MLB plans to test 'robot ump' technology in spring training games

Mike Oz

The next phase of Major League Baseball’s push toward so-called “robot umps” is coming — to spring training this year.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred appeared on Fox Business on Wednesday and said the league plans to test its new camera-based balls-and-strikes system next month when teams get their preseason warmups in.

"Robots may be an overstatement," Manfred said. "The system actually is a camera-based system. It does call balls and strikes. We're going to be using it during spring training and in some of our minor leagues this year."

League sources told Yahoo Sports the automated system won’t actually be used to call balls and strikes in spring training. The system will be run in test mode and used for prep purposes. It will also be available in nine spring training facilities for use during the Florida State League season, which is one of the Single-A level minor leagues.

The tech has already been tested in the Arizona Fall League and the independent Atlantic League, which has a partnership with MLB to test new rules and technological ideas.

"The way it works is the camera calls the ball or strike, communicates to an earpiece that the umpire has in his ear,” Manfred said. “From the fan's perspective, it looks exactly like it looks today,"

MLB is widening the use of its automated strike zone technology after testing it in the Arizona Fall League. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
MLB is widening the use of its automated strike zone technology after testing it in the Arizona Fall League. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Like with most things — whether sports or just regular life — change is tough. A Baseball America article last August about the Atlantic League called the system “imperfect” but said it will make a significant impact. That was, of course, the first use of the new system.

In the Arizona Fall League, we saw the first player thrown out of a game for trying to argue a call by the robo umps. Still, players believed the system had some quirks but also was promising. That probably isn’t much worse than what players would say about human umpires.

"We believe over the long haul, it's going to be more accurate,” Manfred said on Fox Business. “It'll reduce controversy in the game and be good for the game.”

The increased implementation of the new balls-and-strikes technology comes after MLB and the umpires union agreed to a new five-year contract in December that cleared the way for these changes.

"We think it’s more accurate than a human being standing there," Manfred said. "The current strike zone is designed as three-dimensional, and a camera is better at calling a three-dimensional strike zone than the human eye."

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Mike Oz is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @mikeoz

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