When I got the opportunity to test out the new automated ball-strike system (ABS) I knew this was something I had to take advantage of. This new cutting-edge technology was originally rolled into the Atlantic League on July 10th in the Atlantic League All-Star Game. It’s now starting to be rolled in all across the Atlantic League as all teams in the league use it every single game.
I work as a Data Analyst Volunteer for the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, usually working remotely, but I made the trip to Waldorf, Maryland to experience this new ABS system first hand. There was a small group of us that tried it out first hand, consisting of reports and other media members. One by one each of us stood behind Josh McAdams, who was catching a bullpen for Tommy Thorpe. When my turn arrived I crouched behind McAdams in the best umpire impersonation stance I could come up with and settled in ready to experience the first-ever automated strike zone.
I saw four pitches come in, all unable to find the strike zone. To receive the pitch call, I wore an earpiece that was plugged into an iPhone. After each pitch, a computer-generated voice said “ball” in my ear. There was no delay in the call for me, but a few others did experience a delay when they gave it a try. Out of the four pitches thrown to me, only one was a borderline strike. Personally, I thought it was a strike and so did McAdams and Thorpe. Thorpe indicated to McAdams that he wanted to finish his bullpen with a strike and after the last pitch was thrown, they both believed that it was a strike. McAdams got out of his crouched stance and walked out to Thorpe and as he did so, he turned around to confirm that the pitch was a strike. I told him that the pitch was actually a ball but I’m assuming he didn’t want to return to behind home plate to catch another pitch.
From the four pitches that I saw, I definitely believe that this automated strike zone is effective. I know that some parts of it need to be fixed, like the margin of error on pitch location and the occasional issue with repose time, but it does have some strong potential. Especially with Major League Baseball switching to a new radar system next year called Hawk-Eye. This switch will make the automated strike zone more precise. The Atlantic League and Major League Baseball have a three-year deal with this automated strike-zone but I an unsure as to if they will be using Hawk-Eye next year instead of Trackman. However, this three year testing period is going to be very useful for Major League Baseball as they decide what implications an automated ball-strike system will have at their level.
I did get the chance to talk to a few players about their opinions on the automated ball-strike zone, specifically the Blue Crabs center fielder Corey Vaughn. I asked him if he was in favor of this new technology and he expressed that he did not like it because “It isn’t always right” and that “It messes with people’s careers”. I have to say, I do agree with both of his statements. These are professional baseball players and their paycheck depends on their performance. However, I am still in favor of the automated ball-strike zone and this early testing is crucial for it to improve before being implemented at the major league level. Now I am not saying that someday it will be implemented in the majors but the point of it being used in the Atlantic League is to see how it performs at the professional level. If there was no chance of it being used at the major league level than it wouldn’t be seen at any level in professional baseball.
The future of Major League Baseball is unpredictable and an electronic strike zone is something we may or may not see in the game. However, the game is trending in that direction and this new ABS system is the first step. The electronic strike zone is here and it’s only a matter of time before we see it at higher levels.
I also did an interview on the Blue Crabs broadcast which you can find here. The interview takes place over the entire third innings which starts at the 47:29 mark