“Robot umpires” have arrived.

  
Via:  john-russell  •  one week ago  •  20 comments

 “Robot umpires” have arrived.
Plate umpire Brian deBrauwere wore an earpiece connected to an iPhone in his pocket and relayed the call upon receiving it from a TrackMan computer system that uses Doppler radar.

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T


YORK, Pa. (AP) — “Robot umpires” have arrived.

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The independent Atlantic League became the first American professional baseball league to let a computer call balls and strikes Wednesday night at its All-Star Game. Plate umpire Brian deBrauwere wore an earpiece connected to an iPhone in his pocket and relayed the call upon receiving it from a TrackMan computer system that uses Doppler radar.

He crouched in his normal position behind the catcher and signaled balls and strikes.

“Until we can trust this system 100 percent, I still have to go back there with the intention of getting a pitch correct because if the system fails, it doesn’t pick a pitch up or if it registers a pitch that’s a foot-and-a-half off the plate as a strike, I have to be prepared to correct that,” deBrauwere said before the game.

It didn’t appear deBrauwere had any delay receiving the calls at first but players noticed a big difference.

“One time I already had caught the ball back from the catcher and he signaled strike,” said pitcher Daryl Thompson, who didn’t realize the technology was being used until after he disagreed with a call.

Infielder L.J. Mazzilli said a few times hitters who struck out lingered an extra second or so in the batter’s box waiting on a called third strike.

“The future is crazy but it’s cool to see the direction of baseball,” Mazzilli said.

The umpires have the ability to override the computer, which considers a pitch a strike when the ball bounces and then crosses the zone. TrackMan also does not evaluate check swings.

Former big leaguer Kirk Nieuwenhuis doesn’t like the idea of giving umps veto power.

“If the umpire still has discretion, it defeats the purpose,” said Nieuwenhuis, who batted .221 with 31 homers in 978 at-bats with the Mets, Angels and Brewers.

About 45 minutes before first pitch, the public address announcer directed fans to look up at the black screen hanging off the face of the upper level behind the plate and joked they could blame the computer for any disagreements over calls.

“This is an exciting night for MLB, the Atlantic League, baseball generally,” said Morgan Sword, MLB’s senior vice president of economics and operations. “This idea has been around for a long time and it’s the first time it’s been brought to life in a comprehensive way.”

The experiment with radar-tracking technology to call balls and strikes was originally expected to begin at the start of the season but experienced some delays.

Atlantic League President Rick White said it’s going to be implemented league-wide over the next few weeks.

“After that, we’re relatively confident that’s it’s going to spread through organized baseball,” White said. “We’re very excited about what this portends not only for our league but for the future of baseball. What we know is technology can help umpires be more accurate and we’re committed to that. We think the Atlantic League is being a pioneer for all of the sport.”

Sword said MLB hasn’t received much pushback from umpires.

“One of our focuses is not to replace the umpire,” Sword said. “In fact, we’re trying empower the umpire with technology. The home plate umpire has a lot more to do than call balls and strikes and he’s going to be asked to do all of that. We’re in touch with our umpires union and this is the first step of the process.”

DeBrauwere had no issue with it.

“This is just another plate job and I just get a little help on this one so I feel very relaxed going into this one,” he said.

Strike zones are determined according to the average for players of that height unless there’s already information on a player’s particular strike zone if they’ve played in the majors at some point.

Pitcher Mitch Atkins noticed pitches higher in the strike zone were called.

“Technically, they’re strikes but umpires never called them,” Atkins said.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said there’s no timeline on when the technology will be used in the majors.

“We need to see how it works, first in the Atlantic League and then probably other places, meaning other parts of minor league baseball, before it comes to Major League Baseball,” Manfred said. “Kind of gets back to the question that I was asked earlier about the baseball, we hear all the time from players, why don’t we have an electronic strike zone, why don’t we have an electronic strike zone? We try to be responsive to those sorts of expressions of concern. We have spent a lot of time and money on the technology. It’s not just to address player concerns. It obviously has broadcasting uses. That same technology can be used in our broadcast, which has value to our fans. But we feel it’s incumbent upon us — people that play the game raised this as something that could make the game better. We kind of feel it’s incumbent on us to figure out whether we could make it work. And that’s what we’re doing.”

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JohnRussell
1  seeder  JohnRussell    one week ago

Wait til we get robot players as well. Of course that will happen at some point. I'm half glad I probably wont live another 50 years. 

