Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Atlantic League Nixes Robot Umpires, Will Return to Human-Called Strike Zone in 2022

After two years of testing MLB's Automated Ball-Strike System, the Atlantic League will revert to having human umpires call pitches, explaining RoboUmp's cancelation as a natural part of the experiment process while stopping short of deeming the test unsuccessful: "Test rules and equipment are transitional by definition: Some elements remain, others are tweaked and still others are abandoned. That's why MLB and the ALPB conduct the tests."

The ALPB's news release also indicated the formerly independent MLB partner league will return its experimental 61'6" mound distance to the "accepted norm" of 60-feet, six-inches for its 2022 season.

News of the Atlantic League's RoboUmp cancelation follows several high-profile instances of peculiar ball/strike decisions from the computer umpire, many of which we have documented at Close Call Sports under the label "Computer Strike Zone" such as Frank Viola's pair of ejections arguing ball/strike calls made by the ABS computer. It also comes one year after MLB described the Atlantic League's ABS test as a "success."

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, currently presiding over an owners-players union dispute and lockout that continues to threaten Spring Training and potentially part of the 2022 regular season, previously cited his support for implementing the electronic ABS zone at the Major League level, specifically citing the Atlantic League experiment as evidence of RoboUmp's success. Meanwhile, then-Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre disagreed, stating, "I don't see the robotic strike zone happening."

Now that the Atlantic League has scrapped the project, will Minor League Baseball—not without its own set of ABS controversies—follow suit?

Friday, January 14, 2022

MLB Hires Sean Barber & Ben May as Full-Time Umpires

Rounding out its set of early January 2022 hires, MLB promoted Sean Barber and Ben May to the full-time major league umpire staff, joining Ryan Additon, John Libka, and Roberto Ortiz who also got the call.

Sean Barber's perseverance through eight years and 693 games of MLB experience prior to official hiring signifies the longest period of time spent as a Triple-A call-up umpire of MLB's five January hires. Barber's Opening Day (April 1) 2014 debut in San Diego followed a minor league journey that begin upon graduation from the Harry Wendelstedt Umpire School in 2006. Barber has officiated in the Appalachian, South Atlantic, Florida State, Southern, Arizona Instructionl, Venezuela, Arizona Fall, and International Leagues. Additionally, Barber officiated the 2013 World Baseball Classic qualifier in Jupiter, Florida (not terribly far from his hometown of Lakeland, FL).

Ben May, who nearly ties Barber's MLB history with eight years and 658 games, debuted on April 17, 2014 in Minnesota. May's minor league career includes stops at the Gulf Coast, New York-Penn, Midwest, Florida State, Eastern, Arizona Fall, and International Leagues. Like Barber, May also officiated the 2013 World Baseball Classic Qualifying round, but did so in Germany.

With MLB's five new-hires, you might be wondering who in addition to those previously reported (Davis, Gorman, West) have retired. Stay tuned for future announcements, which will include crew chief promotions to fill the new vacancies.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Roberto Ortiz Hired to Full-Time MLB Umpire Staff

Major League Baseball hired Roberto Ortiz to its full-time umpire staff. This makes three hires (Ryan Additon, John Libka) and three retirements (Gerry Davis, Brian Gorman, Joe West), with a couple of more announcements to come in the next few weeks.

Ortiz's promotion, reported by The Gondol, is the first full-time appointment of an umpire born in Puerto Rico. Delfin Colon was MLB's first Puerto Rican umpire, but solely served in a fill-in capacity. Ortiz hails from Caguas, PR, and was a teacher in Puerto Rico before graduating from MiLB's Umpire Academy in 2009.

His minor league experience includes stops at the Gulf Coast, New York-Penn, South Atlantic, Florida State, Eastern, Arizona Instructional, Arizona Fall, Pacific Coast, and International Leagues.

Ortiz's first MLB game was May 14, 2016 in Washington DC, and his 2022 hiring to the full-time staff follows 412 total regular season games of major league experience.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

MLB Hires Ryan Additon & John Libka to Full-Time Staff

With Gerry Davis and Brian Gorman's retirements, MLB has hired call-up umpires Ryan Additon and John Libka to its full-time staff. Joe West leads a short list of additional veteran umps whose retirements have created vacancies on the MLBU roster and we will announce both those retirements and additional new-hire replacements in the coming weeks.

First publicly announced by the Wendelstedt Umpire School where Additon and Libka serve as instructors, the first two hires of 2022 during the uncertainty of both COVID and an ongoing lockout and contract dispute between MLB team owners and the players' union are two young umpires who score highly on a number of baseball officiating metrics.

For instance, John Libka, according to UmpScorecards, once again took the crown as the most accurate umpire, overall, in calling balls and strikes during the 2021 season.

Ryan Additon made his major league debut on May 21, 2017 in Minnesota and joins the full-time staff with 381 games of big league experience. Additon has worked the Gulf Coast, New York-Penn, Midwest, Florida State, Arizona Instructional, Southern, Arizona Fall, and International (aka Triple-A East) Leagues.

John Libka made his MLB debut just one week following Additon's, on May 27, 2017 in Chicago alongside Tom Hallion's crew, and has just 10 fewer games in the league (371) than Additon. Libka, long regarded as MLB's most accurate plate umpire dating back to the Boston University umpire study, journeyed through the Gulf Coast, New York-Penn, Midwest, Florida State, Eastern, Arizona Fall, and Pacific Coast (Triple-A West) Leagues.

Both Additon and Libka officiated the 2017 AFL Fall Stars Game.