Is it time to digitalize the strike zone.

Monbonthbump

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I'm sure some sort of computerized system could be figured out which would give a more accurate approximation of the "strike zone" than adjusting to each individual umpire for every game. Would this detract too much from the human element of the game we all have grown up with, or would it be better than what we all saw in last night's ninth inning? I would vote to stick with the present system myself, but since instant replay has been introduced and accepted, some sort of more scientific system would avoid obvious fiascos like last night.
 

Dewey'sCannon

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I think it is. At the least, they should set it up so that the ump has a sensor that vibrates when the pitch is in the strike zone. It could be set based on what I understand is the "standard" pitch f/x zone, or ideally, an adjusted zone based on the batter's height to set it slightly higher or lower. Maybe it'd be a half second delay in making a call on a close pitch? Worth it to get more of those right - especially the ones called wrong that aren't even close. It's a joke when it seems like a fan sitting on his couch can make better ball/strike calls than the some of the umps behind the plate.
 

irinmike

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Its time for baseball to move into the 21st century. The technology available today could easily be adapted to baseball. When tennis, at the highest levels, transitioned to line monitoring technology, it instantly stopped all of the silly argumentative dialogue between officials and competitors out of the game. Baseball can do the same thing, because it has become painfully obvious that umpires behind the plate are no longer able to call balls and strikes consistently.
 

In my lifetime

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How about starting with the umpire reviewing each pitch on his own between innings on a monitor with a "k zone" like feature to get some immediate feedback on his strike zone, consistency and tendencies?
Then progress to a chip in the middle of each ball and the plate, which would indicate if the ball crossed the plate, leaving the umpire only responsible for the relative height of each pitch.
 

NoXInNixon

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It is well past time. I'm baffled by why it hasn't been done already. Who, exactly, is opposed to the idea, the players or the owners? It can't be terribly expensive to do.
 

Kremlin Watcher

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It is well past time. I'm baffled by why it hasn't been done already. Who, exactly, is opposed to the idea, the players or the owners? It can't be terribly expensive to do.
Not baffling at all. The umpires' union will be dead set against this. They would strike rather than agree to this.
 

riboflav

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It is well past time. I'm baffled by why it hasn't been done already. Who, exactly, is opposed to the idea, the players or the owners? It can't be terribly expensive to do.
I would think the umpires union would oppose it.
 

riboflav

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Its time for baseball to move into the 21st century. The technology available today could easily be adapted to baseball. When tennis, at the highest levels, transitioned to line monitoring technology, it instantly stopped all of the silly argumentative dialogue between officials and competitors out of the game. Baseball can do the same thing, because it has become painfully obvious that umpires behind the plate are no longer able to call balls and strikes consistently.
What you call silly, others call highly entertaining. I still watch some of the old fights on youtube from time to time.
 

geoduck no quahog

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Just coordinate pay with performance. Bad game(s)? Your pay goes down. Good ones? Up.

And fire guys like Kulpa, who are obviously no longer capable of performing reliably.

Oh wait. Unions.
 
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mauf

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Not baffling at all. The umpires' union will be dead set against this. They would strike rather than agree to this.
The players' union would object too. Imagine the impact that such a rule change would have on the career earnings of a player like Christian Vazquez.

I would like to see ball/strike calls made by technology, but I am skeptical it will happen until we reach the point that AI replaces on-field umpires entirely.
 

snowmanny

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The problem is that some players are so much better at throwing balls and strikes than the umpires are at calling them or as batters their eye is better than the umpire's. It detracts from the game to have elite athletes whose skills are mitigated by less than elite officials. McEnroe was a hothead but he was aiming for the line and hitting it at a zillion mph and the tennis officials couldn't keep up. And so in time they fixed the problem.

This is where we are: the umpires - or at least many of THESE umpires - can't match the skills of the players and everybody knows it. Get better ones or get robots.
 

Kremlin Watcher

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From ESPN this morning:

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Kulpa had 31 missed calls Friday night, tied for the seventh most in a game this season, and the called third strike on Ortiz was 5½ inches below the strike zone.

