A Robot Behind The Plate?

As a technologist and website developer the automated home plate umpire has been something, about the game I love watching, I have been closely watching the news about since I first heard it was being tested in Minor League Baseball a few years back. Add to that the PitchCom device that MLB catchers and pitchers have been testing for a couple years now. This likely would have been added even if the sign-stealing Astros debacle had not occurred in 2017. While the automated home plate umpire is still a little ways off we should still look at the reasons why it is being considered.

Both of these changes directly relate to each other. Also, these two things are absolutely contributing factors to the addition of the pitch clock and batters box rules have been added since the lockout last winter. There are a couple different reasons why I say this.

There is the instant replay debate that has been ongoing the last few years about whether baseball should have instant replay or not. Last year they tested the automated umpire at Triple A and there was a call that got overturned in just a few seconds instead of the two to three minutes that it normally takes for instant replay. This means that using an automated umpire would likely eliminate instant replay while keeping the rules revolving around teams being allowed to challenge a call. Figure each team uses one challenge per game that would speed up the game by 4-6 minutes.

There is also the regular occurrence of a batter arguing balls and strikes with the home plate umpire  and delaying the game. Some of these arguments let to further delay of game situations where their manager came out of the dugout to argue the call too. This is where the PitchCom device that is being used by most teams comes into the automated umpire discussion.

Why, you ask? Simple, the device helps further guarantee that the runner at second base can not steal signs about what pitch will be thrown. Let’s not forget about the did he swing arguments that happen too. While there are very few of these and they are usually caused by an umpire doing his job based on his judgement they are still a contributing factor because the real question isn’t did the batter swing…. nope. The real question is did he go around. In other words, did his bat cross the front of home plate. 

If teams were required to use PitchCom this would make having an automated umpire seem more realistic and would likely fully eliminate an average of five to seven minutes of game time that gets ways by arguments. Many fans would say that these arguments are part of the game and help keep the game interesting. I totally agree with that. However, I have been to my share of games which went longer than most movies. Add to that the number of games I’ve watched on TV that also went longer than most movies.

An automated home plate umpire would help speed up games following the aforementioned rules which already help to speed up games by an average of approximately twenty minutes. In an ideal world the new rules will go away when and if they bring an automated home plate umpire to the big leagues. Let’s be realistic though the new rules will likely stay causing games to be a few more minutes shorter on average if the automated home plate umpire becomes a reality.

At the end of the day, baseball is the only major sport that has no time limits and extra innings can cause the game to take literally an entire day. As a result, the fan in me would love to see the game played the right way in a shorter period of time because it would keep me on the edge of my seat for less time in the intense moments when my team is rallying from behind or imploding to blow a game. The average baseball game takes three hours. If that could come down and be closer to the 2 hours and 15 minutes that an average basketball game takes I would enjoy the games more.

With that… it is time to play ball!

If you cannot play with them, root for them!


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