One of the more interesting stories that broke over the weekend in the baseball world was that the Major League Baseball Umpires Association has agreed to work with Major League Baseball when it comes to implementing a computerized strikezone according to Zeke Miller of the AP. The agreement was a part of the new labor agreement between the two, which is good for the next five seasons.
Now, before you get excited about seeing this in action, pump your brakes. Heck, you might want to just push the brakes to the floor. This is not happening soon. If you recall, Major League Baseball used Trackman to call strikes this past season in the Atlantic League. There have been talks prior to this announcement that testing could move to the minors in 2020 at certain levels/leagues, too.
The reason this is likely to take a while to make it’s way to the Major Leagues has a few different parts to it. Let’s start with the testing of it. Right now, all that Major League Baseball has tested is the system through Trackman. It’s what has been used for the last five years in baseball. It’s what provides the strikezone on tv, it’s what gives you the exit velocity on hits, the hit tracking – all of that. It has known issues with both pitch tracking and hit tracking. It’s not as perfect as some believe it is.
Trackman is installed across minor league baseball these days. At first there were only a few teams that had paid to have it installed at their home ballparks, but over the last eight years it’s grown and now it’s everywhere. The information provided is simply too valuable for teams to ignore and they’ve all paid to put it in the ballparks. At least for the time being, it’s going to remain in the minor league ballparks, too.
Why did I bring up that it’s going to remain in the minor league parks? Because it’s not going to remain in the Major League parks beginning in the 2020 season. Major League Baseball is moving to the Hawk-Eye system. To this point they’ve never used it at any level. Just like with the Pitch F/X system and Trackman systems before it, there’s going to be a trial period of learning, adjusting, and figuring out how to best utilize the system.
And once that all is figured out, which could take years, then they will begin to test out THAT system. I’m still a bit confused about the whole testing out of an automated/computerized strikezone by Major League Baseball last year in the Atlantic League, and next year in the Minor Leagues on a system that they will not be using in the Major Leagues. It’s like test driving a motorcycle to see if you can drive a UPS truck. They aren’t the same thing. The only thing that makes it make even a little bit of sense is to simply ingrain the idea of an umpire not being responsible for the balls and strikes anymore, so in eight years when they might be able to actually implement the system, most of the league has dealt with the situation before.
That latter part could be vital, too. If players are more familiar with a strikezone that is not called by the umpire, if it’s something they came through the minors with, then perhaps there’s some acceptance there. And that means that Major League Baseball will have less of a fight, less backlash with the players if and when they do finally decide to let Skynet take over the strikezone.