California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

    MLB Electronic Strike Zone is Swing and Miss

    When you watch a baseball game today, it’s hard not to notice the transparent rectangular strike zone with white borders in the middle of the screen.

    Like the “magic” yellow first-down marker seen during football broadcasts, the strike zone is simply an unofficial marker used to enhance the viewing process.

    This could become the primary way to call pitches in the near future, but I don’t believe that it should.

    In an interview with Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rod Manfred said the league is much closer to eliminating the pitch-calling duties of the home plate umpire, citing improved accuracy of the pitch-tracking technology, PITCHf/x.

    “The accuracy is way up ­— way better than it was a year ago,” Manfred said. “There remains a fundamental question the owners are going to have to address. When you take away the home plate umpire’s control over the strike zone, you take away a principal piece of his authority in terms of managing the whole game. You really need to think carefully about whether you want to make that change.”

    PITCHf/x, a product of the company Sportsvision, is made possible by the use of three cameras: one on the first-base line, one on the third-base line and one in center field to analyze the full trajectory of live baseball pitches.

    “With technology, there is always some noise or uncertainty, but our system is accurate to less than an inch,” said Ryan Zander, Sportsvision’s general manager of baseball products.

    California Lutheran University pitcher Nick Maldonado said he can see an automatic strike zone being implemented in the near future. Maldonado believes that it will keep the strike zone consistent and prevent umpires from influencing the game too much.

    “Since the strike zone varies every game based on what kind of umpire you have, both teams need to adjust to the zone of the umpire instead of the ‘true’ zone we all expect to be used,” Maldonado said. “There will always be bad umpires where one call can change a game, and a bad strike or ball call can be the difference between a team winning and losing.”

    But if you ask me, baseball is already losing its feel for the human element of the game. MLB teams in today’s era are ditching the role of a manager’s feel for the game and are instead relying on analytically driven front-office executives to generate lineups and make in-game substitutions.

    To put it in baseball terms, choosing to eliminate a home plate umpire’s role in determining balls and strikes would be a “swing and a miss” at being more technologically driven. An electronic strike zone would put the proverbial nail in the coffin of a sport that has remained close to its roots for so long.

    Not only does taking away an umpire’s ball-strike decision-making responsibilities take away a level of purity from the game — it also makes no sense.

    There’s an old expression that explains it best: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

    As much as people love to sound-off on an umpire for making a bad call at the plate, statistical data shows that umpires in MLB are as good as they get, and make an overwhelming majority of the calls right.

    Joe West, MLB’s often criticized senior umpire, was nearly perfect behind the plate during game three of the American League Championship Series with callable pitches, which are defined as pitches that can be determined as a ball or strike by a home plate umpire. According to Close Call Sports, West correctly judged 159 of 160 callable pitches, giving him a record for plate score accuracy with 99.4 percent.

    West’s only missed call was when he ruled strike one on a seventh-inning 2-0 pitch from Boston Red Sox pitcher Ryan Brasier to Houston Astros hitter Tony Kemp located about 1.08 horizontal inches from the plate, less than half of a baseball’s diameter.

    Another common argument in favor of an electronic strike zone is that electronic strike zone technology is not capable of experiencing fatigue like a human. This counterargument would be compelling if there were data to support that umpires grew significantly worse at determining balls and strikes throughout the course of a lengthened game.

    But you don’t have to go too far back for statistics that undermine the fatigue argument. According to Close Call Sports, in game three of the 2018 World Series, home plate umpire Ted Barrett squatted 561 times over the course of an 18-inning game that lasted 7 hours 20 minutes. In spite of the game’s extreme length, Barrett managed to have the concentration to record a 96.9 percent plate score without sitting down once.

    Speaking of concentration, instead of concentrating on what is wrong with baseball, we should concentrate on what is right. And that includes home plate umpires calling balls and strikes.

    Jake Gould