Posted by: gravessack | September 3, 2017

Momentum Is Building For An Electronic Strike Zone

Ever since the start of the 2014 season, Major League Baseball has been cracking down on how umpires are calling games. The umpire scrutiny started way back in 2008 when then–Commissioner Bud Selig approved a system where managers could ask umpires to review home run calls. The replay system since expanded to all sorts of reviewable calls, which includes out/safe calls, trapped balls, and fair/foul rulings. However, for years, it seems like the strike zone is obsolete as umpires have decided against using the standard zone and creating their own. Seeing the inconsistency, that may soon change!

There are 99 umpires in MLB that all seem to have different strike zones. Players are baffled and sometimes shocked about some of the strike calls they make. For example, a pitch that clearly looks like a strike is sometimes called a ball. The crying out came to a head August 12 when the Cubs’ Ben Zobrist was called out on strikes by umpire Mark Wagner on a pitch that was clearly low to end the game. Afterwards, Zobrist said that he was now in favor of instituting an electronic strike zone and, stunningly, Wagner admitted to reporters that he had blown the call.

Diagram of standard MLB strike zone

Here is a diagram of the old-fashioned zone.

To prove Zobrist’s point, umpires seem to have forgotten the letter-to-knee zone and have gone rogue with it. It has been too long since umpires got reprehended for making blown calls, although MLB did suspend Joe West for three games last month for calling Rangers’ Adrian Beltre the game’s “biggest complainer.” Soon though, the blown calls by umpires might come back to haunt them as an electronic strike zone may be in the works, even though Commissioner Rob Manfred is a little shy of the prospect.

Recently, there was an article saying that the strike zone idea could be implemented as soon as next year, which would relegate umpire’s duties. ESPN’s Buster Olney says that MLB wants a pitch clock, and that the players should get something in return. Several players said that they want a futuristic strike zone system if it would improve the game. Most think it would, except for San Francisco pitcher Madison Bumgarner, who recently said after experiencing a blown call: “I’m not an advocate for the stupid electronic strike zone. I don’t even like replay.” Well, that is at least one player who is in support of the men in blue.

There is some uncertainty on how this type of strike zone would work, but in my opinion, this would be a brilliant and long-overdue idea. I will just throw a suggestion out there. Place an umpire behind the backstop in a booth with a monitor that has a strike zone display, the one Fox Sports or ESPN uses. Once the pitch registers on the computer, then he or she can make the RIGHT call. The plate umpire could still signal how many balls and strikes there are. For the close plays at home plate, we will have to figure that out!

It is frustrating seeing umpires call balls and strikes that are blatantly wrong. All I know is something has to be figured out and consistency of the calls must get better. This new tool would keep up the integrity of the game and it would prevent umpires from looking silly. If Manfred can get on board with the automatic zone, we may see a seismic shift as to how games are called! A question to leave you with: Do umpires simply need a mandatory refresher course or should Manfred really be considering computerizing the strike zone?

Written by: Michael L. Sack

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