Originally Posted by Roy Tucker
So, I had a few spare moments so I thought I'd think this through. Itís a pretty interesting technical challenge. The geek in me likes to figure these things out.
Right now, we have an umpire who is a living breathing and more importantly trained and experienced person who judges these things. Weíre either augmenting or replacing this person and all of what goes through his head between when the ball leaves the pitchers hand and smacks into the catcherís glove.
The limitations of this person is his visual system and his ability to gauge where the ball is in 3D space and if that crosses the strike zone (in his opinion). We need to be able to improve upon that.
It certainly seems that existing video technology can accurately measure where the ball goes in xyz space. They seem to have that nailed pretty good. So we do know where the ball is (or was).
Next, you need to determine where is the strike zone. Thinking it through, itís a 5 sided box (5 sides, top and bottom). If the ball touches or crosses any part of that geometric shape, itís a strike. Again, if you have that strike zone determined at pitch time, existing systems can tell if it crossed it. A question in my mind is can it do it in real time like an umpire does. That is, can it call it a ball or strike in about a second. Thatís a pretty responsive system and presents its own challenges.
Then we start getting into the harder stuff. We need this system to be able to detect where the strike zone is on a batter by batter, pitch by pitch basis. Each batter is different and can adjust his stance on a pitch by pitch basis. So we need to be able to accomodate that. I think that crosses off any pre-configuration of a strike zone for a batter, e.g. before a season or a game, the batters strike zone is measured and he is stuck with that for that game, series, month, or season. It needs to be done on each pitch in ral time.
MLB Rule 2.00
So, ďover home plateĒ. Thatís the front, sides, and backs of the plate. They donít move so that part is easy to define. Whatís harder is ďupper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap. The Strike Zone shall be determined from the batter's stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ballĒ. How do you do this? Its a living, breathing, and shifting thing.
The two basic ways I can think of this happening is:
1.) A human operator sets it ďwhen the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ballĒ. So this would hopefully be a trained umpire up in the booth armed with a video monitor and a mouse, and he clicks the top and bottom of the zone as the batter assumes his stance (or some method like that). This isnít a perfect way to do it since we again are asking a human to do this (and is it better than a home plate ump?) but if this system ever sees daylight, this would probably be an improvement. How much improvement would need to be determined. His hand may slip, he might prematurely click the mouse and try to correct and not make it in time. his attention may wander, he might cough or sneeze, or some other dumb little thing will happen over a 300+ pitch game.
2.) The computer or video system automatically does it. Hmmm. We do have a lot of video facial recognition, optical character recognition, and other sophisticated video technology so this is feasible and probably solvable. But, I donít think any existing systems do this now (but I could be wrong, Iím just talking out my butt here). This would be a tricky thing to do and batters may soon figure out ways to trick or game the system. Humans are remarkably adaptive creatures and the problem with systems like this are the unintended consequences. So the software would need to constantly improved to be able to adapt to funny things.
But anyhow, the video/compute computes itís a ball or strike using some technique.
Next, how do we signal it? Is it just a green or red light on the scoreboard? Is it a little earbud in the home plate umps ear? The baseball field is a relatively hostile environment so we need to take that into consideration. The ump might get nailed in the head and dislodge the earbud and he didnít know it. He might sweat like a pig and short out his battery pack. The beep may not register in his brain. Do we allow the ump to override the system? Is the beep in his ear just a suggestion or is it mandatory?
We also need to make sure this system is fault tolerant. No inopportune computer hiccups or freezes, the video cameras have to not waver in the wind or be affected by atmospheric conditions or getting bumped by operators or the crowd or the stadium wavering. All of the parts of this system have to have completely reliable communication. No video glitches, no software loops, no nothing. And we need a pretty decently sized staff to operate and maintain these systems in all MLB parks.
Thatís just off the top of my head. There are 1000ís more questions Iím sure I could drill down to. In the biz, we call them ďproof of conceptsĒ. That is, letís mock up the system and see it works. So thatís what Iíd like to see. Try it in real life.
And, really, the biggest question is whether or not MLB is willing to do something like this. I donít know what would cause that to happen. Some fan groundswell, some massive failure in a critical game, *something* that would cause Bud and his pals to go ďhey, letís do thatĒ. And also, after this system is developed and implemented, what is the impact on the game on the field and is this what we really want?