 
 
 
al Jizzerror
2  al Jizzerror    one week ago

I played baseball beginning with little I quit when I was 50yrs old in a parks and rec league.

I also coached youth league baseball and girls softball for about ten years.

One thing I learned early (as a little league catcher) is that umpires struggle with the strike zone.  Some umps give room at the bottom of the strike zone and others call high strikes.  A TrackMan computer system that uses Doppler radar should at least provide consistency.  And the umps will probably not hear as much snark from batters and from the dugouts.

800

 

 
 
 
sandy-2021492
2.1  sandy-2021492  replied to  al Jizzerror @2    one week ago

As a former pitcher, I concur.  There were many times when I suspected either vision problems or "home cookin'".

I can see it improving the game.  Pitchers can't work the corners when they can't be reasonably certain that the umps know where the corners are.  I've both watched and played in games where, if it wasn't right down the middle, it wasn't going to be called a strike.  That takes away from the strategy of the game.

 
 
 
Split Personality
2.2  Split Personality  replied to  al Jizzerror @2    one week ago

Same here. Additionally my son and I both umpired Little league and up.

The only problem I see is that the lessons of teaching kids about authority are being challenged.

We always taught our kids, Right or Wrong the Umpire is always Right (has the last word).

Organized baseball is one of this countries first social lessons for little kids in team sports.

Umpires are part of that human experience of winning, losing and total disbelief ..............

lol

 
 
 
sandy-2021492
2.2.1  sandy-2021492  replied to  Split Personality @2.2    one week ago

Sometimes, I think authority should be challenged.

Politely.

There are some umps who are just so bad that they shouldn't be out there, and they should be challenged.  Dead-wrong calls should be pointed out.

There shouldn't be any dirt kicked onto shoes, though.

 
 
 
TᵢG
3  TᵢG    one week ago

Using automation to call balls and strikes is a perfect way to start.   This is a weak area in baseball (lots of mistakes) and there is no need for human judgment.   This is straightforward physics and well within the capabilities of current technology.  

I still see the need for human umpires to determine if the batter swung through or held up, but soon that will be best accomplished by technology too.   

The umpires should be used to make judgment calls but many of these will eventually be replaced too.   For example, sometimes the timing of when the runner's foot hits the bag before the ball reaches the glove (or before the tag is applied) is so tight that human umpire just cannot tell.   With automation it is like making the call in slow motion (given the speed at which the automation operates).    But, that said, it would be difficult for automation to match an umpire right there at 2nd base watching a tag being applied on a stolen base to verify it touched and that the runner maintained contact with the base during the event.

Baseball will see a lot of umpire support supplied by automation in the immediate future.   Football, however, is far more complex.

Robot players makes no sense to me.   If robots are playing it no longer is baseball IMO.   In fact, this applies to all sports.   Sports are human endeavors.   Robot soldiers and other hazardous professions, however, is a different story.

 
 
 
al Jizzerror
3.1  al Jizzerror  replied to  TᵢG @3    one week ago
sometimes the timing of when the runner's foot hits the bag before the ball reaches the glove (or before the tag is applied) is so tight that human umpire just cannot tell. 

Right now, calls of this nature can be appealed and the umps review a slo-mo replay (from different angles).

Robot players makes no sense to me.

The BattleBots TV show is fun to watch.

800

 
 
 
Split Personality
3.1.1  Split Personality  replied to  al Jizzerror @3.1    one week ago

Battle Bots Rock !!!

 
 
 
TᵢG
3.1.2  TᵢG  replied to  al Jizzerror @3.1    one week ago

It is and I can imagine a robot-player baseball as a different sport.   An entirely different sport.   Hit by pitch could take on a new meaning if the batter's head is detached from its robotic body.

 
 
 
JohnRussell
4  seeder  JohnRussell    one week ago
Robot players makes no sense to me.   If robots are playing it no longer is baseball IMO

You're forgetting one thing. Robots will play better than humans, eventually.  The competition will no longer be bewteen humans on the field, it will be between humans programming the robot players. 

Human arrogance and the desire to push everything to excess all but guarantees that robotics will take over every aspect of human life where robotics is applicable. No one is going to say "a robot would have done this better but we want to keep this as a human activity", they're going to make the robot. 

 
 
 
TᵢG
4.1  TᵢG  replied to  JohnRussell @4    one week ago
You're forgetting one thing.

