Ever since he took over as commissioner of Major League Baseball, Rob Manfred has consistently looked for ways to improve the sport.
Perhaps the most controversial of his new ideas has been the implementation of an automated strike zone behind the plate. The change was first made in the Atlantic League during the 2019 season appeared to be successful enough that it was tested in some Spring Training games and is expected to be used in Minor League games this year as well.
In a recent interview with Fox Business, Manfred explained the system, which doesn’t include the use of an actual robot umpire despite common vernacular, and also why he feels it will be better:
“The way it works is, the camera calls the ball or strike, communicates to an earpiece that the umpire has in his ear, and from the fans’ perspective it looks exactly like it does today. We believe over the long haul it’s going to be more accurate, it’ll reduce controversy in the game and be good for the game. … We think it’s more accurate than a human being standing there. The current strike zone design is actually three-dimensional, and a camera is better at calling a three-dimensional strike zone than the human eye.”
Umpires making incorrect balls and strikes calls has been an issue in baseball for many years, although it seemed to be especially bad in 2019. Many purists may not be in favor of making this change, but if Manfred has the data to back up his argument that an electronic strike zone is more accurate, then it is hard to argue with MLB eventually making this change.
It appears that the umpires themselves may be onboard with the change as well. After MLB reached a five-year labor agreement with the MLB Umpires Association (MLBUA), they agreed to assist the league with the implementation of an electronic strike zone in Minor League games this season.
Some players have spoken out against the change though, and with a new CBA coming up, it will be interesting to see if Manfred consults the opinion of the MLB Players’ Association before making any sweeping changes.
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