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?

Jonny Venters is back in the majors

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The Rays announced on Wednesday that the club purchased the contract of lefty reliever Jonny Venters from Triple-A Durham. The 33-year-old hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 due to a continuous battle with arm injuries. The Rays note that he has undergone two and a half Tommy John surgeries, which is a number that seems to be in dispute.

Venters signed a minor league contract with the Rays in December. With Durham so far this season, he gave up two runs (one earned) on four hits and five walks with six strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings.

Before the injuries, Venters was among the best relievers in 2010-11. In those two seasons, he posted a combined 1.89 ERA with 189 strikeouts and 82 walks in 171 innings.