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Bob Brenly: robot umps now

May 22, 2013, 12:30 PM EDT

Black Hole Robot

He didn’t actually use those words, but I kinda wish he did because I have a lot of fun with the “robot umps now” thing on Twitter. But Brenly does tell Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic that he thinks the game is too fast, the technology is too good and the calls are too important for baseball to put up with continuing to miss them:

“We’ve got a QuesTec system or whatever they call it now (Pitch-f/x) that’s foolproof. You’re going to get every pitch correct. … I just think in any sport, especially this sport, any time you can eliminate mistakes, whether it’s with technology or different positioning or whatever you can do, I think we owe it to the game to do it.”

…The way Brenly sees it, using the technology available shouldn’t slow the game down. In fact, it might speed things up.

“We sit up in the booth every night and a play happens, and within 15 seconds we know whether it was right or wrong,” he said.

I think he’s right generally. My understanding of QuesTec and similar technology, however, is that it’s not instantaneous and that, as such, you couldn’t exactly go to robot ball and strikes calls now unless you feel like waiting several seconds to hear what each pitch was.

But he’s not wrong about the direction of technology and that fact that we can get most of the calls right now if we wanted to.  Baseball just doesn’t want to.

  1. number42is1 - May 22, 2013 at 12:36 PM

  2. captainwisdom8888 - May 22, 2013 at 12:38 PM

    In a not too distant future, I can see some sort of technology being utilized to better call Balls and Strikes at the plate, but there will always be a place in the game for human refs on the field. Replay can still be used to make sure calls are right, but the game is better off with umps making quick calls on the fly, with replay being a correcting mechanism.

    • stlouis1baseball - May 22, 2013 at 12:41 PM

      Thanks for bringing the wisdom Captain.

  3. blacksables - May 22, 2013 at 12:43 PM

    What happens if the system breaks, or develops a soft-ware glitch, or has any kind of problem?

    Do you suspend the game until a new system can be put in place? You wouldn’t be able to use an umpire. If people aren’t trained in calling balls and strikes (and they wouldn’t be under this system), then you can’t expect them to step in after a malfunction and do it.

    No system, of any kind, is 100% perfect, or foolproof. There can always be any number of problems. So this once again brings up the question I always ask.

    What happens when you replace umpires with a ‘better’ system, and the ‘better’ system doesn’t work?

    • historiophiliac - May 22, 2013 at 1:30 PM

      But look how those new bullpen phones are working out.

    • paperlions - May 22, 2013 at 1:42 PM

      There is a giant chasm between perfect and what umpires provide. Yes, let’s make up the worst possible scenario and use that as a reason to not pursue improvements.

      If you have a home plate ump that is getting real-time feedback on pitch F/X data to call balls and strikes, I am willing to bet that in very short order, that ump’s ability to call balls and strikes on his own would improve greatly (if he is paying attention), because he will learn quickly to anticipate what the results will be. Such a system could be used now to greatly improve umpire training on calling balls and strikes.

      • historiophiliac - May 22, 2013 at 1:48 PM

        Yes, the problem with Joe West is that he needs more feedback.

        /rolls eyes

      • blacksables - May 22, 2013 at 2:04 PM

        paper, why not answer the question?

        What happens when your ‘perfect’ system doesn’t work? What are you going to complain about then?

      • paperlions - May 22, 2013 at 2:15 PM

        I did answer that question. Because the umpires would be working with the system, they would be perfectly fine fill ins if the system ever failed…and they would still be better that the umpires are now.

        Saying the umpires are not perfect and that technology exists to improve the accuracy of the results of the game is not complaining, it is a fact. You are the one lodging complaints with your luddite attitudes toward using technology to perform a job better.

      • blacksables - May 22, 2013 at 2:35 PM

        Which shows you don’t know anything about umpiring. You can’t pull someone out of the stands and put them behind the plate and expect them to call balls and strikes.

        Whether you like it or not, the umpires are highly trained and have been doing it for many years. Take the responsibility away from them and they won’t have the expertise to do it. What’s so hard to understand about that?

        You have to practice your craft to be good at it. No practice, no good.

      • historiophiliac - May 22, 2013 at 3:01 PM

        You can call us luddites, but you are being incredibly naive about this. Systems do not implement themselves and they occasionally have issues. Having a fallback for *when* that happens is just good planning, and having reservations about the benefits of the program or how it will be used is rational. Or, you know, you can just name-call.

      • paperlions - May 22, 2013 at 3:06 PM

        How is there not a fallback? Who has suggested umpires be fired or replaced? No one. People want the calls made using the best technology, no one has suggested that the calls be displayed on the video board with no arbiters on the field.

        These are silly attempts to grasp at straws to justify not doing what should be done….and making up shit in order to outline a nonsensical scenario in the process.

      • historiophiliac - May 22, 2013 at 3:22 PM

        So, you think that Angel Hernandez is going to get feedback from the system and he will automatically make better calls based on this, and if there’s a glitch, it’s just what we have now? I guess you think when people know better they do better, but that is not always the case. You’re such a romantic. It kills me.

