When MLB instituted an electronic strike zone test in their partnership with the independent Atlantic League, and then followed it by testing in the Arizona Fall League, it was pretty much a lock that a test would then be coming to the affiliated minor leagues at some point.
And, given Commissioner Rob Manfred’s open enthusiasm for some kind of electronic assistance with the strike zone, it shouldn’t surprise us that it’s coming right away:
Automated strike zone to debut in Minor League Baseball in 2020, Rob Manfred says
— The Athletic Sports Business (@TheAthleticBIZ) November 5, 2019
As Manfred told MLB Network, and as relayed there by Drellich, some ballparks in MiLB will be using the automated strike zone next year, partly as a test to continue seeing how it works. The league knows there will be SOME bugs, but this is why you roll the thing out like this.
“We thought the Atlantic League was a really positive experience,” Manfred said. “Positive in the sense that it worked well a very, very large percentage of the time. When it didn’t work, they were identifiable problems with the system, things that we can work on. I think a major kind of breakthrough with the Atlantic League deployment was the idea that you put an earpiece in the umpires and you don’t change the appearance of the game from the fan’s perspective. He’s getting the call in that earpiece, but it looks the same from the fan perspective. I think that’s important. And it does give you that human backup. You know, technology — no matter how good it is, every once in a while, right, you’re going to have a problem. We’re positive on the experiment and we’re going to keep working on it.”
We’ll see how the zone is utilized – whether it’s a challenge system or all the calls – but my guess is they’ll do it just like the Atlantic League and the AFL for now: the zone is entirely electronic, and the calls are sent down to the home plate ump as quickly as possible. When the system isn’t working, he’s the back-up plan.
If it goes well next year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the electronic zone very seriously discussed with the players as part of the current CBA negotiations, possibly for implementation after 2021.