Yesterday, robot umpires made their baseball debut in the Atlantic League. The independent league is working as a sort of guinea pig among rules that the MLB is considering in future seasons. The primary goal of robot umpires is to make the game more efficient. In a way, it certainly could. But the problem is whether the technology can not only mimic a human umpire but also be able to get the call right a hundred percent of the time. After the first game, the verdict is that it can’t.
In the first game last night between the Long Island Ducks and High Point Rockers, robot umpires were considered to do an as equal job that a human umpire would do. There were also a few glitches that were noted like the communication devices losing connection. The home plate umpire lost the connection between the iPhone and earpiece about a dozen times. In that situation, the umpire made the calls. The system was also offline for half of the fourth inning.
Trackman, the company that developed the system, called the game an overall success. However, there are some inconsistencies in the system. One call was missed when the system called it a strike. The ball allegedly shaved the bottom of the strike zone. It was close, but it was still a missed call. Also, there were several times when the pitcher was ready to throw the next pitch, but the call on the previous pitch wasn’t made yet. It was sluggish for the most part of the night. To be fair, it was the first time it was being implemented, but the system didn’t show any significant performance over a human umpire.
While Trackman will continue to monitor and fix glitches during the rest of the season in the Atlantic League, this system has a long way to go to make it into the MLB. If it makes it at all. With the MLB trying to shorten game length already, robot umpires could become a setback on that issue. Another issue is the different strike zones and if the system will consistently pick up on a hitter’s size and batting stance. Robot umpires did a decent job, but the possibility of manipulating the system is still there. With player sizes and stances differentiating, there are a lot of variables and kinks to sort out. And it could take years for the system to become something that the MLB would consider using for a trial season.