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Robo-Umpires

Robots and baseball? Initially, it sounds like an unlikely combination.


Yet it doesn’t seem surprising considering the emerging technologies MLB has already implemented. For example, the use of visualisation technologies to track the ball’s trajectory appeals to a “data-driven viewing experience.” Furthermore, the use of such technologies provides much important data such as the angle and velocity of the ball.


In March 2021, MLB announced that a select number of minor league baseball games would use a robot to help umpires by calling balls and strikes. These robots are equipped with the “Automatic Ball-Strike System”.



Hence, calls in baseball games are less prone to human error. With each pitch, it’s generally up to the umpire’s interpretation of the strike zone – a judgment call; in particular, one unfair play in baseball is that catchers can frame pitches. This is when catchers make a ball out of the zone look like a strike. However, this technology system ensures “a consistent strike zone is called” according to the MLB.


How It Works

The robo-umpires sit above the home plate, analysing each pitch. It uses a 3D strike zone, adjusting the strike zone depending on batters’ stance. Once the ball is played, the robo-umpire identifies its location and communicates this to the umpire via an earpiece.




Controversy

With that being said, robo-umpires have since been a rather controversial topic amongst the baseball community. There have been a few complaints since robo-umpires have been put into use in the independent Atlantic League and Arizona Fall League. Such complaints included “how the TrackMan system grades breaking pitches down in the zone” – noting that breaking pitches are balls that do not travel straight towards the batter.


In addition, baseball is widely known for arguments between managers and umpires – especially regarding calls. It’s part of what makes the game interesting to watch, and this is deeply rooted in the history of baseball. With robots, however, the arguments came to an abrupt halt. It was unlikely that any player or umpire would dispute the robot’s call.



Sources

https://www.npr.org/2021/03/12/976383147/minor-league-baseball-to-experiment-with-robotic-umpires

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/08/30/invasion-of-the-robot-umpires

https://theconversation.com/robo-umps-are-coming-to-major-league-baseball-and-the-game-will-never-be-the-same-132640

https://www.cbssports.com/mlb/news/robot-umpires-how-it-works-and-its-effect-on-players-and-managers-in-the-atlantic-league-plus-whats-to-come/

Image 2 Source: https://www.cbc.ca/sports/baseball/mlb/robot-umpires-atlantic-league-1.5207948

Image 3 Source: https://www.masslive.com/redsox/2020/01/robot-umpires-to-call-balls-and-strikes-in-mlb-spring-training-a-potential-step-toward-regular-season-usage-report.html


Written by Nichapatr (Petch) Lomtakul