of the process."
Recall, that the umpires hated the replay rule because they felt someone was watching over their shoulder. Replay challenges are limited and do not affect judgment calls.
Balls and strikes is a judgment call. The strike zone is different for every batter. Can a single radar device behind home plate actually get the x, y, z coordinates of a 95 mph fastball more correct that nature's fastest video capture device, the human eye?
MLB executives continue to try to push "new" ideas on the sport. It makes them feel better about themselves. The concept to change rules for the sake of change is maddening at times.
For example, another new MLB being tested in the Atlantic League is allowing a player to steal first base. As can now be done when a third strike is not caught cleanly, the new rule allows the batter to try and take first on any count if a pitch is not caught cleanly.
Any past ball or wild pitch can allow the batter to take off for first base? What if the batter leaves the batter's box and stops - - - is he out? What if there is a runner at first base who does not run to second? What if there is a dispute on whether the ball near the dirt is caught or hitting the batter? (Normally the ball is called dead). Such a new rule merely complicates the game to a degree to confuse the casual fan.
MLB needs to stop tinkering with the rule book and let the players play the game.