From “taking away the human element” to “slowing down the game” the new baseball replay system has not been met without its critics. However, in just over a month of regular season action, 108 calls, 46% of the total reviewed, have been overturned. That’s 108 separate instances whose outcome very well could have flipped the game on its head by missed calls.
Force plays, tag plays, record keeping, stadium boundary calls, and even home runs have all been overturned after just 1 month of action.
But there’s one call that we continue to watch get blown night after night, and that’s balls and strikes. I originally set out to find blatant examples of missed calls, but after sifting through two or three games, I realized anyone reading this article can probably come up with 3 or 4 of them that have gone against their team just from their own memory bank.
When I was a child, I used to play whiffle ball with my friends from the neighborhood. As competitive kids, there were arguments in almost every game. But one thing we never argued were balls and strikes. The reason was because we had a fool-proof black and white system: a fold-up chair. If the ball hit the chair without bouncing it was a strike, if not, it was a ball.
There were pitches that would be nearly un-hittable, but would find a way to hit the chair. The batter would simply tip his cap to the pitcher and say, “nice pitch.”
The moral of the story is the size, shape, location, or anything else about the strike zone simply does not matter. All that matters is consistency. Every pitch was obviously a strike or a ball, there was not even a sliver of grey area.
Major League Baseball has the ability to do the exact same thing with a system called QuesTec. It’s a network of multiple cameras placed throughout the stadium that feed video footage into a computer. The computer analyzes the data, then responds by calling the pitch a ball or a strike. And all of this happens in a fraction of a second.
Tennis uses a similar system, called Hawk-Eye, to declare close calls on the court. When there is a play in question a video board displays the computerized result and the call is made. It’s black and white, in or out.
MLB umpires each have their own distinctive interpretation of the strike zone. It changes from umpire to umpire, and often times it shrinks, shifts, or expands over the course of the game. As humans with emotions, we are susceptible to our surroundings. A missed call early in a game can lead to a make-up call later. A big pitch in the 8th inning with the bases loaded can look different than the exact same pitch in the 2nd with the bases empty.
The umpires can’t help themselves because they are human. So, take the human element out and computerize it. Not everyone will like the strike zone that is created by QuesTec. Pitchers will say it’s too small, hitters will say it’s too high or too low, but none of the complaints will have merit because the zone will be the same for everyone, on every day, in every park.
We’ve already taken the big step by adding replay, now it’s time for the giant leap that will truly make the game better.