Wednesday night’s Atlantic League All-Star Game was marked by the use of automated ball-strike technology, an initiative rolled out after months of testing in the league.
Before this season began, the independent Atlantic League announced a three-year agreement with Major League Baseball to effectively serve as a testing ground for various rule and equipment changes being explored by MLB. Of the ideas that will be tested in the Atlantic League, one of the most notable is the use of an automated ball-strike system (ABS) to assist home-plate umpires in calling balls and strikes.
While the home umpire remains on the field and performs other tasks as usual, the use of ABS changes how balls and strikes are called. Following a TrackMan radar system that decides balls and strikes, an official in the press box relays that information to the home plate via wireless ear piece. There are cases, however, where umpires might still call their own strike zones, such as if there is a glitch in the system. This method was rolled out in full-fledged fashion during Wednesday night’s All-Star Game at PeoplesBank Park, the home of the York Revolution.
As the system continues to be used in the Atlantic League, it is going to take players and umpires time to adjust to changes that could be evident–such as the timing of calls–but the ultimate goal is to see if the system can yield a more consistent strike zone. More from the York Daily Record:
“We want to get it right. So if this helps the game and the officiating of the game, that’s what we’re here for,” said [Wednesday’s] home plate umpire Brian deBrauwere.
“Yeah, it takes something out of the umpire’s hands, but it places additional focus on other things we’re responsible for. Every other decision we have to make will now be magnified. Every check swing, every fair-foul, every safe or out will be even more important now.”
Umpires’ jobs actually won’t change much, deBrauwere said, because they must be ready to make their own balls-strikes call if the new radar system malfunctions or stalls.
He confirmed that the computerized strike zone will expand in the upper and lower zones but shrink a bit on the inside and outside. He said umpires are taught not to call low strikes on breaking pitches that drop out of the zone.
Initially the system was to be used in calling balls and strikes starting on Opening Day, but its delay until later in the year was among the changes announced by MLB and the Atlantic League in April.