ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN/AP) — Major League Baseball continues to test its “robot umps” automated strike zone technology, and it’ll be at Dell Diamond this upcoming season.
After nearly four years of testing in independent leagues and lower Minor League levels, MLB said teams in the Triple-A West division will use it to help support the human umpires to make the right calls behind the plate.
One of the markets MLB is “actively recruiting” in to run the system is Round Rock, according to a job posting. Testing had previously been done in the independent Atlantic League, Low-A Southwest division and the Arizona Fall League (an offseason league used to evaluate top prospects).
The system isn’t meant to completely replace human umpires, but rather to support umpires by taking the guesswork out of so-called “borderline” pitches and creating a more unified strike zone.
A system of cameras is placed around home plate that tracks the pitches and then puts locations into an interface on an iPhone, that’s then read by the system operator. The operator relays the result of the pitch, ball or strike through an app to the umpire’s earpiece to make the proper call.
The move by MLB will add two people to the Express’ game operations staff, both employed by MLB, the club said.
“We’re excited to play a role in collecting data to help determine the future of the Automated Ball/Strike System in professional baseball,” said Andrew Felts, a club spokesperson. “We are expecting to learn more from MLB about how this technology will operate on a game-to-game basis closer to Round Rock Express Opening Day on April 5.”
The Major League Baseball Umpires Association agreed in its labor contract that started in 2020 to cooperate and assist if Commissioner Rob Manfred decides to utilize the system at the major league level.
“It’s hard to handicap if, when or how it might be employed at the major league level, because it is a pretty substantial difference from the way the game is called today,” Chris Marinak, MLB’s chief operations and strategy officer, said last March.
Whether the 2022 season will even start on time remains to be seen as ongoing labor negotiations have players and owners at an impasse. The players association is set to give the owners a counteroffer on Monday, and there’s waning hope that Spring Training will start on Feb. 16.