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Automated Strike Zones Are Not in the Near Future, and I Think I’m OK With That

Analysis and Commentary, MLB News and Rumors

We see it every year game inning pitch: folks get really angry when they perceive that the home plate umpire has missed a ball or strike call. By and large, home plate umpires actually do a near-miraculous job calling balls and strikes when you consider all that goes into it, but we’ve reached a technological place that we no longer have to go entirely by our eyes to notice when a mistake is made.


To that end, many fans call for balls and strikes to be automated by the PitchF/X system that tracks pitches using cameras and radars in every big league ballpark. If the technology is truly there to give a perfect call every time, then there is little to no pragmatic argument for having balls and strikes called by a human.

However …

Given when we know about certain still-existent gaps in ball-tracking technology, I actually do buy the explanation that the technology isn’t there yet to make this foolproof. And if it’s not foolproof, then I personally wouldn’t want it in place, as it would seemingly make the possible errors in calls even more egregious (and then, what, you have to appeal to a human to second-guess the machine?).


But even if it were foolproof, Manfred points out what essentially amounts to a historical/cultural argument: is this something we want “the game of baseball” to include? Or is the human element of balls and strikes – aka fallibility and the debate that ensues – a core part of the game?

Maybe this is an area where I’m too old school, but I can certainly be persuaded by that argument, as irrational as it may seem. Having a human back there calling balls and strikes – with a zone that changes umpire to umpire, and sometimes game to game – makes for a more exciting experience (even if 50% of the time it means there will be frustration associated with a bad call).

I wouldn’t say I’m wholly convinced, though, because I do support instant replay for the same reason that would animate folks’ arguments in favor of automated balls and strikes: just get the call right. In that light, again, if the technology for balls and strikes were at 100%, I would find myself very torn.

As it stands, though, the technology is not quite there. So the human element lives on for now, and I’m fine with that.



Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation.