Robots in Baseball? The Possibility of an Automated Ball/Strike System in the MLB
By Kevin Mitchell
Since 2019, The MLB has partnered with various independent baseball leagues, including the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball. The MLB partnered with the Atlantic League with the intention of doing rule testing, including a new shift rule, the runner on second in extra innings, larger bases, and of course the Automated Ball Strike system.
In case you haven’t heard, the Automated Ball Strike System, or ABS System, calls balls and strikes with technology, like how you see it on TV. Attached on the press box roof of ballparks, looking over home plate, is a tablet like device that reads the pitch. The umpire has an iPhone attached to his hip, with a headphone in one ear and the device then relays to the umpire whether the pitch is a ball or a strike. The device can also determine the batter’s strike zone by putting in the player’s height into the system.
For the most part, the ABS system has been a success. There has been a few hiccups along the way, especially with pitches in the dirt. However, you have to remember that while this ABS system was created and implemented in 2019, it was only used in the Atlantic League for that season and the 2021 season due to the 2020 Atlantic League season being cancelled due to Covid, so there is still room for improvement. That being said, the possibility of implementing this type of challenge into the MLB is tantalizing.
Do I think the new ABS system will be in the MLB soon? No. I still think it has a way to go before it is ready in the MLB. However, the MLB clearly liked what they saw out of the ABS system because it is now in all Triple-A ballparks for the upcoming season. So while you won’t see actual robots in the MLB, I think the Automated Ball Strike System could be added to the MLB’s replay system, using it to challenge an umpire’s call as seen in the above video. This would be similar to how soccer does it with their VAR system. With plenty of controversy around certain umpires and their ability, or lack thereof, to call a fair game behind the plate, the ABS System could prove invaluable to the sport in the future.