Las vegas aviators
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New FSM Feature: I-Robot Umpires will be coming to the Las Vegas Aviators in 2022

Franchise Sports Media

 

America’s past time may soon look different with robotic umpires behind the plate. What does it mean, and when will it happen?

 

Las Vegas Aviators
Photo Credit: AP

As much as the baseball traditionalists want to resist it, it’s coming,” said former Major League Baseball player Eric Byrnes on HBO Real Sports.

Human error has always been a part of the game of baseball; unless your name is Angel Hernandez, then it’s inevitable. But how far is Major League Baseball willing to go to eliminate human deficiency?

As of Thursday, January 20th, the (ABS) system, which stands for automated balls and strikes, will now be used in Triple-A baseball for the 2022 season, including here in Las Vegas with the Aviators.

As former Major League Baseball player Eric Byrnes referred to, baseball traditionalists are not all going to be on board with this new system that the MLB is trying to implement into the highest level of play, the Major Leagues.

I think it’s a little naive to think that simply letting computers generate strike or ball,” then-Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch said during the 2019 World Series. “It’s incredibly naive to think that there’s not going to be pitfalls in that scenario, as well.”

Having games decided on bad calls from balls and strikes from an umpire who has repeatedly made the same mistake as Hernandez is known for outrages players and coaches. I believe tradition has, and will always be, part of the game of baseball, but getting the call right has never been more imperative than in today’s game.

 

Will there be “pitfalls,” as the former manager of the Houston Astros, A.J. Hinch, said?

 

Las Vegas Aviators
Photo Credit: Julio Cortez/AP

Pitfalls such as glitches and unknown errors that may occur during a game? Yes, without a doubt. But having the ability to have an umpire still behind home plate while using the automated balls and strikes system can only be beneficial to improving the efficiency of the calls made throughout the game.

The Independent Atlantic League became the first American professional league to let a computer call ball and strikes at its All-Star Game in July 2019 and experimented with ABS during the second half of that season. Using the (ABS) system in the independent league will get little to no attention.

But since July of 2019, this system has slowly progressed to Low-A Ball and is now knocking on the doorstep of the highest level of competition in baseball.

Losing a year in 2020 due to the pandemic, and with just two years of experience using the automated balls and strikes system, there is a lot of unknown still circulating the league on what can become of a new era of what the MLB is in its entirety.

The minor leagues have always been an experimental site for the MLB to evaluate and implement new rules to see how players and coaches react to them at the lower levels. As White Sox insider Vinnie Duber tells us, they tested and implemented new rules just as early as last year.

“We’ve seen this kind of thing happen in the very recent past, with the minor leagues serving as a testing ground for changes such as the new extra-inning rules that debuted last season, where each half-inning after the ninth begins with a runner on second base.”

 

This is not to say that every rule change tested in the Minor Leagues will make it to the professional level. Still, MLB does take advantage of exploring all options when it comes to attracting the younger generation of fans.

 

Dodgers vs Giants
Photo Credit: David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG

Duber also dives into what this can mean for the younger generation and keeping them engaged in the game.

While every fan will have a different opinion on each of these issues and the league’s experimentation to solve them, baseball is showing a willingness to tweak a game that’s a century and a half old in hopes of drawing in a new audience. It will never be a sport that moves as quickly as basketball, football, or hockey, but there’s obviously room to move things along and create more action and “wow” moments that will capture the attention of all age groups and interests.”

I’ve been playing this sport for the majority of my life, and I’ve watched plenty of crucial moments in games decided by not just bad calls but also becoming a defining moment in a big game, ending a team’s season. The system is here to essentially be the savior for a league that is on the brink of losing the younger generation of fans unless the “baseball traditionalist” can finally realize that tradition is not the end all be all.

 

Also, it’s the ability to bring a breath of fresh air to the league that desperately needs it.

 

Las Vegas Aviators
Photo Credit: Julio Cortez/AP

With I-Umpires in critical moments of games, if a ball is a foot off the plate, it will finally be called a ball. Pitchers and hitters will adjust, and it will increase offense.

But bad calls will be the thing of the past because wide strikes in a strike-zone of an umpire who is notoriously known for making that lousy call will be gone.

Doing this allows for new ways to speed up a game that is meant to be played slow and methodically. But as I said previously, getting the call right has never been more at the forefront than where it is today.

Even if that means adding some I-Umpires to call balls and strikes to make sure they get the call right. Maybe then MLB will try to do something they have balked at in previous years?

There is no time frame or even a general sense of this becoming a reality for the MLB anytime soon.

Chris Marinak, MLB’s chief operations and strategy officer, said last March, “It’s hard to handicap if, when, or how it might be employed at the major league level because it is a pretty substantial difference from the way the game is called today.”

This season when you head out to watch the Aviators at the Las Vegas Ballpark at Summerlin, you’ll see I-Umpires with your own eyes. Hopefully, you see it, and I hope you’ll have better eyesight than Angel Hernandez.

 

It’s a matter of when, not if changes start to happen for America’s pastime, and it is long overdue. It’s time for baseball to modernize and move the game forward.

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-Nick Sylvester – Franchise Sports Media

Follow Nick on Twitter @NickSylvestr

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