"The 3-1 pitch, I had it coming through the zone," Kulpa said. "That's why I called it a strike. [Catcher Brian] McCann didn't help me out. He took the ball down a little bit. But the pitch still came through the zone. And the 3-2 pitch, I had it in the zone right down the middle."
That's ridiculous.
 

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How about starting with the umpire reviewing each pitch on his own between innings on a monitor with a "k zone" like feature to get some immediate feedback on his strike zone, consistency and tendencies?
Then progress to a chip in the middle of each ball and the plate, which would indicate if the ball crossed the plate, leaving the umpire only responsible for the relative height of each pitch.
This is basically where I'm at. I'm not convinced that the electronic strike zone deals with height very well at all, but there's no reason you can't have something buzz in the ump's hand in real time if the ball passes over the plate. If you do that, the umps are just getting help east and west to make the final call, and it's entirely on guys like Ron Kulpa when they miss pitches up or down by that much.
 

SouthernBoSox

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I think the irony in this that the 3-1 pitch is a great of example of why not to digitize a strike zone.

If that were a 3-2 pitch in the same situation, and it was called a strike due to a digital strike zone we would all be freaking out.

That pitch is never called a strike. Ever. The fact it was called a strike last night is pretty amazing.
 

iayork

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Just coordinate pay with performance. Bad game(s)? Your pay goes down. Good ones? Up.
Yeah, they already do that. They instituted video review as part of umpire evaluation back in 2010. Perhaps related, umpire performance has significantly improved since 2010, with accuracy increasing from around 95.6% to about 97.5%. That's also the period during which the strike zone has expanded and changed shape, to more closely reflect the official zone as described in the rule book.
Oh wait. Unions.
Oh, right. I guess this didn't happen.

I'm not enthusiastic about digital strike zones, but more because I'm still skeptical about the technology; I think umpires still do better than the readily-available tech would. I also think that robo-zones would have more impact on the game than we think, and probably in directions we wouldn't anticipate; the change in strike zone size has already had major effects on the game.
 

Heating up in the bullpen

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From ESPN this morning:
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Kulpa had 31 missed calls Friday night, tied for the seventh most in a game this season, and the called third strike on Ortiz was 5½ inches below the strike zone.
"The 3-1 pitch, I had it coming through the zone," Kulpa said. "That's why I called it a strike. [Catcher Brian] McCann didn't help me out. He took the ball down a little bit. But the pitch still came through the zone. And the 3-2 pitch, I had it in the zone right down the middle."
That's ridiculous.
Re: the OP, this info shows that it wasn't just the ninth inning.
31 misses out of 287 pitches is 10.8%. What's most surprising to me is that was just the 7th worst-called game of the season.
As with adopting instant replay, I don't think MLB can let this kind of failure to perform continue. It's too obvious to the viewers at home - and on the replays at the ballparks - that these are bad calls. And there's too much at stake for the individual players and the teams. I believe it will be automated, but it's going to be a while before it happens.

And as for Kulpa's quote... duh. Of course he had it through the zone. Is he going to admit he got it wrong? Or that he punched out Ortiz to show him who's boss after the second strike complaint? I hope MLB has a procedure for him to be docked for that bad game.
 

NoXInNixon

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Not baffling at all. The umpires' union will be dead set against this. They would strike rather than agree to this.
Why does the umpires union have enough power to stop this? Let's say they all go on strike and they have to proceed with replacement umps. Who would even notice? We've already got instant replay if they screw up any calls on the bases.
 

iayork

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Re: the OP, this info shows that it wasn't just the ninth inning.
31 misses out of 287 pitches is 10.8%.
Kulpa was pretty bad, but not 31 missed calls bad. Those ESPN stats and similar are all nonsense -- they're based on the rulebook zone, which no umpire in the game ever calls or ever has called. When compared to the de facto strike zone, i.e. the one umpires actually do call, I counted 8 bad strikes and 3 or 4 bad balls. Three or four earlier pitches to LHB closer to the zone than Ortiz's had been called balls. The worst called strike in the game, according to PITCHf/x (but I haven't checked by video, and PITCHf/x isn't always accurate) was to Vazquez, in the fourth inning.
 

