Julio Aguilar/Getty Images
It appears the future of Major League Baseball will include an automated ball-strike zone system after all.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred told ESPN’s Don VanNatta Jr. that robot umpires “will likely be introduced” in 2024.
“One possibility is for the automated system to call every pitch and transmit the balls and strikes to a home plate umpire via an ear piece. Another option is a replay review system of balls and strikes with each manager getting several challenges a game,” Van Natta wrote.
“He declines to grade the MLB umpires’ overall performance this season—fans are displeased, to put it politely—and he insists the adaptation of robo-umpires should not be seen as an indictment of their abilities,” Van Natta Jr. added.
Frustration around umpire accuracy has grown over the years, resulting in fans calling for an automated system. One of the more recent cases of an umpire making a terrible call came during a May 31 meeting between the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins.
During the bottom of the fifth inning, Twins pitcher Devin Smeltzer tossed a 3-2 pitch that crossed home plate well below the knees of Tigers catcher Eric Haase. Instead of giving him the free pass to first base, home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt wrung up Haase.
Jamal Spencer @JamalSpencerTV
Enough is enough. Give me robo umps already https://t.co/Zsc8yBI9F4
It was arguably one of the worst strike calls of the 2022 season. And as the egregious calls become more and more noticeable, fans continue to bring up the idea of robot umpires.
Manfred’s comments to Van Natta Jr. come after he downplayed the possibility of robot umpires being installed for the 2023 season at the end-of-owners-meetings press conference last week, The Athletic’s Evan Drellich reported.
Manfred said he did not see the automated strike zone “as a competition committee issue for this year,” according to Drellich.
MLB has experimented with the automated ball-strike system for a number of years in independent leagues and the minor leagues and is now testing the system in Triple-A. The system made its debut in the Pacific Coast League in May.
The system works by placing a sensor and cameras above home plate to detect the location of a pitch. The data is then sent to a device that relays audio to the home plate umpire, letting them know when to call a ball or strike.
In addition to making more accurate ball-strike calls, the automated ball-strike system has been part of MLB’s plan to cut down the length of games.
According to MLB data obtained by Van Natta Jr., the automated ball-strike system has resulted in games being nine minutes shorter, on average.
“We have an automated strike zone system that works,” Manfred told Van Natta Jr.