Do you remember the part in Iron Man 2 where Tony Stark was in court and the United States government was essentially trying to take the Iron Man technology for themselves and their argument was that other countries were developing the same technology, then Stark hacked the monitors and showed a video of Justin Hammer’s team testing out a prototype that twisted and failed and looked like it almost killed the person inside of it? That’s basically where we’re at with calling balls and strikes, except there’s no Iron Man — just a bunch of really horrible, flawed prototypes, like Ángel Hernández.
Umpires missing calls is not a new thing. It’s always been a part of this game, and purists will say, “Well, as long as it’s consistent, it’s okay.” But, no, it absolutely is not. The human element of baseball is fine and dandy, but when technology continues to advance, and we have an overlay of the strike zone on our monitors at home that can tell us in real time whether a pitch was a strike or a ball, it’s time that we find a solution to get the call right.
Just last week, Tampa Bay Rays and MLB top prospect Wander Franco, who made his Major League debut on June 22, was on the receiving end of some horrible strike zone management by umpire Hunter Wendelstedt.
Those pitches are almost in the opposing batter’s box. Not only that, they’re not even breaking pitches. How do you call a straight fastball that’s three ball-widths off the plate a strike? And more importantly, how do you do it multiple times?
It didn’t go well for umpire Brian O’Nora last night either. He single handedly had nine of the 10 worst calls of the day, and only had a 83.5% accuracy rating.
Situations like this leave batters guessing in a game where pitchers are already at an advantage more times than not.
So, in an effort to fix the horrible officiating of Major League umpires and to automate the process, the Atlantic League has begun exploring automated strike zones. Currently setting aside the fact that the system, in and of itself, has some flaws and questions about the impact it would have on the game, last night demonstrated just how far away we are from having an accurate automated strike zone.
The pitch was so far low and away that the catcher didn’t even attempt to frame it. The commentators, who were discussing another topic, interjected with a quick “ball two, it’s outside,” then went back to their conversation. The catcher lofts it back towards the mound, and everyone was moving on to what should have been a 2-2 count.
Then the umpire rings up the batter, who appears to be former big leaguer Jordan Pacheco of the Lexington Legends (see his tweet above) who drops the bat and puts his hands on his knees in disbelief. The catcher looks up at him as if to say, “Yeah, uhh, sorry man.” A good twenty seconds later, the commentators realize that it was called for a strike.
“Oh, that went down as strike three!”
“Let It Go,” from the movie Frozen, played over the sound system, in a truly savage display of pettiness.
Baseball is in a time where hits are down, strikeouts are up, umpires are innately flawed, and there’s no accurate replacement in sight. But hey, America’s Pastime, amirite?