Robot Umpires Reach Triple A

MLB is hiring humans to help run the technology
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 20, 2022 7:30 PM CST
MLB Hiring Humans to Run Robot Umpires
Ron Besaw, right, operates a laptop computer as home plate umpire Brian deBrauwere gets signals from radar with the ball and strikes calls during an Atlantic League All-Star minor league baseball game in York, Pa., in 2019.   (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

Robo-umps are making the jump to Triple A, a phone call away from the majors, and baseball needs somebody to assist them. MLB has posted an ad on its site looking for ABS techs, Axios reports. The employee will "physically support the plate umpire including his device, its functionality, and wiring," the ad says. The job includes operating the Automated Ball and Strike system, entering data, and meeting with the human umpire, who will still be in position behind the plate, after the game. "Exceptional knowledge" of baseball's rules is required. There's a report that has to be filed after the game, of course.

Robot umpires have been tried out in various leagues for a couple of years, per the AP. Last season, they were assigned to the Low-A Southeast League. This year, they're scheduled to start in 11 ballparks and be used at some Florida sites during spring training. Major league umpires' contract already calls for them to help with the system in the major leagues if it comes to that. Some nuance would be lost if the switch is made: Catchers skilled at framing pitches to sell them to umpires would find that talent obsolete, and pitchers who inch a bit farther off the plate each time will find the technology is not fooled.

The app by TrackMan, a Danish golf startup, decides whether a pitch is a ball or strike. The system then tells the umpire through an earpiece, who lets the players know. Decisions involving check swings, possible interference, and plays at the plate are still made by the human. ABS rules just the strike zone, per Axios. The ABS uses a preset strike zone starting at 28% of a hitter's height, per Bleacher Report, and topping out at 56%. That roughly aligns with "the bottom of the knee to the top of the zone just a bit above the belt," said Joe Lemire of SportTechie. (More Major League Baseball stories.)

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