Monday, January 24, 2022

As Atlantic League Folds RoboUmp Experiment, MLB Steps Up Automated Strike Zone in Minor Leagues

Whereas the Atlantic League last week issued a news release announcing it has abandoned its Automated Ball/Strike System experiment by virtue of returning pitch calling duties to human plate umpires, MLB looks to double-down on RoboUmp technology, bringing ABS to its minor league affiliates, including Triple-A.

According to Axios, MLB quietly announced, through its seasonal jobs board, it may be seeking to experiment with ABS in Triple-A West (formerly Pacific Coast League), as well as certain lower levels: "Major League Baseball (MLB) will be operating the Automated Ball and Strike system (ABS) in select Spring Training venues in Florida, in AAA West and Low-A Southeast, and potentially in other non-MLB games and venues," the posting states.

MLB's minor league ABS recruitment follows Atlantic League President Rick White's explanation of the league's elimination of an automated strike zone: "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."

Now that MLB will look to install the Hawkeye data-powered computer zone technology, we can refer to several recent instances of RoboUmp's use in affiliated baseball, such as its puzzling calls during an October Arizona Fall League game that led teams and umpires to end the game in the 8th inning due to both teams having exhausted their pitchers trying to satiate ABS' 22-walk-producing strike zone.

A smattering of ball/strike arguments regarding ABS also befell the 2019 (pre-COVID) AFL, including HP Umpire Jose Navas' October 15, 2019 ejection of batter Jacob Heyward for arguing a computer-called strike three call. Whereas a number of players subsequently complained about ABS following the AFL implementation, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred at the time announced ABS will nonetheless debut in 2020.