Kremlin Watcher

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Why does the umpires union have enough power to stop this? Let's say they all go on strike and they have to proceed with replacement umps. Who would even notice? We've already got instant replay if they screw up any calls on the bases.
Baseball has a pretty abysmal history of labor relations, and the umpires' union has demonstrated solidarity on major labor issues in the past. Rob Manfred doesn't strike me as the kind of commissioner who would want another replacement umpire fiasco on his hands.
 

Marbleheader

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Umpires are still going to get paid, are still going to be required to make fair/foul, safe/out calls. They'll have enough to do. Home plate ump will still need to announce strikes and balls, he's just going to get an audio clue as to what to call. Pitchers and batters shouldn't have to cater to individual umpires' interpretations, whims and agendas. Plus, it eliminates all the bitching about strike calls and will help move the game along. Start it in the minors and see how it goes.
 

Kremlin Watcher

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Umpires are still going to get paid, are still going to be required to make fair/foul, safe/out calls. They'll have enough to do. Home plate ump will still need to announce strikes and balls, he's just going to get an audio clue as to what to call. Pitchers and batters shouldn't have to cater to individual umpires' interpretations, whims and agendas. Plus, it eliminates all the bitching about strike calls and will help move the game along. Start it in the minors and see how it goes.
I don't think many of us around here would disagree with that logical assessment. But we're talking about labor unions here. A typical negotiating stance for a labor union is never give up anything, ever, that might raise the possibility of a hint of a shadow of a doubt as to the infinite future viability of your gravy train. MLB would have to give up a lot to get this through. I'll be surprised if it happens. It should, but I'm pessimistic.
 

E5 Yaz

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Kulpa was pretty bad, but not 31 missed calls bad. Those ESPN stats and similar are all nonsense -- they're based on the rulebook zone, which no umpire in the game ever calls or ever has called. When compared to the de facto strike zone, i.e. the one umpires actually do call, I counted 8 bad strikes and 3 or 4 bad balls.
Just curious, but doesn't this mean that if they eventually digitize the zone, they have to use the rule book zone -- or else completely rewrite what a strike can be? I'm probably wrong, but I've always tended to believe that "robot umps" will call more rulebook strikes than human umps -- and thus piss off players and fans as much as human umps do
 

iayork

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Just curious, but doesn't this mean that if they eventually digitize the zone, they have to use the rule book zone -- or else completely rewrite what a strike can be? I'm probably wrong, but I've always tended to believe that "robot umps" will call more rulebook strikes than human umps -- and thus piss off players and fans as much as human umps do
That would be one of the "unexpected effects" I had in mind. That said, the present zone is much closer to the rulebook zone that it used to be. Of course, that change probably suppressed offense about 10% since 2010. The rulebook zone would probably suppress it still more. I think players with non-average bodies would be more affected, since they're presently getting a zone that's based more on the average player than the rulebook says they should.
 

kieckeredinthehead

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That would be one of the "unexpected effects" I had in mind. That said, the present zone is much closer to the rulebook zone that it used to be. Of course, that change probably suppressed offense about 10% since 2010. The rulebook zone would probably suppress it still more. I think players with non-average bodies would be more affected, since they're presently getting a zone that's based more on the average player than the rulebook says they should.
I agree that's the biggest hold up to instituting robot strike zones. There's a lot about baseball that centers around the pitcher/catcher/ump relationship and it's very hard to anticipate what the consequences would be of changing that. Baseball is a very conservative sport. Look at how slowly the pace rules have been implemented. Calling the strike zone according to the rule book would be a huge deal. It would change things considerably. I bet if you asked most players they might not favor that wholesale change. I think we are more likely to see a tennis style challenge system for specific calls.
 

