Friday, March 6, 2020

What to Expect from MiLB's Robo-Ump Test

With Minor League Baseball's Florida State League (Class-A Advanced) set to debut the Automated Ball/Strike System (ABS), Baseball America posited that insertion of so-called robot umpires would collaterally atrophy the pitch-calling skills of FSL's human umpire staff, to which I say, "not so fast."

Today's Gil's Call speaks to the officially unacknowledged reality of baseball's ABS from its time in the Atlantic and Arizona Fall Leagues—namely that the technology is faulty and prone to catastrophic and multifaceted failure.

In other words, ABS—whether TrackMan's doppler radar in 2019 or HawkEye's optical system in 2020—has a nasty tendency to miss pitches entirely. In the words of MLB's senior-most umpire Joe West, "It missed 500 pitches in April and when I say it missed 500 pitches, that didn't mean they called them wrong. They didn't call them at all."
Related PostVideo - Truth About Baseball's Electronic Strike Zone (5/30/19).

Speaking with umpires who have encountered this technology during gameplay, one thing becomes readily apparent about this not-ready-for-primetime experiment: It perhaps is more stressful to work an ABS game than to call balls/strikes in the traditional manner because, with ABS, the plate umpire never quite knows when the computer will miss a pitch.

Delayed calls will complicate matters.
And when ABS misses a pitch—as it did 500 times in the period referred to by West—the human umpire must fall back onto tradition and call "ball" or "strike" just as one would do without the technology.

Yet due to the electronic system's habitual timing problems—ABS is notoriously delayed in a sport where such delays sometimes are unacceptable [e.g., a 3-2 delayed call with a runner trying to steal]...according to one account, ABS once announced "strike" in an umpire's earpiece mid-play, only after the batter's ground ball had been fielded by the shortstop—the plate umpire can never really be sure (at least not within a two- or three-second window) whether ABS has failed to capture a pitch or whether ABS is simply going to squeal "ball" or "strike" after a metaphorical eternity of processing time.

Not for nothing, MiLB is heading into this 2020 experiment blind—HawkEye hasn't been tested in live gameplay yet (recall that 2019's vendor was TrackMan)—so outcomes aren't entirely predictable.

FoxTrax's static strike zone limitation.
In conclusion, I would expect that FSL umpires, despite encountering ABS in a majority of their games, will not atrophy in their collective pitch-calling ability as suggested by Baseball America, simply because the technology's shortcomings and untested nature mean that human umpires must be more alert; however, by that same token, the umpires will encounter more stress, which in the workplace can lead to a higher human failure rate or potential burnout.

In other words, see what expanded Replay Review has done to MLB umpires on the bases and you might have a clue on what to expect from ABS in the minors...that is, once professional baseball can prove that the technology actually works.

Despite ample empirical evidence as to the technology's continued shortcoming, professional baseball and Commissioner Rob Manfred remain steadfast in pressing on, even in the face of opposition from players, coaches, and teams.

Manfred contradicted his earlier comments.
For instance, Manfred in January said during a television interview with FOX Business from Davos, Switzerland, "it's more accurate than a human being standing there," despite previously telling a more private Paley Center audience that, "technology has a larger margin of error than we see with human umpires."

This so-called 'more accurate' technology—which largely shares data with the systems used by FoxTrax, K-Zone, and the other PitchCast technologies (their primary difference is in how the data is converted and displayed visually)—is also responsible for outright failures during the postseason, delayed ball/strike calls, postgame processing turning incorrect calls into correct calls (after the fact, when the mainstream fandom isn't paying attention), and, of course, calling batters out on neck-high strikes. Play ball.

Receipts (for more, see the "Computer Strike Zone" label):
Related PostFoxTrax (PitchCast) Strike Zone Box Fails in ALCS (10/18/19).
Related PostComputer Strike Call Prompts Navas' AFL Ejection (10/16/19).
Related Post: ABS Playoff Highlights - Delayed Calls & System Errors (10/1/19).
Related Post: Automated Ball/Strike System Postseason Highlights (9/30/19).
Related PostAtlantic League ABS Robo-Ump Ejection Encore (9/28/19).
Related PostPostgame Processing Changes Gibson's Strike EJ QOC (9/21/19).
Related PostZoneCheck - Twins' Ump De Jesus' Ball 4 Call (7/24/19).
Related Post: ALPB TrackMan Follies - A Neck-High Strike (7/15/19).
Related PostHistory - Baseball's First Ejection Due to TrackMan (7/12/19).
Related PostReviewing Atlantic League's Automated Strike Zone (7/11/19).

Video as follows:

Alternate Link: How Will Electronic Balls/Strikes Affect Minor League Umpires? (CCS)


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