By Jordan Gold
With the increased use of instant replay in baseball, much has been made the past few years about getting rid of the home plate umpire’s duty to call balls and strikes in favor of “robot umpires.”
Many around the league and in the media are in favor of adding the automated strike zone for numerous reasons, and that includes former New York Mets general manager Steve Phillips.
The main reason why Phillips wants to add the automated strike zone is because he “wants the results to be the results,” he said on The Bat Around June 22. What this means is that he wants balls to be called balls and strikes to be called strikes, regardless of how a home plate umpire feels.
“[Umpires] are being asked to do something that is impossible, and that is to be perfect on every single pitch,” Phillips said. “The idea that you can’t be and we should just accept it doesn’t make any sense.”
MLB has already been experimenting with adding robot umpires, according to the Associated Press. The league recently struck a deal with the independent Atlantic League to test the automated strike zone, among other potential changes to the game. In the Atlantic League, balls and strikes are determined by TrackMan technology that uses Doppler radar to determine a ball or strike. Umpires wear an earpiece to be informed of the call.
One positive to adding an automated strike zone would have on the game is pace of play, according to Phillips. The automated strike zone would speed up the game because it would take away the urge for batters to argue balls and strikes.
“For the hitter there is no more debate, there is no more arguing and there is no one to argue with. You can shake your head, but you’re not going to argue with an umpire or step out of the batter’s box,” said Phillips, the host of The Leadoff Spot on Sirius XM’s MLB Network Radio.
Phillips believes his case for an automated strike zone was strengthened June 16 when San Diego Padres infielder Manny Machado threw his bat to the backstop, threw his helmet to the ground and appeared to unintentionally make contact with an umpire while arguing balls and strikes, which resulted in a one-game suspension.
“The issue of a player getting that violently angry over a missed ball or strike points to the issue that we need to address [with] the automated strike zone because players take it that seriously,” Phillips said. “They look at every at-bat as that important during the course of a game.”
In addition to benefiting the hitters, the automated strike zone could benefit the pitchers, per Phillips. One missed call can lead to many more pitches that would have otherwise been unnecessary had the call been correct. Considering that health is so important for pitchers, an automated strike zone could do wonders in avoiding excessive pitch counts.
One sport that has had success in incorporating a computer to help with tough calls is tennis, according to Phillips.
“They go the system where the cameras tell you whether the ball is in or out and there is no one to argue and people aren’t walking around debating it all,” Phillips said.
In Phillips’ opinion, it’s not a question of if MLB will add an automated strike zone — it’s a question of when.
Phillips said that while he was the Mets’ GM (1997-2003), momentum would build for the addition of instant replay every year at baseball’s winter meetings, and eventually it was added to the game. He thinks the same thing will happen with the automated strike zone.
“I know that the commissioner is a forward thinker and at some point he will be willing to go to the automated strike zone. I know they want to make sure the technology is right and that when we do it that we do it right,” Phillips said. “I would be pushing so hard if I were in the commissioner’s office to make sure we are getting to that point because I think it would be in the best interest of the game.”
To hear more from Phillips, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox