Now this would be really odd. Would everyone look at the scoreboard to see what the call was after every pitch? Would the hitter shout at the outfield after a pitch that he considered boderline? I don't see this happening at all.


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Umpiring system needs to improveposted: Monday, September 10, 2007 | Feedback | Print Entry

Umpires are in the news again lately, thanks mostly to Chipper Jones, spurring Dayn Perry to raise a popular notion among my young, tech-friendly colleagues: taking the umpires out of the ball-strike equation. Perry:

For several seasons, the QuesTec system has been tracking ball-strike calls and keeping record of how often umpires correctly identify those balls and strikes. QuesTec is now in use in half of all major-league parks, and MLB badly needs to take this a step further. That means giving the job of calling balls and strikes, part and parcel, to the computers.

Such a drastic move will require time and R&D on the part of MLB and QuesTec and concessions on the part of the umpire's union, but it's all plainly worth it. When you take into account all the human errors, the (patently silly) practice of giving veteran pitchers and hitters all the borderline calls and the recent suggestion that umpires tend to accommodate pitchers of the same race, there's no reason not to make the switch. To put a finer point on it, watch any major-league game and ask yourself whether, say, 25 percent of the ball-strike calls look incorrect after replay or imaging. Over the course of an entire game, it adds up, and that level of inaccuracy makes a mockery of the game.

Well, let's start right here: 25 percent. I don't think anything close to 25 percent of the ball-strike calls are incorrect. A significant percentage might look incorrect, due to the deception that comes with center-field cameras that are higher than the pitcher and off to one side. One thing I've noticed over the years is that many pitches that look like balls from center field look like strikes when seen from a camera that's directly above or directly behind the plate. So, 25 percent? I believe the true figure is much closer to five percent than 25 percent.

Of course, five percent is too high. The umpires know which ballparks are equipped with QuesTec, and human nature suggests that the umpires will perform more conscientiously when they know they're being systematically evaluated. Human nature also suggests that it's natural for them to resent this process, and that goes double for the veteran umpires who spent so many seasons with little meaningful evaluation at all. But those guys won't last forever, the younger umpires will make the necessary adjustments, and eventually every ballpark will host QuesTec (or something even better).

Is that good enough? No, not unless MLB is willing to fire umpires who don't eventually meet the standards of their profession. Should MLB consider automating the balls and strikes completely? I wouldn't take anything off the table. I feel a strong connection with the game's history, and I think something would be lost if umpires weren't behind the plate using their best judgement. The equation is simple: would we gain more with automation than we would lose? I don't have any idea, but I think the first step is to make the current system as good as it can be. And we're not there yet.