I did not forget that; I rejected it.   Of course robots will eventually surpass human players, but I consider sports to be human endeavors.

If we have robots playing baseball then it is a different game IMO.  

 
 
 
TᵢG
4.2  TᵢG  replied to  JohnRussell @4    one week ago

Also, robot players remove the human error element (and the occasional superhuman surprises).   That is a large part of the thrill in sports like baseball.

How boring if the players become predictably excellent.

 
 
 
Split Personality
4.2.1  Split Personality  replied to  TᵢG @4.2    one week ago
How boring if the players become predictably excellent.

Now turn that around.........how predictably boring a game if the umpires are always right?

The outrage and disbelief of some calls is part and parcel of the game, a human game...

 
 
 
TᵢG
4.2.2  TᵢG  replied to  Split Personality @4.2.1    one week ago
Now turn that around.........how predictably boring a game if the umpires are always right?

Not to me SP.   I much prefer the calls to be dead on accurate and have all the variability within human player flaws and moments of brilliance.

 
 
 
Split Personality
4.2.3  Split Personality  replied to  TᵢG @4.2.2    one week ago

Old habits will die hard and close calls will inevitably be challenged and griped over.

It's a habit that is 180 years old.

 
 
 
al Jizzerror
4.2.4  al Jizzerror  replied to  Split Personality @4.2.1    one week ago
The outrage and disbelief of some calls is part and parcel of the game

Cyclops has been used in tennis for years and players still dispute calls that don't involve the service line.

800

 
 
 
TᵢG
4.2.5  TᵢG  replied to  Split Personality @4.2.3    one week ago

That is absolutely going to happen during the transition.

But as the technology racks up trial hours and the stats come out with the technology being shown to be substantially more accurate than human umpires, that will die down.   Eventually those who whine about a called strike will be mildly ridiculed ('do not blame the technology; spend more time in batting practice').

 
 
 
Tacos!
5  Tacos!    one week ago

I've umped a lot of games and I can imagine it might be helpful to have a reliable system that indicated if a pitched ball has passed over the plate at all. However, that's only part of the equation. You also have to determine the height of the pitch as it passed over the plate. There's no way to do that objectively. The official strike zone, by definition, is pretty vague and subjective.

The top of the zone is the midpoint between the batters shoulders and the top of the uniform pants. That, by itself, is loaded with subjectivity. Which shoulder? They probably aren't even. How do you spot the midpoint between shoulder and pants? People talk about a pitch "at the letters" but letters are different on each team's uniform.

The bottom of the zone is just below the kneecap. Again, which knee? How do you spot the difference between a knee cap and the bottom of the thigh or top of the shin? It's not an obvious point. Covered by pants and kneepads, it's more of a gentle curve.

These measurements are based on the batter's natural stance as he prepares to swing but for some batters, body position changes a lot prior to a swing. This moment is not well defined in the rules. 

Then it all has to work together at the same time. If the ball passed over the plate but it isn't at the right height at the same time, then it's not a strike. That same pitch might get to the right height, but when it does, it's not over the plate anymore. Still not a strike.

The bottom line is you are never going to get perfect strike calls from man or machine. Computers don't do everything better than people.

 
 
 
TᵢG
5.1  TᵢG  replied to  Tacos! @5    one week ago
The bottom line is you are never going to get perfect strike calls from man or machine. Computers don't do everything better than people.

The problem you raise is the subjectivity in the official MLB definition of the strike zone.   Step one is to disambiguate the language.   Which knee?   Make a decision and put it into the rules.   If the decision is conditional (i.e. use the lowest knee, or use the knee closest to the plate, ...) so be it.   I am confident the MLB can figure this out.   Especially if they are putting forth rules that would be implemented by an automaton rather than rules suitable for a human being in real time.

Automation absolutely can do a better job of calling strikes than a human being.   Not only can it use sensors that far exceed the capabilities of human senses, it can (given the speed at which it operates) watch the ball in the equivalent of slow motion to a human being.   

In places where human judgment is not required, automation can and routinely does do an exceptionally better job.   This is one of those cases.

 
 
 
Sparty On
6  Sparty On    one week ago

Like the line sensors in tennis ..... this is a great innovation. 

Umpires inject themselves entirely too much in the game.   Whether it's intentional or not is irrelevant.  

Pitchers should get rewarded for pitching in the strike zone not penalized.

 
 
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