The robot takeover of MLB took another step closer to becoming a reality.
The Associated Press reported Thursday MLB "is expanding its automated strike zone experiment," citing job postings for seasonal employment tied to the operation of the Automated Ball and Strike system. The jobs were with a handful of Triple-A clubs, thus signaling the arrival of robot umps at that level.
On Jan. 13, the independent Atlantic League announced it would cease using the Automated Ball and Strike (ABS) system and bring back home plate umpires. The league had been a testing ground for ABS under the terms of a partnership with MLB that began during the second half of the 2019 season.
In December 2019, the MLB Umpires Association struck a deal with the league that opened the door for the arrival of an automated strike zone. It remains unclear when MLB officials might look to exercise that clause.
Joe Lemire of SportTechie noted the ABS used a preset strike zone that began at 28 percent of a hitter's height and moved up to 56 percent, "approximating the bottom of the knee to the top of the zone just a bit above the belt."
Chris Marinak, MLB's chief operations and strategy officer, explained how simply identifying the right strike zone for ABS presented a challenge:
"Is it more of an oval-shaped zone, which is more consistent with what's called today? Is it a square zone? Is it a three-dimensional zone? How does the zone shift from hitter to hitter? Is it literally the zone drawn every single pitch, as is written in the rulebook, or is it a fixed zone based on your height as a hitter, and no matter how much he is squatting down or standing up, his zone stays the same?"
Anybody who's watched a pitch well outside of the zone called a strike has wished for the day when automated strike zones would ensure the mistake was never made in the first place.
Critics of the idea, however, question whether it removes one more source of chaos in a sport that's increasingly looking more and more uniform.
The presence of ABS in Triple-A would represent a big step toward its implementation in the majors. For now, that day could still be far off.