Sports | July 11, 2022 12:52 pm

Surprisingly, MLB Fans Don’t Hate the Idea of Robot Umpires for 2024 Season

An automated ball and strike system is already being tested in the minor leagues

Justin Turner of the Dodgers argues a call with umpire Angel Hernandez
Robot umpires could get rid of arguments over balls and strikes.
Harry How/Getty

If you are an umpire in Major League Baseball and fans know your name, that’s probably not a good thing. MLB umpires are like offensive linemen in the NFL: they’re large and important, but you only really notice them when they screw up. Longtime ump Angel Hernandez, who is in the process of suing MLB, has made himself very noticeable.

However, if a plan that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred outlined for the 2024 season actually comes to fruition, Hernandez and his peers may fade into the background as their responsibilities are seized by robot umpires.

Basically, the plan is to implement an automated system — which is already being tested in the minor leagues — that will determine balls and strikes and then relay the call to a human home-plate umpire through an earpiece. It’s possible that arrangement would also be overseen by a replay review system that would grant managers several extra challenges per game. “We have an automated strike zone system that works,” Manfred told ESPN.

In a grand slam of a surprise given how resistant seamheads have been to change in their centuries-old game, a plurality of self-identified MLB fans said they support the implementation of an automated ball and strike system by 2024, according to a new Morning Consult survey. The survey found that 50% of respondents were in favor of an umpiring system like the one described above and that 55% were in favor of adding a replay review system with extra challenges for managers. Even more surprising, a majority of MLB fans (63%) said that they trust robo umps to make the right calls “a lot” or “some” of the time.  Those numbers, if accurate, are excellent — as is the way the length of games in the minors has been cut down thanks to the robots.

“An automated ball and strike system was introduced in the minor leagues last year, cutting the average length of games by nine additional minutes, per MLB,” according to Morning Consult. “Despite only about 1 in 3 MLB fans (32%) saying they have seen, read or heard about its use, there’s already a baseline of support among MLB fans. That support, combined with reports that Manfred is already looking to implement the technology in the big leagues in 2024, suggests that baseball fans would be wise to ready themselves for a world in which computers, at least in part, are the arbiter of balls and strikes.”

If it sends Hernandez to the bench, bring on the bots.