Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Manfred Vows Robo-Umps in 2020 MiLB as Players Complain About 2019 ABS

Despite negative reviews from Arizona Fall League players of baseball's Automated Ball/Strike System, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred announced ABS will debut during the 2020 MiLB season...oh, a video with Manfred criticizing robot umpires has been on the internet for a few years now, but is largely unknown and unseen (137 views) and the Commissioner might not want you to watch it, since this same technology he spoke out against in 2017 is now on his priority list for 2020.

Players Object to Robo-Ump: Baseball America grabbed some exit interviews with players about the subject of ABS at the Arizona Fall League's Fall Stars Game with HP Umpire Eric Bacchus simply relaying ABS' balls/strikes messages as other AFL umpires did throughout the developmental minor league postseason...which collectively drew more than a few double-takes, including Jose Navas' ejection of Geraldo Perdomo after an ABS strikeout call at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick (there were other AFL ejections as well, but none on publicly available video).
Related PostComputer Strike Call Prompts Navas' AFL Ejection (10/16/19).

Angels OF Marsh "not a fan" of ABS.
Baseball America described life with ABS in the AFL: "By the end, two things were clear: Pitchers with arsenals geared toward working from the top to the bottom of the strike zone were at a stark advantage, and nobody—neither hitters nor pitchers—was happy with TrackMan."

The article quoted Angels outfielder Brandon Marsh: "Not a fan," and Mariners pitcher Penn Murfee: "Whether it benefits me or not, I'm just coming at it from a baseball purist standpoint. Umpires are back there and they have a job for a reason. It's to manage the calling of the game—why take out one of the biggest pieces of that?"

Said Rays outfielder Josh Lowe, "I think the weirdest part is just the pause from the pitch hitting the catcher’s glove and then the umpire calling it a strike" (see our video on ABS pitch calling delays in the Atlantic League), continuing, "I think I’d rather deal with a human error rather than a computer error. It’s still really tough to get this zone adjusted to everything."
Related VideoAutomated Ball/Strike System Postseason Highlights (9/30/19).

Josh Lowe "rather deal with a human umpire."
Mariners pitcher Raymond Kerr alluded to an oft-referenced Manfred buzzword, pace-of-play: "I don’t like that. It takes away the catcher’s ability to frame, and umpires are delayed on calls. I just think it slows down the game a little bit."

Torre & Manfred Were Against It, Too: 'Robot umpire' is a concept both MLB Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre and Manfred himself previously criticized—with Manfred going so far as to point out the flaws of tennis' Hawk-eye system as a reason why technology is not better than human umpires.
Related PostTorre Doesn't Want Robot Umpires in MLB (7/26/19).
But something changed in 2019 for Manfred. In 2018, he said his changed position was due to the technology improving ("accuracy is way up"), despite the actual science suggesting the technology had not improved so dramatically...not to mention the 2019 ALPB and AFL experiments essentially confirming the technology's subpar performance.
Related PostManfred Talks Robot Umps - Tech is "Way Up" (5/30/18).

While Torre remained steadfast in his stance ("I'd like the game to stay human...I don't see the robotic strike zone happening"), Manfred jumped ship...seemingly contradicting not just the science, but himself in previous criticism—on video—of using technology to call balls and strikes, and creating a schism between MLB's #1 (Manfred) and #2 (Torre) executives.
Related PostCiting Atlantic Lg, Manfred Ready for Robo-Zone (8/19/19).

Manfred wasn't always a fan of computers.
Manfred told MLB Network, "We have the technology...we need to be ready to use an automated strike zone when the time is right." Considering baseball's plans to introduce said technology in the minor leagues in 2020—one report indicates the Class-A Advanced Florida State League could be a target, due to its stadium's use during MLB Spring Training—Manfred must think "the time is right."

The Umpire Accuracy Video You're Not Supposed to See: About a month before the Sports Illustrated article, "Commissioner Rob Manfred Not in Favor of Moving to Electronic Strike Zone," Manfred appeared on a panel with three other Commissioners—NHL's Gary Bettman, NFL's Roger Goodell, and NBA's Adam Silver—at The Paley Center for Media.

Manfred spoke at a panel of Commissioners.
New York Knicks owner James Dolan speaking from the audience asked Manfred about tennis' Hawk-eye and how baseball can incorporate technology to call balls and strikes ("Why do we have umpires?", generating laughter from the crowd).

Manfred replied, "First of all, let me say, our umpires are really really good at calling balls and strikes, they are...

Let me say something about the tennis technology and then I'll say why it's more difficult in baseball. You should always think about a technology where what they show you as part of the replay is a simulation as opposed to the actual stopped frame, so think about that as you watch tennis and see what conclusion you come to.

During his talk, Manfred said no to robots.
Our strike zone is not a single line on a fixed court. It's a plate, it's three dimensional. The ball passes through the strike zone at different points. We do have a system that we use in broadcast that measures balls and strikes. In all candor, that technology has a larger margin of error than we see with human umpires.

Someday, I think it will be up to the task of calling balls and strikes, but I actually believe that at that point you have to ask yourself a question as to whether you want to take that human element out of the game and replace it with a machine."

Conclusion: For whatever reason (e.g., pressure from teams/fans/owners), Manfred may well believe "that point" has come (despite the mountain of evidence indicating otherwise), and over the past two years, he and Torre (amongst others) have appeared to exhibit a clear disagreement as to the answer of his ultimate question as to the human element.

Will the MLB answer be full automation? A challenge system? Nothing at all? Read on for our Replay Review-inspired challenge system to correct obvious mistakes while acknowledging the computer zone's remaining inaccuracy on border/edge pitches.
Related PostFixing the Strike Zone - Pitch Challenge Proposal (10/28/19).

Video as follows:

Alternate Link: Automated Strike Zone to MiLB Despite Players' Negative Reviews (CCS)


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