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Rochester Red Wings Report: Of Robo-Umps and Men
Robo Umps are being used in Triple-A baseball and specifically in Rochester.
Last week, the Rochester Red Wings went 3-2 against a good St. Paul Saints team. The highlight, by far, was Cory Abbott's excellent performance on Friday. That night, he outdueled well-regarded Twins prospect Simeon Woods-Richardson (who ironically was sent down to AAA after losing against the MLB Nats), striking out 12 and allowing just one hit in 5.1 innings of work. It was, without a doubt, one of the finest performances by a starting pitcher during the Nats-Wings affiliation, and his subsequent promotion and award for IL Pitcher of the Week were well-deserved.
The bigger story overall for baseball, though, was the Automated Ball/Strike System. Or, as everyone calls it: Robo-Ump. Using advanced technology and a bevy of cameras, it sees and judges in the place of the umpire's human eyes.
There are two types of systems being trialed in the minors.
The first, which is being used during the week, is a pure ABS system. In these cases, ABS calls every pitch outside of those that require the judgment of stuff like check swings or whether a ball hit a batter. The umpire has a headset, the headset says what the ABS calls each pitch, and the umpire says it. I saw this in action during last Wednesday's game. And what is amazing is... you don't notice it at all. Oh, there's an ever-so-slight delay as the umpire gets the call from ABS, and maybe the strike zone being a little too strict, but in general, you don't notice. If you didn't know, you probably would have thought anything different was just due to the particular umpire.
The second system, and the one I think is far more likely to one day reach the majors, is the challenge system. It is, in a word: cool. When a challenge is called by the batter, pitcher, or catcher, the jumbotron shows the pitch come in until it reaches the plate, indicating where it landed in (or out) of the strike zone. It's an incredibly intuitive and fan-friendly way to show the call. It also introduces some nice strategies, as each team can only have three failed challenges. When I spoke to manager Matt LeCroy, he said that he had told his players that they (as only players can make a challenge) should try to wait for a critical moment or a late-inning at-bat to use it, but I imagine there will be plenty of theories as to when best to use them.
Personally, I think the second one is better. Beyond the cool factor of seeing the review play out on the big board, it maintains at least some of the “human element” of baseball, for better or worse. It also adds some built-in drama. Is it a ball? A strike? Let's find out on the video board. That kind of thing adds so much tension.
And let's face it, what's baseball without tension?
See you next week!