Could Phillies, MLB soon see robot umpires in games?

TAMPA, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 26: A general view of the helmets and bats of the against the Philadelphia Phillies prior to the Grapefruit League spring training game against the New York Yankees at Steinbrenner Field on February 26, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 26: A general view of the helmets and bats of the against the Philadelphia Phillies prior to the Grapefruit League spring training game against the New York Yankees at Steinbrenner Field on February 26, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /
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The independent Atlantic League will begin using robot umpires at the behest of MLB. How soon could the Phillies see one in a regular season game?

J.J. Cooper of Baseball America reported Tuesday night that the independent Atlantic League and MLB agreed to use the Atlantic League as a testing ground for new rules, rather than minor-league affiliates of major-league teams like the Phillies.

Among these new rule changes will be the use of Trackman systems to call balls and strikes. It is the first step towards robot umpires in MLB. Cooper also wrote that the mound is believed to be moved back from 60 feet, six inches, although he said no one with the Atlantic League would confirm this.

There has long been a call to adopt robot umpires to eliminate the inconsistency between umpires. No two umpires have the same strike zone, even in the same crew. This leads to different strike zones each night, which can have an adverse effect on the game.

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MLB submitted a proposal to the player’s union that included a study of strike zones and mound location according to Jeff Passan of ESPN. He stated that both sides support exploring these ideas, implying the rule could be implemented without much resistance from the players.

MLB has taken steps in recent years to eliminate wrong calls on plays in the field, likely fueled by Armando Galarraga’s “imperfect game” back in 2010. This has come in the form of replay reviews, although those still have their own issues. These calls would be harder to implement full automation due to the nature of the game, but the technology may just be there.

A key hurdle will be getting this past the league’s umpires. They will undoubtedly fight against any sort of automation as it would eliminate some if not all of their positions. The World Umpire’s Association’s labor agreement with the league expires after this season, and automation will certainly come up in the next round of negotiations.

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Automation is likely still several years away. Rule changes reported by Passan will start to be implemented in 2020, with a pitch clock potentially coming after the player’s collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2021 season. All will depend on how the trial run in the Atlantic League fares.