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A Needed Change: The Automated Strike Zone

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Not a fanpost, but Kyle-inspired nonetheless

Minor League Baseball: Arizona Fall League-Scottsdale Scorpions at Glendale Desert Dogs Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The automated strike zone idea isn’t new. It isn’t even controversial, unless you are an umpire. Let’s look at whatever issues might exist and how it could be implemented.

The technology for this has been in existence more or less since the turn of the century. That’s close to two decades. Questec started the system, it has been updated continuously by many, and it’s results have been used for pitcher evaluation ever since.

In an age where we can send satellites accurately to other planets, calling and relaying balls and strikes for an umpire to call is child’s play. The homeplate umpire can concentrate on swing/non-swing and balks. No second guessing.

It is self-evident that having the same strike zone from game to game, inning to inning, situation to situation, even pitch to pitch would be much fairer for both hitters and pitchers. Established stars would no longer get the pitch off the corner as a strike (pitchers) or the one on the corner a ball (hitters). It would be a much more level playing field for everyone.

I realize that other sports will always have a more human element from their officials (especially football and basketball), but MLB could use that to their advantage. “We are the most accurately officiated major sport!” would be a fine tag line.

Dan Szymborski cites some very telling statistics in his article for ESPN. Most telling are the OPS stats for hitters in different counts. For instance, hitters in a 1-2 count OPS .423; those with a 2-1 count OPS .873. Every bad call negatively impacts the game for either the pitcher or hitter. Do they even out? Maybe. But that situation just doesn’t need to be relevant...it is easily correctable.

As Lindsey Berra points out eloquently in her article for MLB.com, purists argue that adjusting the strike zone for every hitter would be too difficult, and that the delay in calling a ball or strike would affect the game.

Second point first: technology to relay the correct call to the home plate umpire would be at such a speed to make it indistinguishable from real time calls. In fact, it would be faster than the histrionic calls of some of the “look at me” umpires working today.

First point second: here I get a little controversial. The basket isn’t lowered or raised for players of different heights - well, not after we ditch the Fisher-Price set or the grade school rims. We don’t have a shorter distance for a first down for smaller guys. Pro golfers all play holes the same distance within an individual round of a tournament. Take an average sized guy in an average stance, measure the distance from knees to chest, and establish a set strike zone. Sure, the zone for a 5’8” guys would be proportionally larger than that for a 6’5” guy, but it wouldn’t be nine inches different. It could start, say, at 20” and extend 30” up. A taller hitter would have the strike zone start just below his knees and go to just below his chest, while a short hitter would have just the opposite.

But it would be the same every at bat for each. You could adjust your stance however you wanted to...the strike zone wouldn’t change. And the pitcher would know when a ball is low or high; it wouldn’t change for each hitter. Sounds fair to me.

Would umpires be put out by this? Perhaps initially, but that would disappear rapidly. They have adjusted to expanded replay, and most likely enjoy not having to argue with managers or players over final decisions. At least not very often.

Three issues cross my mind: First, system failure. Back-up systems would need to be in place. Second, cost: the system would need to be put in place for all of the minor leagues as well as the majors. I think MLB could afford it...just ask Nicholas Zettel. (I can’t see this in place for amateur baseball at all, so there would be an adjustment period needed entering pro ball..kinda like metal to wood bats.) Finally, tech savvy teams (perhaps with the World’s Greatest Fans) might try to hack into they system for their benefit. I volunteer to head up the enforcement arm of the program.

C’mon, Mighty Manfred - take a real step forward. Automatic intentional walks? Pish.

And while you’re at it, remove “defensive indifference” from our scoring lexicon. A stolen base is a stolen base, just like a home run with a big lead still counts.