      • paperlions - May 22, 2013 at 3:27 PM

        Well, of course, most of the time they won’t be actually making the calls, they will be told what the call is to make….don’t make the call, get fired. That isn’t romantic, just pragmatic.

        …and none of it matters anyway, because baseball lags behind even OK when it comes to keeping up with modern times. Hernandez and West will be dead before such things happen.

      • historiophiliac - May 22, 2013 at 3:30 PM

        It isn’t even pragmatic. It’s like you aren’t even thinking about umps as skilled workers at all or how unions work.

        And thanks for the potshot at the Frying Pan. 😦

      • paperlions - May 22, 2013 at 3:34 PM

        Even Texans think OK is “backards”.

        Well, the task with which the umps are charged isn’t something they are capable of doing….in any other “skilled” labor setting, technology has replaced things being done by hand when it can be done better and more reliably. The umpires union doesn’t get to determine how MLB operates or which rules to enforce. If a new system puts no burden on them, doesn’t decrease their pay or benefits, they have no reason to bitch….they will anyway, it is what people do when change is thrust upon them, but their job is to act as arbiters of MLB games as instructed by MLB…and that’s it.

      • historiophiliac - May 22, 2013 at 3:35 PM

        You know, traditionally, skilled labor resents being treated like monkeys. I’m sure you would resent it like hell. I do.

      • paperlions - May 22, 2013 at 3:43 PM

        Depends, I guess. I love not having to do analyses by hand. I love that software notes spelling and grammatical errors so that I can address them. I love that google scholar has made finding relevant research (even old stuff) very easy.

        Similarly, I know surveyors who appreciate all of the GPS advancements that have made their jobs easier/faster…I know carpenters who love power tools. Just because something makes your job easier doesn’t mean you are being replaced…..but skilled labor? Umpires? Really?

      • historiophiliac - May 22, 2013 at 3:46 PM

        I’m sorry, do you think that’s a job that they hire anyone to walk off the street and do? No. And you love using technology, but the analysis you still do yourself. I think you just think the technology is going to be much better than I think it will in actual practice. You will not take the human element out of it, and the degree that you lessen it will depend entirely on the way it’s implemented and the participation of those involved.

        Now, put your Texas-lovin’ ass back to work!

      • paperlions - May 22, 2013 at 4:02 PM

        Well, yes…but the part of my work that requires people is the thinking. What the umps do can 100% be done better and faster with modern technology…and still no one is suggesting to completely replace them…just to give them tools so they can do their jobs better.

      • historiophiliac - May 22, 2013 at 4:03 PM

        So the technology will still be subject to the human element.

      • paperlions - May 22, 2013 at 4:05 PM

        Yes, people will still fuck shit up….is that really what people mean by “the human element”? Errors?

      • historiophiliac - May 22, 2013 at 4:06 PM

        Well, to *you* it means errors.

      • paperlions - May 22, 2013 at 4:08 PM

        Besides errors, what else do you mean? What positive aspect would using technology remove from the baseball experience? What? Fewer things to bitch about (of course, all of those things being mistakes).

      • historiophiliac - May 22, 2013 at 4:45 PM

        paper, you act like you’ve never had computer problems or phone issues or system glitches. Good grief.

    • bennoj - May 22, 2013 at 3:02 PM

      What happens when the Chinese military hacks the system during the World Series?

      • historiophiliac - May 22, 2013 at 3:54 PM

        The Cubs win?

  4. mybrunoblog - May 22, 2013 at 12:48 PM

    Wait. Someday they may actually call the real strike zone? The high strike will come back? What will a uncle Bud do when the batting averages dip and strikeouts go up?

  5. ryanrockzzz - May 22, 2013 at 12:53 PM

    The better system is to actually hold an umpire accountable for screwing up, and not waiting until the end of the season to do it. You can be an awful umpire, and the MLB will do whatever they can to find excuses for you.

    I think being afraid a computer based system would break, it is a little short sighted. There’s tons of things every day that operate on computer based systems that never break. Small glitch yea. But I don’t think it’ that big of a concern.

  6. apmn - May 22, 2013 at 12:53 PM

    How about we replace the players with robots? Then we would never have to deal with a fielding or throwing error ever again. And a robot wouldn’t get called out looking on a third strike, either.

    • sabatimus - May 22, 2013 at 1:13 PM

      I agree. Players never make mistakes either. I say let’s remove the human element entirely and turn the sport into a baseball version of Cyberball.

      • paperlions - May 22, 2013 at 1:45 PM

        You are an idiot. The players are the human element, not the umpires. The umpires have never been the human element than anyone is interested in.

      • Walk - May 22, 2013 at 4:05 PM

        Basewars was awesome, get that going and I would watch that.

      • apmn - May 22, 2013 at 4:15 PM

        Who says there needs to be a human element, paperlions? Maybe some of us would prefer to watch chimps play baseball. Or maybe there is room for debate about this issue.

