Major League Baseball will test computer plate umpires during spring training but will not use the system for decisions in any exhibition games.
MLB experimented with the automated balls and strikes system during the second half of last season in the independent Atlantic League, and the Arizona Fall League used it for a few dozen games at Salt River Fields. The Major League Baseball Umpires Association agreed last month to cooperate and assist if Commissioner Rob Manfred decides to utilize the system at the major league level.
“We will be running the automated balls and strikes system only in test mode but will not actually use it to call balls and strikes in spring training games,” the commissioner’s office said in a statement. “It will be available in nine spring training facilities for later use during the Florida State League season.”
Plate umpires hear the computerized ball/strike calls via earpieces. The human umps decide on checked swings and other plays.
Manfred spoke about the system in an interview with Fox at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
“We believe over the long haul it’s going to be more accurate. It will reduce controversy in the game and be good for the game,” he said. “The current strike zone design is actually three-dimensional, and a camera is better at calling a three-dimensional strike zone than the human eye.”
Manfred also addressed his Jan. 13 decision to discipline the Houston Astros for using a video camera to steal signs in violation of rules during 2017 and 2018. Manfred suspended manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow for one season each, and both were fired by the team. He fined the team $5 million and stripped the Astros of their next two first- and second-round draft picks.
MLB also is investigating whether Boston stole signs in 2018, and Manfred withheld a decision on Red Sox manager Alex Cora, whom Manfred concluded was involved in sign stealing by the Astros when he was Houston’s bench coach in 2017.
Cora lost his job as Boston manager and Carlos Beltrán, implicated by Manfred as a senior player on the 2017 Astros, quit his new job as manager of the New York Mets.
Manfred said stripping the 2017 Astros and 2018 Red Sox of their World Series titles was not considered. The Dodgers lost both World Series, and the Los Angeles City Council adopted a resolution Tuesday asking MLB to award the Dodgers both championships.
“We haven’t concluded our investigation with the Red Sox, so it’s a little hard to take the trophy away from somebody who hasn’t yet been found to do something wrong,” Manfred said. “We don’t know what the outcome of that’s going to be. I think that the second flaw is whatever the impact of the sign stealing was, it could have changed who was in the World Series — absolutely unclear that the Dodgers would have been the World Series champion. I think there’s a long tradition in baseball of not trying to change what happened.”