The MLB is testing out Robot Umpires to optimize baseball.

Originally published at: The MLB is testing out Robot Umpires to optimize baseball. | Boing Boing


And more importantly, how long until we replace pitchers with those AI-equipped batting cage pitch machines?

I don’t think it makes sense to replace the pitcher with a baseball cannon.

At least not until there are robot batters, runners, outfielders, etc. Once we get to that point, baseball will become like F1, which is to say exciting.

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Robo-umps are an abomination. It boggles the mind that the same people who complain and moan about inconsistent strike zones are perfectly fine with the absolute inconsistency between ballpark dimensions. An HR in one park is a flyout in another. It’s like if each NFL playing field had different dimensions, or if each NBA court had differing dimensions from the net to the three-point line.

Moneyball begat TTO baseball, and the sport is nearly impossible to watch now. Robo-umps will take us further down the grim TTO path.

The real solution that nobody talks about? Make the ballparks bigger.

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It boggles the mind that the same people who complain and moan about inconsistent strike zones are perfectly fine with the absolute inconsistency between ballpark dimensions.

I don’t hear a lot of “hey, let’s make everything 100% equal”… its more “hey, let’s not let Eric Gregg screw up a game with an inconsistent strike zone”.


I worked with someone whose father was once the third base coach for the Dodgers. He used to say that the strike zone may vary slightly between umpires, but that’s okay. You just want the umpire for each game to be consistent with their strike zone, in calling strikes.

You can’t tell me that each team doesn’t have a data file on each home umpire that outlines their strike zone. At the start of the game, the catcher, the pitchers, and the batters know exactly where the strike zone is for any particular umpire. I also think that a human umpire is part and parcel of the game.


I read the article when it was originally published in the New Yorker. The amateur ump that who was interviewed said that when the game is a blow out and it is getting late his strike zone gets smaller (which I loved). Also, the amateur team that played in a game where the tech company was showing off their wares wanted to buy one of the robo umps. It was a good article.

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Any technology that gets rid of Joe West would be an improvement. He gets honored for longevity, when he is the most inconsistent and deliberately irritating umpire in baseball.


Are there any real arguments against robo umps? Or is it just a traditionalist mindset fretting about hyperbole?

Anything that contributes to the accuracy and consistency of calling balls and strikes is a good thing, even for flesh and blood umpires. Of course I don’t believe even human or robot umps are going to save baseball.

If I was tasked with saving baseball I would bring games back to over the air TV.


Oh man, a pitcher’s best friend.

So no more managers getting tossed? Too bad. I still remember Bobby Valentine getting tossed, and then reappearing in the dugout with sunglasses and a fake mustache, like that was going to fool anyone. (We need more wacky characters in baseball.)


All this, and no one commenting on the game that gave us the artwork used to illustrate the BoingBoing article?

I think it’s an old Avalon Hill game, but I could be wrong.

Everybody knows this, and it’s exactly why I don’t understand the appeal of robo-umps.

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How about a hybrid system?

Umpires continue to call balls and strikes, but the batter or catcher can call for a review (within a very short window of time, like 10 seconds after the call) if they think the ump blew the call.

If the batter or catcher give the review signal, the robo-ump immediately renders a decision on the big screen for everyone to see.

In order for an umpire’s call to be overturned, the ball has to be inside or outside of the zone by more than, say, 1/2 the width of a baseball. That way, umpires still have room to play with, and the review system is only used for overturning egregiously bad calls.

If the ump’s call is confirmed, the team loses their review. If the ump’s call is overturned, the team keeps their review. Give each team just one or two reviews per game.

The Robo-ump’s strike zone is never displayed on screen during a broadcast until a team calls for a review or the 10-second window elapses.

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Exactly. However, robot umps will remove the skill of catchers framing bad pitches and getting the call.


I watch a lot of baseball. It’s always been my favorite sport despite some of its obvious and often mentioned problems like long periods of inaction, arbitrary calls by the umps, etc.

I kinda think that if there had been good technology available to call balls and strikes as the game was beginning and becoming popular, that technology would have been deployed and accepted. An umpire was the best arbiter available at the time. Just as the game has now evolved to allow instant reply to settle some safe/out and fair/foul disputes, simply because we now have the high definition cameras and instant playback to highlight and zero in on the action to make a correct call.

If it can be demonstrated that the technology is sophisticated and accurate enough to correctly call balls and strikes, and still take into account the individual physical characteristics of each player in determining the strike zone for him, there is no reason for the understandable variations and mistakes of the umpires to continue. I’d rather that the game not hinge on whether a particular umpire is feeling cantankerous or magnanimous on a given day. The umpires will still be necessary to control the game and keep it moving.


Classic insanity!

That’s Base Wars for the NES:

Unless you mean the art used for the Base Wars box originated elsewhere?

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I stopped watching NFL when cameras superseded the field judges eye. The notion of physical competition is becoming more like watching music.

Sounds like you reinvented the tennis challenge system.

The last few slam events have been entirely robocalled, and it’s been absolutely fine. (Likely many lower level tournaments as well, but I’m not enough of a tennis nerd to watch those.)