Giger: Robot umps should be welcomed
It’s time for robot umpires calling balls and strikes in baseball.
No matter how much you may be against that change, you can bank on it coming to the major leagues in the not-too-distant future (say 3-5 years).
In case you missed it, the independent Atlantic League debuted the robot umpire technology in its all-star game this past week. It worked great, by all reports, with no controversy whatsoever.
If we have the technology to accurately call balls and strikes, we should use it.
Because baseball umpires are, quite frankly, pretty terrible at it.
A study released earlier this year calculated that MLB umps are wrong about 20 percent of the time on ball and strike calls. When a hitter has two strikes, the number of incorrect calls jumps to 29 percent.
Those numbers are almost inconceivable.
Just think about this: The single most basic element of the sport is called wrong 20 percent of the time, and 29 percent when it matters most with two strikes.
Not only that, it changes the game. Every game. Pitch by pitch.
Let’s look at some batting average figures, with stats noted based on a study of American League hitters from 2015-17.
If the count is 1-1, and the umpire misses a ball-strike call (making it either 2-1 or 1-2):
n In a 1-2 count, the hitter’s batting average was .166
n In a 2-1 count, the hitter’s batting average was .344
Wow! That’s a 178-point differential based on one missed pitch, which is enormous in a stats-are-everything game such as baseball.
Let’s say the count is 2-0 and the ump misses the call:
n In a 3-0 count, the batting average is .407
n In a 2-1 count, the batting average .344
That’s 63 points.
One more. If it’s a 3-1 count and the ump misses the call:
n Obviously a ball would put the runner on base
n If it’s called a strike, going to full count, the batting average drops to .211
Again, when umps are blowing these calls 20 percent of the time, and each missed call changes at-bats in a big way, it should be easy to come to one conclusion: These discrepancies should be unacceptable if there’s any way to avoid them.
Well, now there is with the robot ump technology.
But … but … but …
“Human error is part of the game,” you might say?
It doesn’t have to be. Even if you’re a so-called baseball purist who has always loved the game exactly the way it is, can I not convince you that umpires getting basic calls wrong make the game look bad?
I’m not going to get into all the technology of how robot umps work. Basically, there are a lot of cameras that track the ball and know exactly where it is based on algorithms and formulas and all that jazz.
Baseball’s scientists believe the technology is accurate to an extremely high degree. They’ve been working out the kinks in the system for the past few years, and now it’s all being tested in an independent league.
There would still be an umpire behind the plate, keeping control of the game and in place just in case the robot ump technology fails. It all is expected to work seamlessly and calls would be instantaneous, so baseball fans really wouldn’t even notice any difference.
Except for all the calls being right for a change.
Cory Giger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org