Robot Umpires: Coming Sooner Than You Think

It’s odd to think of a freeway full of driverless cars, but humans are terrible at operating heavy machinery, and a road full of intelligent Toyotas is far safer than a road full of drunk people and/or texting millennials.

Humans are also terrible at determining where 98mph fastballs and 89mph cutters cross a 17-inch plane from a terrible angle, which isn’t their fault, considering the difficulty of the task(why isn’t the home plate umpire standing directly behind the pitcher, riddle me that?).

I’ve been advocating for years to let PITCHf/x do the job — technology’s improved the game dramatically on the base paths, and it will have an even greater effect behind the dish — but I never thought Major League Baseball’s hierarchy would be open to the idea in the next decade, maybe not even my lifetime. I was wrong…

In Buster Olney’s recent post (ESPN Insider password required), he says that team executives are discussing the electronic strike zone as an “inevitability.” For most of the planet, this news means absolutely nothing, but I’m a baseball nerd, and the thought of robots calling balls and strikes gets me more excited than John Rocker at a KKK rally.

Baseball haters loathe the game because it’s too slow, and technology definitely doesn’t help the pace of play, but with an electronic strike zone, baseball becomes a near-perfect sport — i.e. the men umpiring the game can’t manipulate the outcome in any way.

It’s impossible for basketball and football refs not to make mistakes, and thus it’s impossible for those games not to occasionally be won by the wrong team. Coaches love telling kids that referees don’t determine the outcome of games, but by the time you’re 12 years old you know that’s bullshit and that terrible officials can 100% determine a game’s result.

Baseball “purists” like Huston Street, who we got into a Twitter argument with (also known as a “Twatument”), ferociously object to the idea, but any baseball fan knows the stats: umpires get one third of close pitches wrong. That’s not their fault, but it’s still ridiculous.

It’s time for the game to evolve. Leave home plate umpires behind the plate, but don’t force them to make the call. Relay each pitch to them immediately after it crosses, let them say “ball” or “strike,” and leave baseball the same while making it perfect…

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