As has become ritual whenever commissioner Rob Manfred talks to the press, someone asked him about robot umps and automated strike zones. Such a thing is almost always, arguably anyway, in the news because there is almost always someone, somewhere arguing that balls and strikes should be called by technology rather than fallible human beings. Joe Maddon went on a tirade about it just the other day.
“It would be a pretty fundamental change in the game to take away a function that has been performed by our umpiring staff, really with phenomenal accuracy. The fact of the matter is they get them right well over 90 percent of the time.
“And there is a human aspect to that, a work aspect to it that’s always been an important part of our game. I don’t think you can just jump to the conclusion that if you have (the) technology to do it that’s the right thing for your product.”
Our view on this remains the same as it has been for a while now. In theory: sure, automated strike zones are cool because who doesn’t want the right calls. In practice, however, it’d probably be a disaster, at least for the short term, because the technology simply isn’t good enough yet. There are calibration issues and inaccuracies, as there are with any sort of technology which seeks to measure very difficult things with precision. Experts in the field believe that, at present, the success rate on ball/strike calls would probably be about the same with an automated system now as it is with human umpires. Big, obviously bad calls from someone like Angel Hernandez might be avoided, but borderline calls would be more dicey, in all likelihood.
I suspect MLB’s internal assessments track these external ones, which is probably why Manfred has always been tepid about this stuff. If it was better, MLB would probably back automated umpiring a lot more than it does.
UPDATE: Some further food for thought regarding the accuracy of humans: