Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve covered what will be new in Major League Baseball in 2020 and beyond. In two separate articles, I wrote about the new three-batter minimum for pitchers, and then about other new rules regarding rosters, the IL (Injured List), and other changes. Guess what? Even more changes are coming to MLB for 2020.
Robo-Umps Are Coming
Tired of bad calls on balls and strikes ruining the game? So are the players and managers. MLB, the umpires union and the MLB Player’s Association are looking to change the inaccuracies. For the last few years, there’s been talk of a computerized umpire, or “Robo-ump” if you will, but it’s now become a reality.
MLB states that human umps currently miss 10% of all calls. That may not sound like much, but when you consider the total number of pitches in a year, the number of missed calls is staggering. As per Baseball-Reference, there are approximately 300 pitches per game and there are 2,430 total games played annually (excluding postseason play). That works out to 729,000 pitches per season, with about 7,290 pitches erroneously called. Even more disconcerting, MLB says that across the entire league, umpires miss calls on “certain pitches” (breaking balls) 30% of the time.
No, “Johnny Five” from the movie Short Circuit won’t be taking the field – although that’d probably be a lot more entertaining than what’s coming.
Although it will just be in a test-phase this year, high-tech Robo-Umps will now be used behind the scenes during spring training. According to Major League Baseball and umpiring officials, the automated balls-and-strikes software, also known as “ABS” (automated balls and strikes) or “ESZ” (electronic strike zone), will run in the background during exhibition games for testing and development purposes.
How It All Works
Many are under the impression that once the Robo-Umps are used, no home plate umpire will be on the field, but that’s simply not true at all. Umpires will still take their normal place behind the catchers. If for no other reason, they’re still needed to make safe/out calls, log mound visits and eject irate managers and players.
When the system is instituted, the home plate umpires will wear earpieces. Once a pitch has been delivered, the software will instantaneously determine the call. The system then announces it (via the earpiece) to the umpire. The ump will then announce the call. Umpires will have the authority to overrule egregious automated calls, such as a pitch that bounces before crossing the plate.
While this system is supposed to ensure accuracy, it’s still going to leave players furious with calls. SF Giants’ prospect Jacob Heyward (brother of Cubs’ OF Jason Heyward) became the first player ever to be ejected over arguing a strike call with a Robo-Ump. This call was terrible.
There will probably never be 100% accuracy in the game, but with a little luck, things should be better. Look for the Robo-Umps to be officially used full-time in either 2021 or 2022.
Mic’d Up Umps
Finally… a rule that most people can live with.
Much like the NFL, Major League Baseball will be using umpires with microphones, beginning this season. Mic’d-up umps will now be able to lend clarity to new rules and the complexity of some replay challenges.
Fans sitting in the ballpark don’t always know what replay challenges concern and TV and radio fans are really lost at times. Despite ultimately learning whether a call was upheld or overruled, fans never know the reason why the call was made. Ambiguity should be eliminated, as the umps will now be able to include everyone in the loop.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred continues his collision course with those favoring baseball of yesteryear. His pace-of-play agenda is supposed to draw new fans, but instead, it’s repelling MLB’s longtime core of diehards.
Fans will always be divided on the electronic strike zone. Having umpires wear microphones, however, may be a good thing. I only wish they’d be able to turn them on when players and managers explode. Now, THAT would be interesting, though there’d be an awful lot of bleeps…
Baseball purists be prepared, as if this wasn’t enough, there are even more changes coming to MLB after 2020.
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