        Nobody informed us that you were the Alpha and Omega of baseball discussion, so don’t be so hasty to call us idiots. We were just ignorant of your omniscience, o mighty one.

  7. evanwins - May 22, 2013 at 1:05 PM

    You really can’t do much with Ball/Strike calls during the game. You can, however, go back after every game and “rate” or “score” the home plate umpire on things like consistency and accuracy. From there you an identify which umpires have done excellent jobs and which umps did lousy jobs. You’ll also get an idea of what great/average/bad umpires based on a scale, like obviously no one will be 100% but you could determine that 85% accuracy is an acceptable rate for example.

    Then you start moving umpires who can’t do this job at an acceptable level out from behind the plate. “You are not good enough at calling balls/strikes and here is the proof that your performance level doesn’t meet acceptable levels. Go to the minors and learn the strike zone better.”

    • paperlions - May 22, 2013 at 1:46 PM

      That scoring is already done and the umps get the results. There aren’t any ramifications of it, but they already get feedback.

      • evanwins - May 22, 2013 at 2:01 PM

        Really? I’ve never heard or read anything about this. Can you provide some info on this, like a link or a search I could do to read more about it? I’d be interested in knowing more about it.

      • paperlions - May 22, 2013 at 2:16 PM

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - May 22, 2013 at 2:58 PM

        In this article by Jayson Stark, he makes multiple references to the umps being graded by MLB, and actually asks for those grades to be made public. So we can both reward the good umpires and punish the bad:

      • evanwins - May 22, 2013 at 4:13 PM

        I’m pretty sure QuesTec is gone from the Majors but thanks for the link, even though it is useless. And that wikipedia site for it only says “for the purpose of providing feedback and evaluation of Major League umpires.” I don’t consider “feedback and evaluation” to be the same as a system, like I am proposing.

        What I am suggesting is an actual scoring system where those umpiring scores are actual put into use to get the highest quality ball/strike umps behind the plate and the lowest quality ones gone.

        Regarding the Stark article, he does refer to some grading of the Umps by MLB but nothing specific to balls/strikes and it appears he knows about them being graded but nothing beyond that.

        So much secrecy and withholding of information when it comes to umpires. Usually when there;s that much secrecy regarding something the truth about what’s actually going on is really bad.

  8. ramrene - May 22, 2013 at 1:05 PM

    Real Steel!

  9. thomas844 - May 22, 2013 at 1:57 PM

    On Star Wars day you can have R2D2 and C3PO umpires.

  10. moogro - May 22, 2013 at 2:17 PM

    You can have balls/strikes instantaneously/in real time. That has existed for a while. There is not a good reason to have the home plate umpires calling them, except that they did before this technology existed and we got used to it.

    I love when I hear people say, “I didn’t come to the ballpark to see the umpires.” But when having pitch trackers call balls/strikes comes up, they say, “uh, wait a minute. Something is going to be wrong.” But it’s ready to go, right now, and all it takes is a few games under our belt and we’ll never turn back.

    At-bats will be more fun, not less fun, with a consistent strike zone.

  11. blovy8 - May 22, 2013 at 2:53 PM

    It already takes McClleland as long to call a pitch as it would for a normal umpire with an earpiece providing QuesTec results.

  12. RickyB - May 22, 2013 at 2:59 PM

    But what if the Pitch F/X system crashes during the game? Either you’d have to wait for the system to reboot or all the pitches would simply fall into a Black Hole. Or should I say, The Black Hole.

    • Walk - May 22, 2013 at 4:09 PM

      Umpires get sick. They get replaced by a backup umpire, takes a few minutes. I don’t see replacing a camera or rebooting some software being a big issue. Take a few minutes go get yourself a beer and a hotdog. Perfection is something to strive for even though it may not be achieved. I am sick and tired of “the human element” being tossed around as an excuse to make errors. The human element is the players and coaches, and fans to an extent where they fire a team up, or whether saluting an opposing player.

      • RickyB - May 22, 2013 at 4:47 PM

        I was trying to involve a reference to the photo Craig provided. The Black Hole was a favorite as a kid. Watched it again about a year ago. Wish I hadn’t. I’d rather have robot umpires, though I have a tendency to disagree with the bottom of the strike zone that Pitch F/X comes up with. But is that chalked up to human error when it comes to calibrating the strike zone with the batter?

  13. Walk - May 22, 2013 at 6:30 PM

    My apologies for missing the reference. As long as the zone is close and is the same for both teams it would be better than a lot of what we have now, but that is only my opinion. I watch the braves home broadcast every day I can and I often disagree with the inside calls on left handed batters but pitchfx usually shows the umpires to be correct on the braves broadcasts. I know the camera is off set a bit to see around the pitcher so I don’t usually get upset at strikes unless they are in the other batters box, are called for one team and not the other, or the worst is that the pitches are called inconsistently.

  14. umrguy42 - May 22, 2013 at 9:51 PM

    Late to the party, but all I have to say is, great use of V.I.N.CENT! :p

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