Welcome to the Wednesday edition of The Cooler, where hopefully I still do this job better than a robot would. Let’s get to it:
*As technology has evolved in life and sports, altering so many things about our day-to-day existence, a movement has emerged among baseball enthusiasts to use Pitch f/x tracking data to call balls and strikes.
The shorthand for this is “robot umpires,” which maybe creates more than a scare for purists than is necessary. There obviously wouldn’t be a sleek non-human behind the plate. A human would still be there. But instead of that human, with vision limits, biases and interpretations calling balls and strikes, calls would be determined instead by tracking data.
The movement has had fits and starts, but it probably gained some traction Tuesday when the Yankees were eliminated by the Red Sox with a 4-3 loss in the ALDS Game 4.
After the game, Yankees starter CC Sabathia did not hold back his thoughts about home plate umpire Angel Hernandez (who also had a rough series on the bases).
“He’s absolutely terrible,” said Sabathia, who was lifted after just three innings. “He was terrible behind the plate today. He was terrible at first base. It’s amazing how he’s getting jobs umpiring in these playoff games.”
These things get magnified in the postseason, but they only underscore just how hard it is to call balls and strikes.
MLB used to claim that umpires got 97 percent of ball-strike calls correct, which obviously isn’t perfect but would certainly be acceptable for something so subjective. But HBO debunked that a couple years ago with a study of more than three years of pitch data showing the figure was more like 88 percent.
The study drilled down further and found that for borderline pitches — those within two inches of the corners of the plate — umpires missed a whopping 31.4 percent (or close to one of every three pitches).
Commissioner Rob Manfred said earlier this year that baseball is moving closer to “robot umpires,” at least from a tech standpoint.
“I think we are much closer than we were a year ago to having the technological capability to actually call the strike zone,” Manfred said. “The accuracy is way up — way better than what it was a year ago. The technology continues to move … and it actually moved a little faster than I might have thought.”
Moving to technology-based ball-strike calls wouldn’t eliminate the need for a home plate umpire, who would still call check swings and plays at the plate, among other things. And a switch could actually have the added benefit of improving pace of play. If Pitch f/x says it’s a strike, there’s nothing for a pitcher or batter to gripe about. One strike zone, uniform across all games.
Maybe pitchers would actually throw some strikes and hitters would actually swing the bat?
*This is the second year in a row the Wild has had a weird four-day break after playing just two games. Last year Minnesota was idle from Oct. 8-11; this year the Wild four-day break started Sunday and continues through today before a game Thursday against Chicago (which, coincidentally, was the Wild’s opponent after the early mini-bye last year).
It’s also worth noting that the Wild started slow last season with a 1-2-2 record through five games and a 5-7-2 mark through 14 games before rallying to reach 100 points and make the playoffs yet again. So the slow start in two games this season isn’t good, but it’s not panic-worthy.