FanDuel - WFBC

September 04, 2012

MLB Testing Advanced Replay Systems During Games: Despite Commissioner Bud Selig's constant denial for the need of replay two systems (one radar, the other camera) have been recently tested in live games.

posted by justgary to baseball at 12:50 AM - 10 comments

Joy of Sox: Every single argument for the status quo and against increased replay dissolves once you begin actually examining it. There is no solid case to be made for keeping things the way they are.

posted by justgary at 12:51 AM on September 04

There is still no excuse for not having certified Galaragga's perfect game, especially since to do so would be as painless an easy a rewrite as possible- simple erase the 28th batter from the books, and it's done. But baseball is a game run by stupid old men, who are resistant to change or even basic logic. It's shameful, and the continued poor calls and inconsistent umpiring is a disgrace.

The claim by Selig et al that they are receiving no pressure to change is belied by regular airings on ESPN and other sports broadcasts on truly atrocious umpiring calls. This isn't because umpires are awful people, but because they are human, and because we now have instant replay from the networks to know in real time that mistakes are made- much less on the nightly recaps. So, accept that: we're not removing umpires, but we can assist them to be better at making calls- yet for no good reason the sport is avoiding this.

The technology exists to begin by assisting umpires- one extra in the booth to review plays in real-time (no different than every fan at home) and overrule any genuinely bad calls (that abortion of an umpiring job back in June by Mike DiMuro to award DeWayne Wise a phantom catch being a great example). The cost is a pittance, all things considered- this particular step is just the cost of one extra umpire per game (I'd estimate that as the cost of a single utility infielder, spread across thirty teams) plus some simple wireless earsets for communication. To not spend it is an embarrassment.

The technology exists, and has for several years, to measure the exact path of the pitch in all three dimensions, and rule it a strike or ball clearly and all but unquestionably (and to assist on the knees/letters judgment, each player would be required to once a year/once a month to do a simple batting cage run where a system around it would gauge their exact "strike-zone" parameters, regardless of how they might crouch in specific situations), with the home plate umpire given a simple visual cue inside their helmet for ball/strike. They can still rule how they want, and should still assess the pitch as it comes in, but there would be a green/red light in their helmet by the time the sound of the ball hitting the catcher's mitt reaches their ears. The umpires would presumably be trained to still call it as they see it, but if the system overrules them, to eventually go with the system unless they feel the call is wildly off (i.e., if for some reason- such as the flash of a batting glove throwing it off- the system calls a pitch that is wildly out a strike, or vice versa).

posted by hincandenza at 01:27 AM on September 04

and to assist on the knees/letters judgment, each player would be required to once a year/once a month to do a simple batting cage run where a system around it would gauge their exact "strike-zone" parameters, regardless of how they might crouch in specific situations

This is always the part that gets me on radar-assisted strike zones. I realize it makes me a crazy traditionalist, but I really do like the idea that a batter gets some influence over his own strike zone n a pitch-by-pitch basis. However, it seems to me that installing RFID tags at the appropriate points in uniforms would be an incredibly small expense and would only help make the system more precise anyway.

posted by Etrigan at 07:47 AM on September 04

15 retired umpires x $125,000, since many likely would be able to work 81 home games near where they live. I wouldn't see this as a traveling position. An extra set of eyes that can view replay for about the cost of a new umpire sounds good.

I do not like the idea of a mechanized strike zone: why have someone behind the plate; just have a sign at the backstop - "BALL" or "STRIKE" - like in videos? "Visual cues" will take the human nature out of calls, since humans will acclimate to those cues and make calls based on it and not what they saw.

Hincandenza, one problem to your discussion about the Galarraga perfect game - the 28th batter does exist. Rewriting this piece of history would be just as bad as when no-hitters and perfect games were redefined in 1991 (wish I could blame Selig for that; he came in a year later).

posted by jjzucal at 08:39 AM on September 04

I do not like the idea of a mechanized strike zone: why have someone behind the plate; just have a sign at the backstop - "BALL" or "STRIKE" - like in videos? "Visual cues" will take the human nature out of calls, since humans will acclimate to those cues and make calls based on it and not what they saw.

I don't understand why people acclimating to a new system is a problem. What we see is often misleading and it is frustrating as a fan to watch an umpire with either a broad or narrow definition of the strike zone. To me, a little beep in the ear of an umpire letting them know when a pitch is in or out of the strike zone will make those umpires better anyways, while also ensuring there's accountability for having an outlier of what you think constitutes a strike.

I remember Eric Gregg in the 1997 NLCS between Atlanta and Florida and how insane his strike zone was in Game 5. Fred McGriff was called out on a pitch at least a foot outside to end the game. I had no dog in that fight, but it was painful to watch a game end on such a blatant missed call, after a number of other crazy strikes had occurred. It made a very exciting game very unenjoyable at times.

posted by dfleming at 09:31 AM on September 04

I'd like to see baseball make full use of technology to assist umpires. Tennis has not suffered because the human element of officiating can sometimes be overruled by tech.

The notion of a home plate umpire being given green/red signals all the time on pitches might be a bit too far -- how many umps would be able to overrule that input over time, particularly young ones? -- but it would be nice to try it in spring training and learn from the results.

As for Armando Galaragga, I'd rather see the 28th batter erased than his achievement. Everyone knows he threw a perfect game. What happened to him is a crime.

posted by rcade at 10:14 AM on September 04

Rewriting this piece of history would be just as bad as when no-hitters and perfect games were redefined in 1991

That didn't change anything. It simply redefined some terms and made them much clearer. Those rain-shortened no-hitters were silly.

Everyone knows he threw a perfect game. What happened to him is a crime.

