WASHINGTON — As Major League Baseball continues to implement new technology in its attempt to evolve the game, a chief priority of Rob Manfred since he took over as commissioner in 2015, the question of electronic strike zones has increasingly become a fascination of fans.
“I can tell you unequivocally that the technology today is not fast enough to call balls and strikes,” Manfred told 106.7 The Fan in June, adding, “There is a human element that is important to the game.”
A major contribution of that human element are the league’s umpires, who adjudicate balls and strikes on every pitch of every game, 2,430 times per season.
To eliminate them from the game altogether, or supplement their judgment with electronic strike zones, might bring about devastating unintended consequences to the game we know and love, Max Scherzer warns.
“I just think there’s some unintended consequences that are going to come about if you were to implement electronic zone,” the Nats ace said during his regular 106.7 The Fan segment — “On the Mound with Max Scherzer,” presented by Dulles Motors.
“There’s different pitches that I think we’ve seen that would get called, that would completely change the game,” Scherzer said. “I think the low curve ball is actually a strike, based upon some of those strike zone clocks we’ve seen.”
“There’s a lot more high fastballs that would be called strikes that most of the time they’re called balls,” he said. “Now, you would clean up obviously some of the side-to-side stuff, so you would have an absolutely true strike zone, but a lot of things would change.”
“I think another place where you change the game,” he said, “is, alright, if you don’t have to frame the pitch or try to make it look good as a catcher, if there’s a runner on first base, so now you can just completely change your stance as a catcher to receive a pitch purely to be able to throw out a runner.”
“I think that you would be changing the game a lot of different ways if you went to a 100-percent automated zone, and I think that’s some of the things that MLB would probably need to look at and think how that would change the game as a whole if we were to go down that road,” he said.
“I think there’s concerns,” he added. “But at the same time, look, if there is a way to get a zone as a zone, we do need to look into it.”
Scherzer was asked, given his stance, whether he believes robot umpires would ultimately be better or worse for the game, in comparison to the status quo.
“And that’s the thing that we don’t know,” he conceded. “I don’t think anybody has the answer to that. Everybody can get mad at one single call and be like, ‘We need robot umpires,’ and can get frustrated at one call.”
“Look, they’re human,” he said. “You’ve got pitches coming in at 95 miles per hour that are missing by just an inch, and they’re trying to make that [call] in real time. Yeah, there’s gonna be some missed calls.
“But from my vantage point as a starting pitcher, most of the time these umpires, most of the games when I leave, it’s like, hey, look, I got a couple calls and I lost a couple calls, and usually I walk away feeling even.”
“And so, most starting pitchers, I would believe… if you ask them, they would say, ‘Well, the umpires do actually a remarkable job of calling balls and strikes, considering how difficult that task can be.'”