Tuesday, April 7, 2020

MLB Considering Electronic Strike Zone for Social Distance Safety During 2020 Season

Could MLB return with electronic strike zones? Sources say Major League Baseball is considering a late May or June start to its 2020 season, with all 30 teams playing games at facilities in the greater Phoenix, Arizona area.

Social distancing features prominently in a list of possible rules changes under consideration, including one such change long pushed for by Commissioner Rob Manfred.

Some potential possibilities—all in the brainstorming stage—include the elimination of all mound visits, seven-inning doubleheaders to allow for more games, players sitting in the stands six feet apart instead of in a dugout, and more extensive on-field microphone use.

Remember, 2020 was the first season MLB crew chiefs were to be mic'd in order to explain Replay Review decisions.
Related PostUmpires to Explain Rulings via Mic in 2020 (1/27/20).

An umpire steps back to allow ABS to see.
The final proposal is implementation of an electronic strike zone "to allow the plate umpire to maintain sufficient distance from the catcher and batter."

Did MLB read our April Fools article this year?
RelatedNew Atlantic League Rules for 2020 (4/1/20).

Or is coronavirus simply an excuse to prime a baseball audience for electronic balls and strikes? After all, MLB can proceed with development of an K-zone—the MLBUA agreed to robo-ump development during its last round of CBA negotiations in December 2019—and if MLB can entice fans and players to accept electronic balls and strikes for the sake of playing the game in some form this summer, what's to say that the robot zone won't stick around later on as well?
Related PostMLB, Umps Union Reach Tentative Agreement (12/21/19).

Logically speaking, the umpire-catcher interaction is perhaps the most prolonged and intimate pairing on a baseball field, so risk of contagion should decrease simply by increasing distance.

Will players wear masks during play?
But what about batter-catcher? Or runner-fielder? Or coach/manager-player? So much of the supposedly non-contact sport of baseball is built upon...well...contact.

Then there are the logistic concerns. All teams will play in Arizona, but the greater Phoenix area is expansive. The Cactus League uses 10 sites (several teams share ballparks) spread out over an approximately 100 square-mile area, not to mention additional minor league parks and other fields that would be used.

Though the plan is to sequester all teams and umpires in local hotels, which themselves would be closed off, the risk of transmission would remain. What if an inbound participant contracts the virus during their inbound flight...or brings it with them from their city of origin? If the person is an asymptomatic carrier, it could be devastating: NBA Donovan Mitchell said the "scariest part" about being infected with coronavirus is showing no symptoms, potentially infecting others without even knowing.

What's the risk of transmission here?
With MLB apparently aware that players are low-risk for COVID-19, coaches, managers, and umpires—especially crew chiefs—aren't.

Sources indicate that MLB wouldn't want to "quarantine an entire team or shut down the season" as a response to a positive test...yet many virus carriers have no-to-mild symptoms, especially in the "low-risk" group.

Does this mean MLB is willing to risk an asymptomatic carrier participating and potentially transmitting the disease?

Not all ejections are ball/strikes-based.
Sure the economic upside could help the league what with baseball being the only sport playing so soon—as evidenced by MLB reportedly considering an offer to pay minor leaguers full MLB salaries and benefits in exchange for expanded rosters just in case a player drops out due to testing positive for the virus—but at what cost?

What happens when a player, manager, or coach wants to have a conversation with the umpire or tries to make a double-switch? Social-distance smoke signals?

Forget about ejections, which, despite MLB's efforts to decrease with expanded instant replay, reached a 14-year high in 2019 with 217 heave-ho's, the most since 2006's mark of 218...and 2019's QOC = Correct rate for ejections actually was up compared to previous years...meaning players and coaches literally argued just for the sake of arguing.
Related2019 Stats - Ejections Spike, But So Do Correct Calls (9/30/19).

Is this Futurama scene protective enough?
And has MLB even considered that the MLB Umpires Association might not want to put its membership in harm's way, even if that means losing out on a year's paycheck?

After all, if MLB wants to insert an Automated Ball/Strike System in order to socially distance the umpire, then MLB must logically have concluded that the umpire is someone who needs that social distance protection.

And if that's true, wouldn't putting MLBUA members in harm's way anyway constitute negligence if not reckless disregard?

Video as follows:

Alternate Link: MLB Considers Electronic Strike Zone for 2020 Season (CCS)


Post a Comment