E5 Yaz

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You would also have to wonder what would happen to the zone on someone with a Rickey Henderson crouch.
 

iayork

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You would also have to wonder what would happen to the zone on someone with a Rickey Henderson crouch.
Just in general, the biggest problem with automatic strike zones isn't the routine pitch to the average player. It's going to be the gaming of the system. The game is filled with smart, obsessive people who have plenty of spare time to think about ways of fooling robots that wouldn't fool a human, and the payoff for successfully messing with the robo-zone would be literally millions of dollars.
 

begranter

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Just make it so each team can challenge ball/strike calls until they get it wrong. My biggest issue with replay is the time managers are allowed to take to decide, so put a timer on it. Umpires are still just as relevant, a team has recourse in a situation such as last night, and the technology is already there. Problem solved. I fail to see how this is anything but a good thing for baseball.

A technical question; the strike zone is 3D, is pitch f/x as well? If not, how difficult would it be to make it so? This is the only hurdle to get this done, in my opinion.
 

iayork

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A technical question; the strike zone is 3D, is pitch f/x as well? If not, how difficult would it be to make it so? This is the only hurdle to get this done, in my opinion.
PITCHf/x is not 3D, which is just one of the reasons it's not suitable for automated ball/strike calls. I think that it would be possible to install equipment that could get at least a nearly accurate 3D view of the zone, though it might be harder than I think.
 

geoduck no quahog

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Assholes like Kulpa are the exceptions, not the rule. I'm pretty sure that once an umpire realizes he's blown a critical call, he strives to make it up quickly...and that both pitcher and batter understand this. Kulpa was pissed off at the Red Sox (and Ortiz) for complaining about his obviously shitty calls in critical situations, and took it upon himself to say, "I'll show you guys who's the boss here...".

That's the attitude that requires disciplinary action, not missing a call here and there.
 

joyofsox

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Assholes like Kulpa are the exceptions, not the rule.
In every single game I watch, there are missed ball-strike calls. The change in the count affects the subsequent pitches in that particular AB and can thus affect how the inning plays out. It's discouraging that MLB is okay with replays on fair/foul decisions and HR calls, but will not do anything about ball-strike decisions - which seem far more important.
 

In my lifetime

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PITCHf/x is not 3D, which is just one of the reasons it's not suitable for automated ball/strike calls. I think that it would be possible to install equipment that could get at least a nearly accurate 3D view of the zone, though it might be harder than I think.
Which is why I suggested a chip in the ball and on the periphery of the entire plate. The ball cuts the plate, a signal goes off. The umpire then calls strike or ball depending on his judgement of the height of the ball relative to the batter's stance. I know there are probably issues which I am missing, but intuitively it does not seem like it would be difficult. And this also gives a human check --- if the umpire think there is something out of kilter, he can call it as he sees it. However, I am sure this would soon be the exception, not the rule. Worst case scenario, it gives the umpire another tool.
 

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Which is why I suggested a chip in the ball and on the periphery of the entire plate. The ball cuts the plate, a signal goes off. The umpire then calls strike or ball depending on his judgement of the height of the ball relative to the batter's stance. I know there are probably issues which I am missing, but intuitively it does not seem like it would be difficult. And this also gives a human check --- if the umpire think there is something out of kilter, he can call it as he sees it. However, I am sure this would soon be the exception, not the rule. Worst case scenario, it gives the umpire another tool.
Not a bad idea, especially if the ump is the only one that can hear the signal. I agree that technology that helps them do their job better instead of showing them up or replacing them is better.
 

geoduck no quahog

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In every single game I watch, there are missed ball-strike calls. The change in the count affects the subsequent pitches in that particular AB and can thus affect how the inning plays out. It's discouraging that MLB is okay with replays on fair/foul decisions and HR calls, but will not do anything about ball-strike decisions - which seem far more important.
Of course there are missed calls. Some are obvious. Some are not, particularly since:

- We don't have a 3-dimensional view of the strike zone
- The strike zone changes from batter to batter
- Camera angles make judging calls on TV impossible

Umpires have done a pretty good job of establishing their own strike zones during the game...and remaining consistent. Part of the appreciation of baseball is watching good hitters and pitchers adjust to that day's strike zone and how they deal with it. I also think it's absolutely valid that a pitcher who can't seem to find the zone gets less benefit of the doubt during a game (and vice versa)...also because the hitters are aware of that and (in one case) are less likely to go fishing or (in the other case) understand they'd better be swinging, similar to their understanding of that game's zone.

