Robot Umps Soon? MLB Testing Automated Strike Zone In Triple-A Games
MLB: Houston Astros at Los Angeles Angels
Aug 13, 2021; Anaheim, California, USA; Home plate umpire Cory Blaser (89) reacts in the eighth inning of the game between the Los Angeles Angels and the Houston Astros at Angel Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

With pace of play changes and defensive alignments among various rule changes that Major League Baseball implemented for the 2023 season, they are also testing additional rules in the Minor Leagues, including an automated balls and strikes system.

League officials and MLB have been advocating for and testing the use of proverbial robot umpires since 2019 and prior to last season, they gathered data from independent baseball leagues. They also equipped numerous ballparks at Spring Training sites, Low-A and 13 Triple-A clubs with the technology.

MLB and the Players Association didn’t agree on its use at the big league level, which is why it wasn’t included in their new collective bargaining agreement.

Although commissioner Rob Manfred said the tech won’t be part of MLB games this year season, the league has put it to use throughout the highest level of Minor League Baseball, via Buster Onley of ESPN:

The electronic strike zone will be used in all 30 Class AAA parks in 2023, sources told ESPN, seemingly another significant step toward the implementation of the technology at the big league level in the near future.

The Automatic Balls and Strikes system, commonly referred to as ABS, will be deployed in two different ways. Half of the Class AAA games will be played with all of the calls determined by an electronic strike zone, and the other half will be played with an ABS challenge system similar to that used in professional tennis.

The data gathered from these games and the accuracy of the calls are important factors, but the reaction and pace of play might be analyzed the most. Umpire variability is a piece to baseball that provides a human element, and subtle strike zone differences are always expected, which is why this change remains controversial.

But the chance to remove the controversy of ball and strike calls from the game may be too beneficial to pass up, and at the end of the day, there really is no reason for missing calls just because it’s always been that way.

MLB rule changes for 2023

Among MLB rule changes introduced this year are a pitch timer, which states a pitcher must begin his throwing motion prior to the expiration of a 15-second timer, or 20 seconds when there’s at least one runner on base.

A limit on defensive shifts for infielders restricts where defenders can line up before a pitch is thrown, mainly keeping two infielders on each side of second base when a pitch is released.

MLB has said the main goal of the change is to encourage more action on the field, and as a result, there will be more hits in spots a fielder might have been perfectly positioned in years past.

Larger bases also are new for 2023, although the naked eye might not notice, an increase from 15″ to 18″ is to improve upon player safety and an additional bonus should be an uptick in stolen base attempts.

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