Considering the sudden explosion of perfect games, Galaragga is probably going to be MORE famous for NOT getting the perfect game than if he did get one.

posted by grum@work at 12:03 PM on September 04

This isn't because umpires are awful people, but because they are human, and because we now have instant replay from the networks to know in real time that mistakes are made- much less on the nightly recaps. So, accept that: we're not removing umpires, but we can assist them to be better at making calls- yet for no good reason the sport is avoiding this.

Hal, you are correct that umpires are making far too many mistakes, and with the availability of hi-def replay, the errors have become far too obvious. Where I disagree is with the push to augment the umpiring with replay. Major League Baseball games are far too long as it stands now. To add replay would serve to increase the length of games, thus further increasing fans' disaffection with the game. I believe the solution might be to push the umpires into better performance. This could be done with constant ratings, and the demotion of the poorer performers and promotion of better performers between levels. Ratings would be based on things like consistency of strike zone, hustle, proper positioning and mechanics, number of blown calls, willingness to overturn blown calls when so advised by other umpires, and - most of all - attitude. I'm not holding my breath until the umpires' union will go along with this, however.

Mechanization of the strike zone is a difficult proposition. RFID sensors at present do not offer enough resolution to accurately place a baseball (that also must be instrumented) in a strike zone. Laser tracking is certainly accurate enough, but requires some setup before each event. When I was participating in tests involving missiles, it required several minutes for the trackers to acquire the missile on the rails before launch. Of course, it was usually dark and the tracker was over a mile from the launch point, so that didn't help. For a tracker with a narrow beam device such as a laser to pick up an object already in motion is extremely difficult. "Painting" the strike zone with a laser beam is probably the best approach, but the apparatus would require adjustment for each batter, thus consuming even more time.

Consistency in calling balls and strikes is the most important part of an umpire's job. Believe me, having done it, even at the lowest levels of youth baseball, I know "it ain't easy". It takes a lot of practice, a lot of concentration, a certain stubbornness to stay with what you know is right, and a willingness to accept informed criticism in order to get better. Note that I say 'consistency'. As long as the pitcher and the batters know where you are, they can and will adjust.

posted by Howard_T at 02:05 PM on September 04

jjzucal: Hincandenza, one problem to your discussion about the Galarraga perfect game - the 28th batter does exist.
But that's my point: if the first batter had reached on a blown call, you can't really undo it- but the 27th out had been reached, and the only reason there was even a 28th batter was because of the blown call. From the standpoint of "How do you undo history" that is as surgically clean as it gets, and you couldn't make it any easier to snip out baseball history. Just change the ruling to a 3-1 putout and delete that 28th batter's last plate appearance (his own stats, and only his own stats, would be affected meaninglesly; it's not like it'll affect a batting title or anything).

The only reason not to do it is because of stodgy old "The game is imperfect, now get off my lawn" crap from people like Selig and Torre and other stalwarts of the grumpy old men brigade. To me, this is the baseball equivalent of a judge, DA, and even jury knowing that an accused man is innocent... but fuck it, we had a trial and everything, so we can't "undo history" and free him, now can we? That would question the integrity of our justice system!

Howard_T: We obviously agree that the union should be brought to bear on performance ratings (including on attitude- there's something fiendish about an ump who quickly tosses a manager who's arguing what actually is a blown call).

I think where you're mistaken, Howard, is in assuming replays would lengthen games by any meaningful amount. For strike zone assessment, it would literally chime in within a fraction of a second in the umpire's facemask/ear, and thus wouldn't actually add any time to a game. I don't think you're right about the need for new, complicated equipment: they already do assess balls/strikes with Questec, and those results are basically available real-time (and a few seconds later with Gameday)- there is no RFID or laser tracking necessary of the ball, since you can use very high definition cameras mounted at stationary points along the edge of the field to assess the motion of the ball. Questec might need incremental improvements to be more and more accurate, so a start is for an umpire to be getting real-time feedback (maybe we should has a small helmet cam for the umps, too) but still going with his judgment, and having the league review the accuracy of the system/umps to refine both. Eventually, though, there's no reason a machine shouldn't judge balls and strikes. The truth is, the machine will- with minor human oversight- do a massively better job.

The other difficulty, the individual player height element, as I described earlier only needs to be pre-computed per player once a month or season, so it knows what the height of the knees/letters is for each player to judge a strike (this also means players can't crouch/lean-in to "change" the strike zone). I think one thing about comparing missile tests is, well, missiles move a LOT faster than a baseball, which spends almost half a second in the air.

For calls where the play is already dead and before the next batter has come in, the "in-booth" ump would have a good 10 seconds to make a call, or hint "Wait, this looks off"- and recall, these would be for close calls, not for most plays which are obvious (a bang-bang call at first, a top-of-the-wall double/homerun, etc). And for homerun calls, for example, if there's any doubt when it hits the fair pole/top of the wall/fan's hand, the on-field umpire would simply not signal a homerun, and the play would continue as if it was off the wall. Meanwhile, even as the runners are taking bases and the outfielder throwing it in, the in-booth umpire would assess the call. By the time the play on field has ended, the in-booth umpire would know if it was, in fact, a homerun- which is easy to then implement by advancing all the players and nullifying the result on the field. The inverse isn't possible- you can't call it a homerun and stop play, and then later realize it was in fact fan interference or an off-the-top-of-the-wall double, and make the fielders/baserunners re-enact the events.

posted by hincandenza at 07:55 PM on September 04

Re tennis, it's been greatly improved by replay. Arguments and controversies over line calls are nearly gone. There are many fewer point and game penalties. Now they just need a timer between points...

posted by aerotive at 08:08 PM on September 05

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