In short, both hitters and pitchers understand the ball-strike element of the game and part of their talent is going with it. Most umpires get the calls pretty close (although I wouldn't know since I can't tell a close call from looking at a TV, or a stupid rectangle on a TV). What's unacceptable is inconsistency. What's REALLY unacceptable is vindictiveness.

Dan Plesac kept saying last night that the pitches to Ortiz and Hanley were horrible calls. Amsinger kept referring to the camera shot (and maybe the Fx shot) which showed Strike 2 to Ortiz cutting the plate. Plesac was beside himself trying to explain that that pitch is NEVER called a strike, regardless of the technology and that both hitters and pitchers know this and have always known this. That no decent hitter in his right mind would have swung at either of those pitches because they weren't "iffy".

Home plate umpiring just needs to be consistent and good. Crappy umpires should have their salaries cut (not just be chastised) and good ones should get bonuses...even during the season. There's no excuse for Kulpa to show up hung over last night and take his miserable state of mind and reflex into the game, no matter how grouchy he was. Performance should matter on a daily basis, even if you got shit faced the night or morning before.
 
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AB in DC

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PITCHf/x is not 3D, which is just one of the reasons it's not suitable for automated ball/strike calls. I think that it would be possible to install equipment that could get at least a nearly accurate 3D view of the zone, though it might be harder than I think.
I'd think that getting the correct heights (varying by batter) would be harder.
 

alwyn96

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I'd think that getting the correct heights (varying by batter) would be harder.
This seems like a potentially enormous issue with pitch f/x (and those strikezone graphics they show on the tv screen) that doesn't seem to get much attention. The degree to which pitch f/x is adjusted to the actual rulebook strikezone of each hitter isn't clear to me. I think I heard Speier saying today on NESN that it wasn't, really. If it isn't very well adjusted from batter to batter, in additional to not being 3-dimensional, then we may need to be much more careful with the conclusions we draw from that data.
 

JBJ_HOF

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This seems like a potentially enormous issue with pitch f/x (and those strikezone graphics they show on the tv screen) that doesn't seem to get much attention. The degree to which pitch f/x is adjusted to the actual rulebook strikezone of each hitter isn't clear to me. I think I heard Speier saying today on NESN that it wasn't, really. If it isn't very well adjusted from batter to batter, in additional to not being 3-dimensional, then we may need to be much more careful with the conclusions we draw from that data.
In the early years of pitchfx they had a person make 2 clicks and set the knees and letters height on each batter at the start of every at bat. it took less than a second, I don't know why/if they stopped doing it.
 

alwyn96

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In the early years of pitchfx they had a person make 2 clicks and set the knees and letters height on each batter at the start of every at bat. it took less than a second, I don't know why/if they stopped doing it.
Yeah, I thought I remembered that someone made an adjustment too. Now that I think about it, given that there's like an entire foot or more of difference between the short and tallest players, it seems like the system would be unusable if no one was making an adjustment. Maybe I was misinterpreting what Speier said?

If it is adjusted maybe it just means we need to be careful about the height axis on various pitch maps. It seems like it would need to be on a relative scale if comparing across multiple batters. That's kind of weird to conceptualize, since you would want the vertical axis to be absolute (as the plate width doesn't change).
 
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iayork

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Yeah, I thought I remembered that someone made an adjustment too. Now that I think about it, given that there's like an entire foot or more of difference between the short and tallest players, it seems like the system would be unusable if no one was making an adjustment. Maybe I misinterpreting what Speier said?
They do mark off the bottom and top of the zone, but it doesn't seem to be very reliable; if you believe the marks, there are some 8-foot batters out there. What's more, the umpires don't seem to take player height entirely into account; they partially do, but the zone seems to be heavily skewed toward average even for non-average players.
 

