Com­puter plate umps al­lowed

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - Numbers Game - By BEN WALKER and RONALD BLUM

NEW YORK — Com­puter plate um­pires could be called up to the major leagues at some point dur­ing the next five sea­sons.

Um­pires agreed to co­op­er­ate with Major League Base­ball in the devel­op­ment and test­ing of an au­to­mated ball-strike sys­tem as part of a five-year la­bor con­tract an­nounced Satur­day, two peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the deal told The As­so­ci­ated Press. The Major League Base­ball Um­pires As­so­ci­a­tion also agreed to co­op­er­ate and as­sist if Com­mis­sioner Rob Man­fred de­cides to uti­lize the sys­tem at the major league level. The peo­ple spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause those de­tails of the deal, which is sub­ject to rat­i­fi­ca­tion by both sides, had not been an­nounced.

The in­de­pen­dent At­lantic League be­came the first Amer­i­can pro­fes­sional league to let a com­puter call balls and strikes at its All-Star Game on July 10. Plate um­pire Brian deBrauwere wore an ear­piece con­nected to an iPhone in his pocket and re­layed the call upon re­ceiv­ing it from a Track­Man com­puter sys­tem that uses Dop­pler radar.

The At­lantic League ex­per­i­mented with the com­puter sys­tem dur­ing the sec­ond half of its sea­son, and the Ari­zona Fall League of top prospects used it for a few dozen games this year at Salt River Fields.

MLB has dis­cussed in­stalling the sys­tem at the Class A Florida State League for 2020. If that test goes well, the com­puter umps could be used at Triple-A in 2021 as bugs are dealt with prior to a big league callup.

“It would change the game for the good. It would con­tinue the ef­fort to elim­i­nate hu­man de­fi­ciency,” Hall of Famer Mike Sch­midt wrote in a story for The As­so­ci­ated Press in Oc­to­ber. “We have re­play ev­ery­where else in the game. Like it or not, re­play gets the call right.”

Sev­eral AFL prospects praised the Track­Man sys­tem for calls on the in­side and out­side cor­ners but said it strug­gled with break­ing balls low or high in the strike zone.

“This idea has been around for a long time and it’s the first time it’s been brought to life in a com­pre­hen­sive way,” Mor­gan Sword, MLB’s senior vice pres­i­dent of eco­nom­ics and op­er­a­tions, said on the night the At­lantic League ex­per­i­ment started.

Hu­mans still will be needed to de­ter­mine checked swings and to make sure Track­Man doesn’t call a strike on a pitch that bounces and goes through the strike zone.

“I think it’s a little naive to think that sim­ply let­ting com­put­ers gen­er­ate strike or ball,” Hous­ton man­ager AJ Hinch said dur­ing the World Se­ries. “It’s in­cred­i­bly naive to think that there’s not go­ing to be pit­falls in that sce­nario, as well.”

Hu­mans will make safe/out calls — sub­ject to video re­view back in the New York con­trol room, a sys­tem that started on home run calls in 2008 and ex­tended in 2014 to many um­pire de­ci­sions.

There were 1,356 video reviews dur­ing the 2019 reg­u­lar sea­son, tak­ing an av­er­age of 1 minute, 16 sec­onds. MLB said 597 calls or 44% were over­turned, 277 or 20% con­firmed and 463 or 34% al­lowed to stand be­cause there was not enough ev­i­dence to con­firm or over­turned. The re­main­ing 19 calls were for rules checks or record keep­ing.

As part of the la­bor con­tract, the sides agreed to raises in com­pen­sa­tion and re­tire­ment ben­e­fits along with pro­vi­sions to al­low ear­lier re­tire­ment.

As­so­ci­ated Press

NEW SYS­TEM In this July 10 file photo, home plate um­pire Brian deBrauwere, left, hud­dles with of­fi­cials while wear­ing an ear­piece con­nected to a ball and strikes call­ing sys­tem be­fore the At­lantic League All-Star game in York, Pa.

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