In The Dead Of Winter, Welcome Baseball Ethics News

The Athletic’s Jayson Stark reports  that automated ball and strike calling is now inevitable, and we may see it as early as 2022. He writes, “The mental games used to inch the strike zone this way or that has long been a tool of the game’s best – from the hitters whose impeccable eye define it, to the pitchers’ whose pinpoint control push to expand it – but an automated zone will all but abolish the in-game politicking of the strike zone, giving hitters a new advantage they have long been without: certainty. Robot umpires will define the strike zone with better precision than their carbon-based forerunners – but first the humans must decide what they want that strike zone to be. For those particularly fond of strike zone drama, appreciate it now, because deciding on the parameters of the automated zone might be one of the last great strike zone debates before the robots take over.”


Once computer graphics allowed TV viewers to see blatantly botched ball and strike counts in real time, this development became a serious matter of trust and integrity. The baseball Luddites who continue to argue that missed ball and strike calls are part of baseball’s charm and should be retained  as “the human factor” have sounded progressively more desperate and ridiculous as the seasons pass.

Statistical analysis has shown decisively how much a bad ball or strike call even early in the count can change the outcome of an at bat and a game. Look at this chart:

A one ball one strike count, or 1-1, results in an average batting average of .332. But if that one ball is miscalled a strike, the average plummets to .157, less than half. This or the reverse occurs many times in most games. No, it doesn’t “even out.” It’s wrong, and it changes games constantly, even more frequently than the strikeout or the base on balls that a replay shows was the result of a bad call. For decades, the losse talk about how this umpire had a high strike zone and another umpire had a “tight” zone caused fans like me to tear our hair out—yes, even back when I had hair. There is only one strike zone, and allowing umpires to have their own personal strike zones is crazy, especially when there is technology that eliminates the problem.

The robo-umps cannot arrive quickly enough for me.

I wonder if someone can develop robo-journalists?

13 thoughts on “In The Dead Of Winter, Welcome Baseball Ethics News

  1. >> I wonder if someone can develop robo-journalists?

    The actually exist, and large news organizations are looking into them for more and more stories. Right now, they are only useful for highly structured data, such as financial information and some sports statistics. They are little better than Mad-Libs with blank spaces for the most up-to-date data.

    • Natural-language AI writing software has been improving in leaps and bounds over the past year or two. It’s a lot better than “fill-in-the-blank” now, and can generate a much wider variety of content than just strictly-structured data-driven stories:

      Every story there is written by software. There are still occasional grammatical flaws or odd turns of phrase, but no more than you’d find in the average Guardian piece. Some years back, when there were standards in journalism and reporters could write in proper English, AI-generated content would be more glaringly obvious. But thanks to the poor quality work that most journalists produce nowadays, their jobs can be automated away. A computer can write crappy content just as well as a human now.

      Give it two or three more years, and AI-generated writing will be better than most journalism school graduates can produce, and it will be able to generate hundreds of articles per day. Lower-level reporters better start “learning to code” right now, to get a jump on the competition.

  2. I assume that this change will have a significant effect on player statistics. Will we see annotations in the record for pre- and post-AI batting and pitching numbers? And the new stats will likely affect contract negotiations as well. A ripple effect through MLB culture.

    • Why would it? The effect of the floating strike zone is not in one direction or another. The strike zone has been changed many timse, sometime dramatically, just like the ball’s “liveliness” changes.

      • I’m guessing that a more accurate strike zone (and my thought is that this is what would result from the use of AI) Is going to result in more pitches being thrown into a spot where batters can hit them, at least in the near term. Or perhaps more walks. I defer to the baseball experts here, but it would seem to me that this change will make a noticeable difference in both pitching and batting stats.

  3. I remember a game several years ago in which a pitcher – a journeyman – was jamming up the Red Sox. Runners were on the corners and two down when a beauty of a change froze the batter. Strike three! Stevie Wonder would have “seen” this strike. Not even close or was it? Ball! Now 3-2 and a walk and followed by two hits and four runs and goodbye game and the pitcher got sent packing to 3A the next day.

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