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  • Writer's pictureSteve Potter

5/7/21 : Developing Matters

Minor League baseball is about player development with game scores being secondary in concern. Conversely Major League games are embedded in player production and results as game scores and performances are under the daily microscope. It’s something I keep in mind as I switch back and forth between watching the two versions of the professional game. There’s pressure in both ... one to climb ladders, the other to stay on top once the roof is reached 🧐.

This year there’s other things being developed as well in minor league baseball ... namely game enhancements in either how the game is played or judged. One such consideration is the Automated Balls and Strikes ( ABS ) system. For those not familiar it’s the use of various cameras throughout the stadium that determine whether pitches are balls or deemed within the strike zone. Those views are transmitted to a computer program that decides what the pitch should be called and a signal is sent to the home plate umpire via an iPhone like device they wear on their belt, they then make the call as informed.

For the first couple of Threshers games the system was used, last evening the home plate umpire called the game the old fashioned way ... making his own judgments. To be honest it wasn’t evident there was a difference as the plate umpire called a “very good game”. We didn’t even notice that he was calling his own game until I spotted around the fourth inning that he wasn’t wearing a phone device. We had just assumed the ABS system was being deployed.

I must state that I am not a proponent of automating balls and strike calls ... my perspective is that the human element of judging such things are part of the game. I’m not gonna die on the sword for such an opinion however if the ABS system can delivery consistent “very good called games” akin to what the home plate umpire did last evening. That would certainly be significant and investment worthy.

The thing is to determine whether it’s going to provide a significant difference we need to monitor it’s development ... the minor league platform as mentioned is designed for such things. In the first couple of Threshers/Flying Tigers games using the ABS system there were 691 pitches thrown with 58 % being called strikes by the process. In last nights contest there were 297 pitches thrown with 62 % being called by the umpire in his judgement as strikes. Of course the performance of each pitching staff weighs into the percentage consideration but one might also speculate that if there’s a significant difference in judgment the gap in the percentage of strikes called would be also.

Just as a comparison in the ten non ABS system games played by Phillies affiliates in Clearwater, Allentown, Reading and Lakewood thus far there have been 1,972 pitches thrown with 61 % being called strikes by the plate umpires. At the major league level Zack Wheeler and Brandon Woodruff just combined to throw a terrific pitchers duel in the Phillies/Brewers game yesterday afternoon, I also believe the home plate umpire in that game had what I would describe as a “very good called game”. The two pitchers threw 221 pitches with 69 % being called strikes. That’s just to show the extreme strike percentage of quality pitchers in a game where they were at their best ... it’s even with Woodruff starting the contest with two consecutive walks on eight pitches 😳.

Of course we can’t make a real determination after just a few ballgames whether the ABS system will provide a significant and investment worthy improvement but the early returns from my unscientific review indicate that it’s averaging at this point to be a judgement difference of about 10 pitches per game extrapolating the percentages to date ... at this point it shows that the human calls are relatively aligned in the same general percentage of strike calls, that’s what I expected actually 🤓. Time and game action will tell more as our sample size grows to a full year of data.

It’s a developing matter 🤓

Happy Day, Happy Baseball ⚾️

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