Rob Manfred Says MLB Will Experiment with Robot Umpires in Spring Training

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistJanuary 22, 2020

BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 10: Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks during the 2019 Major League Baseball Winter Meetings on December 10, 2019 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Experimenting with computerized strike zones will expand to spring training, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred confirmed in an interview on Fox Business (h/t the Boston Globe's Michael Silverman). 

"We think it's more accurate than a human being standing there," Manfred said.

MLB and the Major League Baseball Umpires Association agreed to a five-year extension in December. As part of the deal, umpires committed to working with the league as it examines the viability of "robot umps" in the majors.

Much in the same way soccer referees are alerted to goal-line decisions via smart watch, the home plate umpire is told whether a pitch was a ball or strike and makes the call.

Although Manfred cited improved accuracy as one reason to potentially move away from human umpires calling balls and strikes, the automated system may not be without flaws.

Baseball America's Josh Norris wrote in November the Arizona Fall League was using TrackMan for an automated strike zone. Pitches high in the zone and in the dirt were being incorrectly called as strikes:

"By the end, two things were clear: Pitchers with arsenals geared toward working from the top to the bottom of the strike zone were at a stark advantage, and nobody—neither hitters nor pitchers—was happy with TrackMan," Norris wrote.

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Arizona Diamondbacks prospect Seth Beer, the No. 96 overall player on MLB.com, acknowledged the system's flaws while expressing an openness about the concept.

"The really loopy breaking balls or the really hard sliders at the bottom of the zone that end up in the dirt, you might end up having trouble with," Beer said, per the Associated Press' David Brandt. "But for the most part, I don't think it's a terrible thing."

MLB has already been trying out "robot umps" in the Atlantic League. A limited expansion to spring training would be the next logical step to continue ironing out the kinks and get players used to the concept.