Is Baseball Ready for Robot Umpires?

BreakingModern — Minor league baseball organizations are are infamous for using gimmicky promotions to fill seats, ranging from Mike Tyson Ear Night (Bang!) to Nickel Beer Night (Bang! Bang!). But the San Rafael Pacifics recently promoted an idea that will strike fear into the hearts into many baseball traditionalists: using a robot umpire.

robot umpire

The “robot” uses Pitchf/x technology — which most sabermetricians have known about and used to evaluate pitchers for years now. Essentially, it creates a strike zone, adjusting for the hitter’s height, and calls balls and strikes accordingly. But why is this being discussed as more than just a gimmicky, futuristic one-time thing?

Baseball has been plagued by inconsistent strike zones for its entire history, and this new Pitchf/x technology has been exposing it. Now, there are entire Twitter accounts devoted to exposing umpires’ missed calls using this fancy newish tech. Radio and television announcers have access to it, and proudly declare when umpires have made mistakes.

There is some merit to this, as strike zones vary from umpire to umpire — especially for many who, for example, deliberately call the low strike below the definition of the zone (knees to the letters) to benefit pitchers. Both pitchers and hitters alike can be seen visibly frustrated at these calls nearly every inning, causing brawls and ejections. It’s understandable: what is or isn’t a strike is not very clear.

This discrepancy slows down games and discourages continuous action. Hitters are hesitant to swing because they don’t know if borderline pitches will be called strikes or not. More swings means more balls in play, which usually generates more offense, something baseball has been deprived of recently.

robot umpires

Robot umpires would eliminate this needless confusion and drama and promote quicker, more action-packed games. What’s not to like about this pragmatic panacea to baseball’s problems?

There’s one crucial issue: baseball isn’t a game for robots. It’s the most human game in sports, with human error and imperfection at its core. Popular baseball dogma suggests that baseball is a game of failure, so why shouldn’t error be acceptable? It creates more entertaining games and debate, instead of a dry, soulless machine of a sport. We baseball nuts won’t have anything to talk about anymore! Who doesn’t love seeing a manager go on a tirade about a bad call and get tossed from a game? With a robot umpire, we would have never gotten to see this beautiful moment (here).

I know balls and strikes dictate games, as the difference between a 1-2 and a 2-1 count can change the outcome of a season. But as crazy as it sounds, I just couldn’t bear to see horrible umpires like Angel Hernandez replaced with machines. Who wants to watch a hitter get rung up by a robot to end the World Series?

It’s horrifying to think that the integrity of baseball, fallibility, could be compromised in such a heatless way. Let’s hope we all forget about this experiment after a while.

For BMod, I’m .

All Screenshots: BMod Staff

Ben Leonard

Author: Ben Leonard

Based in San Francisco, Ben Leonard covers sports for BreakingModern. Follow him on Twitter @ben___leonard

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