We’ve now seen eight games with the Robot Umpire – also known as the Automated Ball/Strike System, or ABS – and we can share some initial impressions.
First and foremost, the system is completely invisible. A fan watching the game without knowledge that a computer is calling balls and strikes would never know the difference. This is actually going on in PCL ballparks right now – just last night , I swear I heard some fans yelling at the umpire after a borderline pitch late in the game. Maybe they were yelling at the computer, I don’t know.
Players and coaches have told me that the computer strike zone seems larger than the human zone. Specifically, pitchers have told me that they are getting strike calls on the upper outside corner of the zone (from the hitter’s perspective) that they were not getting from humans. This matches plots of human umpire strike zones, which have more of an oval shape, while the computer is calling a rectangle.
Umpires have told me that they are receiving the audio call from the computer instantaneously – even on pitches in which the batter swings. So you will sometimes see hitters swing and miss at a pitch, and then ask if it was a ball or strike.
What you won’t see are arguments about balls and strikes. The computer has silenced a previously very vocal part of the game: there is no more bitching and moaning. We’re not only talking about batters and catchers complaining about balls and strikes, but the non-stop, game-long chirping from the dugout is over, too. I’ll admit to kind of missing that – although the umpires don’t.
After just eight games, it’s hard to imagine this system not being used in the majors very soon. There will be some slight tweeks along the way, adjusting the zone, and there will need to be some certainty that the computer system is calibrated exactly the same from ballpark to ballpark, but I think we are close to seeing this in the big leagues – perhaps as soon as 2023 or 2024.
There is the occasional single pitch that presents bad optics, and get shared on social media, making the whole system look bad. An umpire showed me one from a game in which he had the plate: a curveball started way inside on a batter, sending him backing away from the pitch, but it broke back in and clipped the very inside edge of the computer zone for a strike… and the catcher was crossed up, expecting a fastball outside so he reaches back and can’t catch the pitch. So your highlight has the batter backing away from the plate, the catcher reaching for and missing a pitch that goes to the backstop, and an umpire calling it a strike. But, the crazy thing is, it actually was a strike – and the umpire said that if it wasn’t an automated system, he would not have called it one.
Another thing about the Automated Ball/Strike System that fans don’t see: the computer system is installed on a towering rack that fills up a booth next to the press box in all of the stadiums. And this system heats up quite a bit, and apparently needs to be powered up for 24 hours a day, so it has a hefty ventilation system. The ventilation fans can be extremely loud – the tower in Salt Lake’s press box is so loud it sounds like an airplane taking off, and it was seeping into the background noise on our broadcast. It seems to me that these systems should actually be installed in a basement at the stadium, or perhaps in an office complex down the street – heck, couldn’t it all be operated out of the MLB offices in New York? They take valuable space that the teams were previously using for something else.
YESTERDAY: Las Vegas won a pitcher’s duel on Wednesday night, 3-1, scoring a pair of runs in the top of the ninth inning on bloop hits. Tacoma’s Tommy Milone and Las Vegas starter Jared Koenig locked horns, with Billy McKinney‘s first inning homer the only run of the game until the bottom of the eighth. Zach Green hit a two-out RBI double to tie the game before Vegas rallied to score twice in the ninth. The series is now tied, 1-1.
TODAY: Las Vegas Aviators (23-21) at Tacoma Rainiers (16-28), 7:05.
OPPONENT AFFILIATION: Oakland A’s.
OPPOSING MANAGER: Fran Riordan.
SEASON SERIES: Las Vegas leads, 5-3.
PITCHERS: RHP Adam Oller (2-0, 1.38) at RHP Konner Wade (1-0, 2.57)
Wade is the reigning PCL Pitcher of the Week, winning the award after tossing six innings of two-hit shutout ball at Sacramento.
ROSTER MOVES: It is conceivable that we may not have any roster moves today.
HOT HITTERS: Marcus Wilson has homered three times during his last seven games, and he has reached base in eight straight games… Joe Odom has a five-game hitting streak… Brian O’Keefe has reached base with a hit or a walk in 14 of the 15 games he has played in this season… Erick Mejia has reached base in seven straight games. He has four home runs in his last seven games, and he is batting .297 with six HRs and 19 RBI during the month of May.
OPPONENT NEWS: The Aviators beat the Rainiers four out of six games when the two teams played in Las Vegas at the end of April… catcher Shea Langeliers is a highly rated prospect; he homered four times against Tacoma in April… Las Vegas has former Tacoma reliever Parker Markel in the bullpen… infielder Nate Mondou is from Lake Tapps, and he attended high school in Tacoma at Charles Wright Academy, although he is currently out with a hamstring injury… Drew Jackson has a nine-game hitting streak.
BROADCAST: All games will be broadcast free on a live audio stream which is available right here.
Unfortunately, there is no traditional terrestrial radio station carrying the games at this time.
PCL SCOREBOARD: Follow all league games in real-time with links to broadcasts and Gameday screens right here.