Which Umpires Do You Want, Human or Robot?1)
In baseball, there are many factors that can change the flow of the game. One of them is the umpires’ call. In baseball, it is very important whether the pitcher’s ball is a strike or a ball, which is determined by the strike zone (S-zone). The S-zone is the space just above the top of a home plate between the batter’s armpit and knees, with a width of 17 inches. If a ball passes anywhere through this zone, it is considered to be a strike. If not, it is called a ball. Where the pitcher has thrown a strike or ball is determined by the umpire who stands behind the catcher. Recently, the S-zone has become controversial and the cause of contention and ordering off the field. On August 1, Park Dongwon playing for Kiwoom Heroes was tossed out for expressing dissatisfaction with the umpires’ idea of the S-zone. Other such situations happened 14 times during the 2019 season. The reason why such conflicts are continuing and causing anger between players and umpires is an “inconsistent” S-zone. Everyone, including players and umpires, admits that it is impossible for the roughly 200 balls thrown in a game to have consistent determination by umpires. However, the fact that an umpire’s S-zone is sometimes subjective according to the team is a problem. In other words, there is inconsistency with the calls, which could favor one team over the other. Because the number of complaints about the S-zone is increasing, the baseball community can no longer overlook the problem.
The solution suggested by the baseball community is to introduce a robot to detect the accuracy of the strike zone. This year, a robot was introduced for the first time in the Atlantic League All-Star Game. The robot umpire is called an Automated Ball-Strike System (ABS), and during those games using ABS, the umpire stood behind the catcher just like a regular game. The difference between this game and that of the past was that the umpire had an iPhone in his pocket and Airpods in his ears. The robot umpire determined whether the pitch was a strike or ball using 3D radar equipment installed directly above the home plate. The human umpire took on an intermediary role of informing players about the call after receiving the call from the robot umpire. After its introduction into the game, arguments became heated. Proponents of the introduction claimed that the robot would reduce unnecessary conflicts between players and umpires as well as maintain consistency. On the other hand, opponents said the robot impeded on tradition and that the robot umpire is unable to recognize a catchers’ framing, a strategy used by catchers to make a ball caught slightly out of the S-zone appear as though it was caught in the zone, tricking umpires. The debate remains on whether robots will be introduced into baseball. However, the most important thing is to keep the flow of the game without incorrect calls by umpires because every ball is important in baseball.
1) Lee Jihyun, ““Reducing Errors” vs “Breaking Sport Tradition””, KidsdongA, July 22, 2019