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?


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