Arthur: MLB isn’t ready to deploy robot umpires

From SABR member Rob Arthur at Baseball Prospectus on November 1, 2019:

Complaints about balls and strikes reign eternal in the postseason, but they got some extra fuel thanks to the ambiguous and inconsistent strike zone the umpires created in the last few games of the World Series. Just like every year, the referee’s mistakes prompted renewed calls for robo-umps.

There are many reasons that an electronic solution is more difficult than it appears, at least at the major-league level. And a radar-guided strike zone wouldn’t do anything for some of the most egregious officiating missteps, like Trea Turner’s obstruction call in Game 6. But there’s a bigger issue looming over the umpiring debate. There’s no indication that MLB possesses the necessary technical expertise or decision-making to produce an effective robo-ump system, and a poorly-designed implementation could be catastrophic.

At first glance, it looks like we already have all the tools necessary to build robotic umpires out of the box. After all, MLB has been collecting and providing data on the trajectory of every pitch thrown in baseball for more than a decade now. Plot them on a two-dimensional chart, slap a TV strike zone box on that, and voila, you have a robot umpire.

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Originally published: November 1, 2019. Last Updated: November 1, 2019.