Orel Miraculous

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I find the drive to perfect sports officiating weird. There are three absolute truths that apply to every sport: (1) the rules are completely arbitrary, (2) the outcome is ultimately meaningless, and (3) they exist to be nothing more than an entertaining distraction. I see no need to demand perfection as if Ron Kulpa is launching a manned mission to Mars.

I realize I am solidly in the minority here.
 

luckiestman

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I find the drive to perfect sports officiating weird. There are three absolute truths that apply to every sport: (1) the rules are completely arbitrary, (2) the outcome is ultimately meaningless, and (3) they exist to be nothing more than an entertaining distraction. I see no need to demand perfection as if Ron Kulpa is launching a manned mission to Mars.

I realize I am solidly in the minority here.

I'm with you, all these replays in sports are not enjoyable.
 

MakeMineMoxie

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I'm with you, all these replays in sports are not enjoyable.
Especially for the bang-bang plays on the bases. I think those calls tend to even out over the course of a long season & I don't enjoy a 3 minute break in the action to see if the ball was in the back of the glove or not or if a baserunner came off the bag for 1/1,000 of a second. Sure, I want the calls to be correct but replay should be used to prevent a Don Denkinger-like mistake, not to look at every close play like it was the Zapruder film.

I would much prefer to see MLB change the culture of the umpires. Too many of them are confrontational & often extend arguments instead of letting the player/manager have his say and let it end. Kulpa's actions in that game were just a big "F U" to Ortiz to remind him that "I'M the boss" and that's unacceptable in either a close game or a blowout. As someone said, baseball's the only sport where the official can obviously punish a player for hurting their feelings or "showing them up" and face no consequences.

Instant replay and slo-mo have proven to be a double-edged sword in sports. As viewers we love to see the details of a play slowed down so even we can understand what exactly happened on but we now also demand perfection and the pursuit of perfection can detract from our enjoyment of watching the game.

I don't think we'll see an automated strike zone anytime soon. I think players and umpires develop a feel for the strikezone over many years and to start having an electronic system calling a perfectly defined strikezone would really mess with players zone perception.

I'm probably also in the minority here but many more Kulpa calls like the other night might change my mind!
 

Fred not Lynn

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Remember too that you can't just go and install some expensive, elaborate system that changes a very key piece of the game just at one level...you have to have a way for it to trickle down to the minors, college and high school, too.
 

Bigpupp

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Remember too that you can't just go and install some expensive, elaborate system that changes a very key piece of the game just at one level...you have to have a way for it to trickle down to the minors, college and high school, too.
This wouldn't change a key piece of the game, it would just make it better. A digital strike zone wouldn't change lower levels the same way that replay hasn't changed it.

Speaking in regards to enjoyment of the game, though. Fridays game was the first time that I caught myself being legitimately angry at an umpires call in quite some time. Replay has done a wonderful job of helping in that regard, and I welcome balls and strikes finally being called correctly for the first time in the history of the game.
 

Fred not Lynn

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That's the point, it wouldn't change the lower levels of the game...what it would change is that the top level of the game would have some serious fundamental differences from all the other levels.
 

Bigpupp

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That's the point, it wouldn't change the lower levels of the game...what it would change is that the top level of the game would have some serious fundamental differences from all the other levels.
How is calling a better strike zone a fundamental difference? It's not as if they won't have an umpire behind the plate anymore. MLB umps are already better than umps at other levels; this would make them better - which is a good thing.
 

begranter

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You mean like metal bats? Really that's a ridiculous argument, give me a break.

I also disagree that replays are a bad thing. In professional sports there's no reason not to have the calls made as accurate as possible. The administrating bodies should do their best to integrate any options to make the games called by the rules as seamlessly as possible. We can play the game by the rules; we have the technology.

Let's not forget "because that's the way it's always been done" is the absolute worst reason for doing anything.
 

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bubble burster
SoSH Member
Oct 19, 2008
12,408
My answer is that they should have digitized the zone years ago.

My reason for this is that I've seen hundreds of pitches missed by the umpires that the computer would have gotten right, and last nights pitch 5 was one of about 5 times in all the games I've watched where I wasn't sure the machine got it right.

