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Major League Baseball wants to deploy strike zone robo-umpires in 2024

'We have an automated strike zone system that works,' commissioner Rob Manfred said.

NEW BRITAIN, CT - JULY 30: A Doppler radar that discerns balls and strikes is pictured at New Britain Stadium in New Britain, CT on July 30, 2019. For the first time, the independent Atlantic League is experimenting with "robo-umpires" during a game between the home team, New Britain Bees, and the Long Island Ducks. The home plate umpire, Timothy Rosso wore an earpiece in which he heard the balls and strikes called. Last month, the independent Atlantic League announced that, in partnership with Major League Baseball, it would be implementing a number of experimental rule changes for the remainder of its season, with the idea they might eventually be adopted at the games highest level. Of those rule changes, none has generated the same type of heated reaction as TrackMan, a computerized system that uses Doppler radar to track every pitch and instantly transmits the result - ball or strike - to an earpiece worn by the home plate umpire. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Boston Globe via Getty Images
Steve Dent
Steve Dent|@stevetdent|June 30, 2022 5:11 AM

Major League Baseball will "likely" introduce an Automated Strike Zone System starting in 2024, commissioner Rob Manfred told ESPN. The so-called robot umpires may call all balls and strikes then relay the information to a plate umpire, or be part of a replay review system that allows managers to challenge calls. "We have an automated strike zone system that works," Manfred said. 

The comments come in the wake of fan outrage over umpire's missed calls in recent games, including a brutal low strike error during a Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins tilt. "Enough is enough. Give me robo umps already," tweeted Grand Rapids ABC sports director Jamal Spencer. 

MLB has been experimenting with robo umps in the independent Atlantic League since 2019. It uses a doppler radar system developed by TrackMan, best known for its golf speed measurement devices. The system works thusly, according to CBS: "Pitch gets thrown, TrackMan tracks and identifies the pitch's location, phone tells umpire whether it's a ball or strike, umpire physically makes the call behind the plate." 

In fairness to umpires, calling balls and strikes with 100 MPH fastballs and hard-breaking curveballs caught outside the zone is no easy feat. But that's exactly why fans, pundits and the league itself thinks that machines should take the job, leaving the plate umpire to judge tags and other more subjective plays. Mechanical systems also made Atlantic league games mercifully shorter by a full nine minutes, according to MLB data. 

Under baseball's new collective bargaining agreement, the league has the right to change rules unilaterally, provided it gives the union a season's notice. Manfred already said that such a system wouldn't be brought in next year, as the new competition committee won't have its first meeting until 2023. Once it does meet, though, the committee is very likely to approve the changes since it's dominated by ownership, according to ESPN

Update 7/1/22 8:35AM ET: This post has been updated to clarify the Atlantic League is an independent professional league, not minor league or Triple-A. 

Major League Baseball wants to deploy strike zone robo-umpires in 2024