A View From Behind The Computer Screen #RoboUmp

In Baseball, Blog, Sports by Eric Byrnes6 Comments

When the San Rafael Pacifics approached me about returning this summer to celebrate the second annual Pat Tillman Foundation nights, I immediately began brainstorming different ways in which we could appropriately honor Pat’s memory.

By all accounts Pat was a very forward thinker.  He was somebody who would constantly challenge societies norms and status quo’s frequently levied upon us.  Just because things have always been done a certain way was absolutely no reason to not find a better or more efficient way to accomplish the same feat.

We as a society are constantly evolving with the ever changing technological world that we live in.  For well over a decade we have had the ability to accurately call balls and strikes with an automated system using 3 different cameras which track the ball 40-50 times from the time the ball leaves the pitchers hand until it crosses home plate.  This technology has now been implemented into almost every single television broadcast as well as when you watch a game on the Internet.

Something to me seems disturbingly wrong with the fact that anybody in the world can see whether or not a pitch was a ball or a strike by the true definition of the strike zone immediately after it crosses home plate EXCEPT the person actually having to make the call.

For me, this is unacceptable and a major injustice within the game of baseball.  The moment I realized this technology was available, I have begged and pleaded for the automated system to be installed.

When I brought up the idea for us to automate the strike zone for the two Pat Tillman foundation games the Pacifics were all for it.  Then,  when Sportsvision agreed to set up their technology my dream became a reality.  For the first time in the history of professional baseball balls and strikes would be determined by a computer, not a human.

Of course it was a bit awkward for everybody involved.  Both catchers tried to consistently frame pitches.  The home plate umpires couldn’t help themselves by making strike calls, and players needed to get used to what exactly is the true definition of the strike zone.   Pitchers benefited by the total height of the zone while hitters definitely benefited by the width.

Overall, the two #RoboUmp games could not have gone more flawlessly.  To keep the spirit of the games at the forefront I donated $100 to the Tillman Foundation for every strikeout and walk totaling $4600 over the course of the two days while the Pacifics donated $1 for every ticket sold.

Umpires at the major league level are the best in the world at what they do.  They continuously have a ball/strike success rate of well over 90 percent.  Ironically, the umpires use the exact same technology to grade themselves that was implemented into the two games last week.

The major difference between any MLB game and the two Pacific Association games was that the ball/strike success rate of the Independent League games was 100%.  There are many baseball traditionalist who think above 90% is good enough and they enjoy the “human element” of the game.  For me, the human element I fell in love with as a 9 year old kid has been and always will be the players… Not the umpires.

Last night, Kevin Plawecki was leading off the bottom of the 3rd inning and worked the count full before walking on a borderline pitch up in the zone.  Immediately every single viewer watching on TV at home or on the Internet could tell that instead of ball 4 the pitch should have been called strike 3.  The next two guys were promptly retired which should have been the end of the inning.  Instead, Curtis Granderson stepped up and hit a two run home run giving the Mets the lead.  That was followed by a Daniel Murphy homer, a Yoenis Cespedes single and then a Lucas Duda homer.  What should have been an easy 1-2-3 inning turned into a 5 run 3 homer barrage.  All because of one missed call.

Ultimately, I have absolutely no desire to get rid of the home plate umpire or any other umpire on the field.  Just like instant replay, the only thing I would like to do is give them the necessary tools to get the call right every time.   Once the umpires union realizes that an automated strike zone will make their job easier and potentially create another on site umpiring job opportunity I don’t see any reason why MLB and the MLBPA would not agree to immediately begin using the automated system to determine balls and strikes.

If I were to have writen an article such as this 150 plus years ago I would have been limited to an ink pen and a piece of paper.  Then, in order to get people to read it I would have had to stand on a city block handing out duplicated hand written copies.

Fortunately, as in many other arenas in life, technology has prevailed.  Around the middle of the 19th century the type writer was invented and eventually became available for widespread use.  The copy machine was created by Chester Carlson in 1938 and then by the 1980’s word processors and personal computers took reign.

Today, I am currently writing this on my 3 inch mobile device 37,000 feet somewhere above middle America.  Upon completion in about 3 minutes from now I will press the publish button which will then post it to my website.  From there I will send out a link to the article on my Twitter account which directly connects to Face Book where it will be published as well.  Between the two, the article will reach nearly 50,000 people with the click of one button.

As much as I appreciate good calligraphy and social interaction with people on the street, forgive me for utilizing the 21st century world of technology.  MLB should give it a try with the strike zone, it makes life a lot easier!


  1. Hi Byrnsey – One question. When you mentioned the batters benefited by the “width,” can I assume you meant “lack of extra width” since no pitcher was going to get a called strike on a pitch off either side of the plate? In any case, well done! People in power should take notice of what you’ve done here, but until then, Joe West.

  2. I would like to share with you a letter that I sent to Commissioner Manfred on this subject. If you will reply to me with an address, I will gladly send you a .pdf copy.

  3. Hi, Eric!
    Earlier this year I caught your segment on Real Sports on HBO and was really intrigued. The points and issues you brought up are totally valid and do need to be addressed.
    Your partnership with Sports Vision was a great first step. I work in the IoT industry and am exposed to lots of cutting edge technology and I believe there is a potential solution here where both sides can meet somewhere in the middle.
    The idea I have you may have already explored, but in watching the show again today, there was no indication of it.
    It would be great if we could discuss my idea and if you believe it is viable, I would love to partner with you to see it through. I can even demonstrate what I am envisioning as I manage a center for technology in downtown San Francisco.
    I hope to hear from you and to maybe make a positive impact on the sport I love so in 2017.

  4. I have been for machine assisted or entirely call balls and strikes for 15 years. I have had long discussions off the record with professional umpires who have told me the best of them Great out at about 11% to 12% miss rate. This jibes with the HBO Real Sports story I just watched.
    What seems to get left out of or short shrift in this story is that the “human factor” is the ATHLETES THEMSELVES !
    As a three sport athlete I always wanted the best and most accurate possible calls available fully understanding that officials are human and not perfect. The key however in sport is to reward the athlete for their practice and mastery of their bodies, judgement and execution.
    I want Edgar Martinez rewarded for knowing a ball is three quarters of an inch outside. I want Felix Hernandez to be rewarded for dropping a nasty ball right at the base of the strike zone. I DO NOT WANT an Umpire’s human foibles foisted on either the batter or the pitcher.

    Reward the athlete for their human expertise. That is the humanity of the game.
    And by the way there still plenty for the Homeplate umpire to do foul tips, calls at the plate, hit batsman….

  5. A lot of the things you claim is supprisingly legitimate and it makes me ponder why I hadn’t looked at this in this light previously. This article really did switch the light on for me as far as this specific topic goes. Nevertheless there is actually one particular factor I am not too cozy with and whilst I try to reconcile that with the central theme of the issue, let me see exactly what the rest of your visitors have to say.Well done.

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