MLB to Experiment with Robot Umpires, More Rule Changes in Atlantic League

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 8, 2019

WEST PALM BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 24: General view as the umpire crew heads to the field for a Grapefruit League spring training game between the Atlanta Braves and the Houston Astros at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on February 24, 2019 in West Palm Beach, Florida. The Astros won 5-2. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Atlantic League will feature a radar system dubbed TrackMan to help home-plate umpires call balls and strikes during the 2019 season as part of an agreement with Major League Baseball. 

On Friday, Jeff Passan of ESPN.com reported the robot umpire assistant is one of several tests the independent baseball league will run this year as part of its partnership with MLB. Other ideas being evaluated include banning the infield shift and a three-batter minimum for pitchers.

Other changes include mound visits being eliminated aside from pitching changes and injuries, increasing the size of the bases by three inches and reducing the time between innings by 30 seconds, per Passan.

In addition, the second half of the season will see a drastic modification as the distance from the pitching rubber to the plate will be increase by two feet to 62'6".

"This first group of experimental changes is designed to create more balls in play, defensive action, baserunning, and improve player safety," MLB senior vice president, league economics and operations Morgan Sword said in a statement. "We look forward to seeing them in action in the Atlantic League."

Although the idea of a robotic home-plate ump has been floated for awhile, Chicago Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber, a former catcher, said during an appearance on Tuesday's Bernstein & McKnight Show he doesn't like the impact it will have on that position.

"I feel like the art of catching will go away there," he said. "I think catching is an art. You have to be able to read pitches, get under them, get around them, things like that. But then once, if that computer strike zone comes in, that's going to go away. A catcher can just sit on a chair back there and just catch it wherever it's at."

In February, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said the league wanted to implement changes that would improve the sport's overall pace of play.

"Repeated pitching changes obviously take a lot of time," Manfred told reporters. "The idea of relievers having to go longer is appealing in terms of promoting the role of the starting pitcher, encouraging pitchers to pitch a little longer at the beginning of the game."

The number of pitchers used per game by each team in 2018 was a record-high 4.36, per Baseball Reference.

Along with reducing the specialized nature of some relief pitchers with the three-batter minimum, eliminating the shift by forcing two infielders to play on each side of the second-base bag should help increase offense.

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