The Robot Umpire Is Moving Up In The World

Illustration for article titled The Robot Umpire Is Moving Up In The World
Photo: Julio Cortez (AP)

The Atlantic League announced Tuesday that their experiment with an automated strike zone will continue for the remainder of the season, starting Thursday night. The system mostly worked; players and managers were happy with it; even the umpire who gave it its inaugural run at the Atlantic League All-Star Game earlier this month thinks it’s a pretty swell idea, if for no other reason than it will get him off the hook with fans:

“People here in York love yelling at me when they think I miss a pitch. That part of the game is going to go away a little bit,”deBrauwere said. “I’m happy to blame the computer.”


There will be one tweak. The robot umpire, called TrackMan, views pitches that scrape the upper part of the zone the same way it does ones that paint the corners—as strikes. At times this can seem like TrackMan is giving away neck-high strikes, especially when catchers fail to frame the high strike and when batters coil up at the plate. That has apparently been deemed a problem requiring a solution, according to the Washington Post:

Officials recalibrated the strike zone this week to award a strike only when the entire ball is inside the upper boundary of the hitting area, not just a portion of it.

Like a prospect gaining a foothold in the lowest rungs of baseball, the robot umpire has now turned a promising spot appearance in an exhibition game into a regular gig on the minor league fringes. The use of an automated strike zone at any level of professional baseball is significant, whether or not robot umpires soon make it to the big leagues, although anyone who watched Cody Bellinger’s meltdown Wednesday night knows where this is headed.

To commemorate this historic expansion of robo-umping, the Atlantic League is already sending this first ever robot umpire to the Hall of Fame. Such as it is. Per the Post:

The eight-team unaffiliated minor league will submit to the National Baseball Hall of Fame the earpiece to be worn by the home-plate umpire during Thursday night’s game in Long Island, when the league’s automated balls and strikes regime officially begins.

Hall officials have agreed to take the earpiece, an Apple AirPod, from the game between the Long Island Ducks and New Britain Bees.

Next time you’re in Cooperstown, be sure to stop in and check out the earwax-crusted AirPod from that one Atlantic League game.

Staff Writer, Deadspin