The dilemma of using computers and robots to call balls and strikes has been around for more than a decade now, but we had yet to see the practice implemented. That is, until now, after the so called "robo-umps" have finally debuted in the Atlantic League, and independent baseball league, which plans to use them for the rest of their regular season.
For those that are unfamiliar, the robo-umps in question are not meant to replace any umpire other than the one behind the plate calling balls and strikes. All the other umpires, including 1st, 2nd, and 3rd base umpires, will still be present to make on-field calls. The robo-umps are solely for strike calling. An earpiece will relay the exact call to the home plate umpire so he can show visually and verbally show the call.
But you still need the home plate umpire in order to relay the message and also to override the system in many cases, like that of a ball that bounces into the zone, an obvious missed ball or strike, foul balls and with hit batters. And with the power to override the robo-ump, what is the point in the first place?
But why do we actually want to use these robo-umps? A huge part of baseball is based on how pitches are presented and how batters and pitchers alike work counts to their favor. If you completely replace the human system, you take out a huge aspect of how baseball's human reward system works.
For example, say a pitcher was struggling and ended up in a 3-0 count, about to walk a hitter. Now, the pitcher throws a pitch that does not catch the zone but is one inch away from doing so, technically a ball. Almost every umpire in the game, and myself included, would call that pitch a strike because of its location and out of sympathy for the pitcher.
The same goes the other way as well; say a batter was struggling this time and ended in a 0-2 count, about to strike out. Now, the pitcher throws a pitch that catches 1% of the zone, technically a strike, and again, most umps and myself would call this pitch a ball, out of sympathy for the pitcher. This "human reward system" is a major part of baseball and in my opinion is one of the defining factors of the game.
Another factor to consider would be the lost value of catchers who frame pitches to get favorable calls from an umpire. What I mean by "framing" is an act by a catcher to make a ball appear as if it is a strike in hopes of getting a strike call from the umpire. If this part of the game is taken out, many players that are known for their pitch framing, especially Tyler Flowers (considered the best pitch framer in Major League Baseball), would lose their value. Not to mention that this skill aspect of the game would disappear forever.
But on the flip side, a huge game in the World Series could not be ruined by an absurd call on a singular pitch from an umpire. With good technology, balls and strikes become more fair and players will have less to gripe about. Ejections will decrease, and both hitters and pitchers will know if they are actually at fault or if the umpire is not on their side.
So, do we really want to see robot umpires make their way into Major League Baseball? I say no, but that is for you to decide on your own.