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.
Here’s Manfred on it now (Via CBS and Via Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com):
“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:
The Blue Jays have shut down left fielder Steve Pearce for the remainder of the season following a lingering case of lower back stiffness. Pearce has not appeared in a game since September 8, when he was forced to exit in the first inning after experiencing back pain during his at-bat. Per Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca, he’s scheduled to return to Florida next week, where he’ll receive epidural injections to address the pain.
Pearce, 34, impressed in his first season with Toronto. He battled through a calf injury during the first half of the season and finished the year with a modest .252/.319/.438 batting line, 13 home runs and a .757 OPS through 348 PA. By September, the Blue Jays started testing the waters with outfield prospect Teoscar Hernandez, who shouldered the bulk of the starts in left field after Pearce was sidelined with back issues.
With the Blue Jays all but eliminated from playoff contention, however, there’s no rush to get Pearce back to the outfield. He should be in fine shape to compete for another starting role in spring, and could face stiff competition from Hernandez if the rookie continues building on his .278 average and three home runs this month. The veteran outfielder is slated to receive the remaining $6.25 million on his contract in 2018 and will be eligible for free agency in 2019.
Brewers’ minor league infielder Julio Mendez remains in “critical but stable condition,” club GM David Stearns announced Friday. Back in August, Mendez suffered a cardiac event after he was inadvertently struck by a ball from the Angels’ Austin Krzeminksi during a game between the rookie-level affiliates. The 20-year-old was removed to a Phoenix-area hospital for treatment following the incident and has recently been transferred to a hospital in his native Venezuela.
Mendez was in his fourth season with the Brewers’ organization. He spent the majority of his 2017 run with the rookie-level AZL Brewers, slashing .255/.294/.355 with 10 extra-base hits, 16 RBI and four stolen bases over 119 plate appearances. He currently holds a career .241/.324/.309 batting line, 33 extra bases and a .633 OPS through 668 PA.
Baseball is still on the back burner, however, as Mendez appears to have made little progress nearly a month following the hit by pitch. Thoughts go out to his family during this difficult time.