Does baseball need umpires?

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Or at least so many, especially in the postseason.  That’s the question Jonah Keri asks in today’s Wall Street Journal in the wake of some shaky officiating in the first round of the playoffs:

The idea, of course, is that more umpires means better play-calling.
But this isn’t necessarily true. After Friday’s game, Tim Tschida, the
umpire crew chief on duty that night, told reporters that while there
was no excuse for Mr. Cuzzi’s blown call, there was one contributing
factor. Umpires spend so little time working in the outfield during the
season that it can be a challenge in the postseason. “Getting into a
position is a little bit foreign,” Mr. Tschida said. “It’s a little bit
uncomfortable.”

In an interview with the Newark Star-Ledger, Mr. Cuzzi also said the
positioning was a challenge. “We’re not used to playing that far down
the line,” he said. “The instant the ball is hit, we usually start
running. I think I may have been looking too closely at it.”

Keri goes on to note the accuracy of the Pitch-f/x zone evaluation system, and the use of the Hawk-Eye cameras in tennis for line calls, and asks whether, rather than throwing six umpires out at a playoff game, we couldn’t limit that number and rely more on technology to get balls and strikes and line calls right more often.

The usual battle lines of this debate end up being those who want every call to be right with no excuses whatsoever vs. those who are wary of taking the “human element” out of the game.  I’m sympathetic towards the latter viewpoint, especially when it comes to calling balls and strikes — I get a lot of enjoyment out of the cat and mouse game pitchers, catchers and batters play with the strike zone — but I can’t help but think that we’re on an inevitable course towards technology playing a larger role in the game.

It would be the easiest thing in the world to have a digital camera system make accurate line calls, so what’s the argument against it?  And once you go there, how long can those of us who like to see a little human variance in the strike zone really hold off the advance of progress?

Report: Astros remain in contact with the Athletics on Sonny Gray

OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 06: Sonny Gray #54 of the Oakland Athletics pitches against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning at the Oakland Coliseum on August 6, 2016 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
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The Astros remain in contact with the Athletics on starting pitcher Sonny Gray, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports. The Astros have added Charlie Morton this offseason, but the club has been trying to add a big-name starting pitcher to put at the top of the rotation behind Dallas Keuchel.

Gray, 27, was limited to 22 starts in the 2016 season due to a forearm issue. His stats left a lot to be desired, as he finished with a 5-11 record, a 5.69 ERA, and a 94/42 K/BB ratio over 117 innings. Considering how Gray pitched in the previous three years, he’s a good bet to bounce back.

Gray is under team control through 2019, which is a big draw for the Astros. Needless to say, the Athletics would want a haul in terms of prospects. Gray will earn $3.575 million in 2017, having avoided arbitration in his first year of eligibility.

President Obama Welcomes the Cubs to the White House

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As we noted last week, The Chicago Cubs took the unusual step of not waiting until the summer after winning the World Series to make their customary White House visit to meet the president. They did it today, seeing President Obama a few short days before he leaves office.

Despite the fact that Obama is a White Sox fan, he met the Cubs with diplomacy and grace. It’s almost as if he’s been in that business for the past eight years. In return, he was given some gifts by the Cubs: Theo Epstein presented Obama with a No. 44 Cubs jersey, a tile from the center field scoreboard at Wrigley Field, and a lifetime pass to Wrigley as well.

Obama is staying in D.C. after he leaves office this week, hanging around so his daughter can finish high school in the same place she started. Even so, he’s likely going to be back to Chicago a good bit over the rest of his life, so he’ll likely be able to put the free pass to work. Assuming it comes with, like, six companion passes for his Secret Service detail.