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Baseball League to Let Computer Call Balls and Strikes

“It missed 500 pitches in April, and when I say it missed 500 pitches, that didn’t mean they called them wrong. They didn’t call them at all,” Umpire Joe West said.

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The independent Atlantic League has announced that it will allow a computer to call balls and strikes starting on April 25.

The league also said that it will reduce the distance between home and first base by three whole inches. In addition, the league plans to lengthen the ground between the mound and home plate by two feet.

“The 60-foot-6-inch distance between the front of the pitching rubber and the back point of home plate has been standard since 1893,” the Associated Press reported. But Major League Baseball has agreed to experiment this season.”Pitchers there will have to get used to 62 feet, 2 inches this summer,” the AP noted.

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Pitchers will have to work to get used to the distance, but it is umpire who may have the bigger learning arc.

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Plate umpires will wear earpieces and be informed of ball/strike calls by a TrackMan computer system that uses Doppler radar. Umps will have the ability to override the computer, which considers a pitch a strike when the ball bounces and then crosses the zone. TrackMan also does not evaluate check swings.

“The beauty of baseball is that it’s not foolproof. You’ve got to hit a round ball with a cylindrical bat square, and then you’ve got to get it past people,” said Joe West, who umpired his first big league game in 1976. “The game is typically American. It’s always somebody else’s fault when they lose — and usually it’s us.”

Of course, the umpires are not very thrilled with the computer calling system. MLB has toyed with its QuesTec system bore but umpires thoroughly slammed it. Then MLB tried the PitchF/x system and then the TrackMan system.

Umpire Joe West scoffed at the attempts MLB tried with the TrackMan system.

“It missed 500 pitches in April, and when I say it missed 500 pitches, that didn’t mean they called them wrong. They didn’t call them at all,” he said.

There is nothing wrong with tinkering with the game, granted. But these computer programs seem to be a big waste of time.

There are some other changes coming up for the 2019 season, as well. Per the AP:

  • Infield shifts will be restricted by requiring two infielders to be on each side of second base when a pitcher releases his pitch. Infielders also will be prohibited from setting up on the outfield grass.
  • Each pitcher must face at least three batters or complete the half-inning, unless injured.
  • Between inning breaks will be cut from 2 minutes, 5 seconds to 1:45.
  • Mound visits are banned, except for pitching changes or medical issues.

Some worry that baseball is too slow for this new, modern age.

I guess we’ll see if these changes will help.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.

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