In July 2014, former MLB outfielder Eric Byrnes called the first pitch on an electronic strike zone in an independent league game between the San Rafael Pacifics and the Vallejo Admirals. The umpire in that game, Dean Poteet, has 40+ years of umpiring experience. This pitch call may be a preview of future MLB pitch calling.
Byrnes, who retired as a big leaguer in 2010 but played with the Pacifics in 2014, suggested to the team to use PITCHf/x, a Sportsvision designed, three camera tracking system. This system has been used in big league parks since 2006 to see how well umps called balls and strikes. However, it has never been used in this way.
As intriguing as this technology is, it also comes with its share of controversy. Baseball purists believe that while umpires may never call every pitch correctly, MLB should not use this technology in its games.
PITCHf/x’s three cameras are placed on the first and third base lines and in center field. The cameras are used to track “the full trajectory of live baseball pitches to within an inch of accuracy.” What this means is the PITCHf/x system tracks the ball from the release point until it crosses home plate. The cameras capture and detect the ball between 40 and 50 times throughout the duration of the pitch.
Byrnes believes that this system could be used to assist umpires rather than replace them. He argues that it wouldn’t eliminate jobs opportunities, it would actually create some. A fifth umpire would be needed behind the plate to monitor the system and relay the call to the home plate umpire.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred expressed concerns about this technology over the All Star Break in Cincinnati. “It’s because of speed,” he said. “It’s because of technology limitations. It’s because, quite frankly, the strike zone is different for every single guy.”
If you are wondering, the camera in center field would adjust the strike zone to fit the batter.
What do you guys think? Should Major League Baseball adopt an electronic strike zone to assist or replace umpires or should MLB leave the balls and strikes up to human umpires?