Bobby Valentine would welcome automated ball and strike calls

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Bobby Valentine got ejected arguing balls and strikes on Sunday. Yesterday he was asked about it and went on for some time about how insufficient human umpires are when it comes to calling the balls and the strikes.

He didn’t quite call for robot umpires at first. After talking about how bad it was that umpires can’t get the calls right and after decrying  the “human element,” he said “let the humans do it somehow.”  But then he was pushed a bit:

Reminded that humans are bound to make mistakes in whatever job, Valentine responded: “Don’t make it their job, then. The rule book doesn’t say that the game will be played and arbitrarily ruled.”  Valentine said umpires are “well-trained and very good at what they do. But I think it’s almost impossible to do what they do. So why do we ask them to do the impossible?

He went on to note how these days pitchers throw stuff that has all kinds of crazy late movement that is often invisible from an umpire’s point of view, adding “They can’t see it. They’re humans. We’re asking humans to do a feat that a human can’t do.”

This is probably the closest I’ve heard any active umpire call for automated umpiring of any kind. Indeed, most even stop short of calling for more replay, even right after their teams are boned by a bad call and they all but implore the league to do something about it.  It’s almost as if there is some diktat imposed on managers by the league to avoid talking about such things.

If there is one, though, Valentine certainly ignored it here, even as he tried not to. He’s one guy who would welcome automated ball-and-strike calls. I bet he won’t be the last.

Cardinals encourage players not to hide injuries

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In Major League Baseball, players are routinely pressured to play through injury and pain. Sometimes it’s just a minor ache, and sometimes it’s a very serious injury. The pressure comes from everywhere: the players themselves, their peers, coaches, front offices, media, and fans. Players who develop a reputation for landing on the disabled list are described as “soft” and “fragile.” Players who battle through the pain get talked about as “gritty” and “dedicated.”

Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Cardinals are trying to encourage their players to be more honest about their health. The culture surrounding this is tough to change, but manager Mike Matheny wants his players to come to him if “anything that is off.” As Goold notes, Alex Reyes and Matt Bowman revealed they were, in Bowman’s words, not “entirely forthcoming.” Carlos Martinez said he pitched tentatively because he was “scared” of re-injuring himself. Matheny also called pitcher Michael Wacha “a great liar” when talking about his arm health.

Matt Carpenter has also played through injury and takes pride in it. He’s an example of the old mentality the club is trying to pierce through. Caarpenter said, “I’m a believer in if you’re getting paid to do a job and you’re capable of doing the job — even if it’s 85 percent of your best — I feel you have the obligation to be out there. That is the mentality I’ve always used. I could have very easily, at times last year, sat on the [disabled list], but I felt like I could still go out and do my job.”

Goold points out that players approach dealing with health issues differently depending on where they’re at in their careers. A young player who just got called up has pressure to stay in the big leagues and appear in games, so he may not want to address a health issue. A player who has already secured a multi-year contract may have less pressure on him and thus may be more willing to come to the trainer’s room.

I’ve long believed that player health will be the next arena in which front offices will separate themselves from the pack. Analytics had been that battleground for a while, but with every club now having an analytics department in some capacity, front offices will have to find value in new ways. Limiting the amount of time that players miss due to injury would be a significant boost for a team and it will start with players being forthcoming about what’s bothering them rather than trying to fight through pain.