Robot umpires make their professional baseball debut

At the independent Atlantic League’s all-star baseball game on Wednesday, the “electronic strike zone” made its professional baseball—and American—debut. According to Yahoo Sports, the robotic umpire, called TrackMan, helped home-plate umpire Brian deBrauwere assess whether pitches were balls or strikes via an earpiece connected to an iPhone in his pocket. The iPhone was loaded up with the TrackMan computer system, which uses a Doppler radar to track the pitches. deBrauwere, positioned right behind home plate, called the pitches as he received the information from the program.

MLB claims the technology is intended to help busy home-plate umpires and pinky swears that human umps are still needed and is working with the union to keep everyone happy.

One pitcher told the AP that TrackMan called high strike zone pitches that human umpires frequently miss. Of course, players will only agree with the umpire until they disagree with the call, but that’s just part of baseball.

Why its hot

As a baseball fan, I can tell you a lot of fans are divided on this issue. Some want to see calls made correctly if there is the technology to ensure that happens. This was the main driver of the introduction of replay a few years ago. Others believe that the game should not be changed, regardless of what technology might exist, and that the human element is just part of it. Personally, I don’t like a robot umpire that makes the ‘correct’ call every time because I do like that human element, but only around balls and strikes. When it comes to replay, which governs things like fair or foul, or safe or out, I do want replay because those things are more grounded in fact than balls and strikes, which are more subjective. It’s an interesting discussion of where we will allow some possibility for error when when the technology to solve it exists.