MLB exploring using tech to help call balls and strikes

If you follow baseball with even a passing interest, you know that nearly everyone’s got a way to “fix” the national pastime. Pitch clocks, moving the mound — there are a million ideas for how to curb waning interest in the sport. Robo umpires have long been on the list, as well, but given the sort of pushback things like instant replay have traditionally received among the fan base, that’s always seemed like a bit of a technological pipe dream.

That, however, is precisely what indie ball is for, apparently. Late last month, Major League Baseball announced a partnership with the Atlantic League, which would use the indie league as a sort of beta testing ground before introducing features into the majors. A whole bunch of rules were announced earlier today, including, most notably (for our sake, at least), an automated system for helping umps call balls and strikes.

The system utilizes TrackMan, a radar system that’s already installed in all 30 major league parks. The tech measures things like pitch velocity, which are used both by teams and in broadcasts. If you’ve watched a game on television in recent years, you’re also aware that broadcast replays report pitch location over the plate — sometimes to the chagrin of the aforementioned human umpires.

But MLB has balked, so to speak, at implementing these technologies as the final arbiter of balls and strikes, believing that the tech isn’t ready for prime time. Seems if all goes well here, we could see it arrive in the majors during an upcoming season to “assist” umps. 

That’s just one of a number of features the league is currently testing. “This first group of experimental changes is designed to create more balls in play, defensive action, baserunning and improve player safety,” MLB SVP Morgan Sword told ESPN. “We look forward to seeing them in action in the Atlantic League.”

Other additions include banning infield player shifts, expanding the distance between the pitching rubber and home plate and strictly limiting mound visits during the game.