If that's true even though the machines aren't even 3D, then what the he'll are we waiting for.

I do like Dave OBriens idea of a 2 minute limit on replay. If you have to slow it down to frame by frame an d check 4 angles let it stand c we just don't want guys losing a perfect game because the umpire choked.
 
Dec 21, 2015
1,410
I find the drive to perfect sports officiating weird. There are three absolute truths that apply to every sport: (1) the rules are completely arbitrary, (2) the outcome is ultimately meaningless, and (3) they exist to be nothing more than an entertaining distraction. I see no need to demand perfection as if Ron Kulpa is launching a manned mission to Mars.

I realize I am solidly in the minority here.
On this site, the above point of view could almost be considered nihilist. But, at your insistence, I suppose I'll give the notion of "caring about sports" a defense.

If I want an entertaining, meaningless distraction that I can do whatever I want with, I'll go read some fiction. Like the rest of life, the events we experience have only the meaning we choose to ascribe to them. There is no ultimate, objective decider of "meaning". But in my experience, many people choose to follow sports for a combination of:

1. Ability to relate to large groups of other humans in an increasingly mobile and globalized world where we share fewer and fewer elements of common background with the people we live, work and goof off with.
2. Sublimation of competitive instincts
3. Identification with a region, a legacy bequeathed to you by parents or siblings, or a general attitude or set of principles established by a team or its fanbase (usually implicitly)
4. Taking something complex, like body movements through space and time, and teasing out an understanding of why things happen a certain way or how they could be influenced to be different.
5. People who are really really good at doing something kinesthetic, look really cool when they're doing it. And people like to look at cool things.

With #4, it's no coincidence that there are a ton of lawyers, scientists, software engineers, medical professionals and financiers here on SoSH - on a day to day basis, we all deal with systems so bewilderingly complex, that applying the same thinking to something that isn't literally life or death or of cosmic importance is a welcome relief. #s 1 and 3 don't require any sort of consistency to the application of rules, just that there be a series of events that we can be a part of, or a brand we can identify with, to share that collective experience.

But there is a competitive aspect to sports that it's easy to undervalue. The rules that govern each sport are somewhat arbitrary, but not entirely arbitrary. They start with some basic idea, e.g. "it's really fun to hit a flying ball with a bat really really hard and see where it goes", or "I bet I can take this ball and get it past you guys and put it somewhere". The contest of who is better at that thing, whether it's chess or MMA, starts with that goal, and then develops backwards from there. We can't have the visceral pleasure of beating the living hell out of a flying baseball if we don't agree that, hey, come on, you have to throw it where I can reasonably hit it.

Enforcing the rules of sports preserves our ability to experience the basic thrills of competition, and agree that X is better than Y (at least on this day!). It gives people a structure to go out, move around, get some exercise and look cool while doing it. It gives us a place to test ourselves competitively where the stakes are not life-altering (as with, say, hand-to-hand combat, or hunting...) And it enables that identification with a team that lets us attach so much emotion to the outcomes, even if we have no influence over them.

The whole piling-up of emotional and social and intellectual value that people get out of sports, then, becomes an utter farce if the rules aren't enforced. If the rules that provide some sort of shared, agreed-upon structure are casually thrown out or ignored, or their abuse is seen as minor, it deprives us of any of those benefits. Sports have a winner and a loser, a tightly defined structure, and an element of physical performance. That's what separates it from most other leisure pursuits, e.g. watercolor painting or cake decorating. If the contestants' actions don't determine success or failure - if some random, preventable human mistake can erase an athlete's lifelong hard work and preparation to focus on executing in that moment - that's when sports become truly arbitrary and meaningless. Not before then.

Sports aren't for everyone. And it's certainly possible to ascribe too much importance to them. But the structure they provide gives rise to a different kind of enjoyment in life, one with a bunch of side perks. You stop calling balls and strikes properly - or at least, you tolerate a lack of enforcement when the tools are available to do a better job - and sports might as well be gardening. Why throw all of that away so casually? I think that'd be a mistake.