The Robot Umpire is not prone to human error, and it never has a bad day. In 2018, home plate umpires made 34,294 mistakes. How can MLB live with that?
The Robot Umpire has been tracking Major League Baseball for some time now. Baseball purists argue, at times convincingly, that using a robot to call balls and strikes takes the human element out of baseball.
To err is human, they say. And besides, umpires don’t miss that many calls.
We’ll get to those missed calls in a minute, but the only legitimate response has to be – why have any missed calls at all when near perfection is at hand?
But, we can cut to the chase with a simple question. Would you rather have a surgeon with an eighty-percent success rate operate on you – or one who has a 95%+ success rate with the same surgery?
Study Show Robot Umpire A No-Brainer
Graduate students at Boston University took a look at more than 4 million pitches delivered over eleven seasons in an exhaustive study. They found that twenty percent of the balls and strikes called in 2018 were incorrect. That’s one of every five pitches delivered in a single game. Imagine the consequences.
MLB is a high-stakes game these days. Jobs are on the line depending on the performance of the 600 players privileged to wear a major league uniform.
Baseball itself is a ten billion dollar per year business allowing itself to be placed in the hands of humans, who try as they might, make mistakes.
What sense is there in that?
However, there’s a study conducted at Boston University that is exciting and revealing for several reasons we need to pause on.
- The top 10 performing umps averaged 2.7 years of experience. The bottom 10 averaged 20.6 years of experience. The impact of this finding means the “newbies” are young, at the top of their physical abilities, and not yet burned out with an eye on retirement in their chosen career. And again, this “Senior” group was almost assured of being selected to umpire a World Series. The Robot Umpire never gets old, and he never gets bored on the job.
- According to the findings, “umpires were three times more likely to incorrectly send a batter back to the dugout than to miss a ball-4 walk call (7 percent). Based on the 11 regular seasons worth of data analyzed, almost one-third of batters called out looking at third strikes had good reason to be angry.”The Robot Umpire doesn’t see strike one, ball two, or strike three any differently.
- Umpires have a built-in “blind spot” in the strike zone. Remarkably, pitches thrown in the top right and left part of the strike zone were called incorrectly 26.99 percent of the time on the right side to 26.78 percent on the left. The Robot Umpire digitally sees it all.
The Boston University study goes on forever, offering one fact after another.
Where we even find the pointing of naming names of umpires who were found to be the best and the worse at calling balls and strikes, together with a host of charts and tables that make a case for the Robo-Umpire more compelling.
What’s Best For Baseball
But when you cut to the crux of it, the issue of introducing the Robot Umpire to major league baseball has little to do with logic – or what’s best for baseball.
Let’s, first of all, accede to the fact that next to the players taking the field, the home plate umpire is the star of the game with a spotlight shining on him as each pitch is thrown.
Moreover, he has a job and a union behind him whenever adversity – loss of employment and the Robot Umpire – strikes.
But that also misses the point. The home-plate umpire still needs to be in the position to call foul-tips, catcher’s interference, hit-batters, and plays at the plate, etc.
The Robot Umpire Neutralizes Baseball
A final question. Do we want to make the game of baseball the best it can be?
Or, do we want to slog along with a wing and a prayer that holds onto the past, regardless of what stares at us in the face?
I am one of those baseball purists, who at the age of 72 with long memories of the good old days when starting pitchers regularly turned in 300 innings and 20 complete games in a season.
But that’s no reason for baseball not to be the best it can be.