By Jerry Del Priore
If everything goes accordingly in the independent Atlantic League of Professional Baseball this summer, the days of home plate umpires having full strike zone autonomy will fall by the wayside over time.
The Atlantic League is getting closer to using a baseball tracking system called TrackMan, a radar-based technology which has the precise ability to track a ball’s flight within the strike zone, said Rick White, President of the Atlantic League.
White said TrackMan is able to make adjustments to different players’ heights and stances, whether the player is the Houston Astros’ five-foot-six second baseman Jose Altuve or the New Yankees’ six-foot-seven outfielder Aaron Judge.
If the experiment proves successful, MLB will consider implementing a similarly automated system for its future seasons. As of now, according to Trackman, MLB Advanced Media is already using its technology for ball tracking in its Statcast system.
“This is the benchmark of Major League Baseball has been using for a dozen of years for strike zone accuracy,” White said. But not in game situations as of yet.
However, White said the Atlantic League isn’t looking to replace its umpires, just give them the opportunity to call balls and strikes with more precision.
“We call it an assist,” he explained. “It will eliminate the difference between umpires’ strike zones. We’re going to train the umpires on how to use TrackMan. It’s not going to be a surprise to them. It’s going to help them.
“At the end of the day, it will be under serious review for MLB.”
While some people might first balk at the change, White feels it’s an important step to take for the Atlantic League, with MBL possibly following suit.
“I would say we’re more of pioneers,” White said. “When anyone goes through change, someone has to be the first to test it out. I believe MLB is going to start making more informed decisions because of what we’re doing.”
Other experimental playing rules and equipment that will be in place during the 2019 Atlantic League Season are as follows (MLB will take findings under advisement):
- No mound visits permitted by players or coaches other than for pitching changes or medical issues.
- Pitchers must face a minimum of three batters or reach the end of an inning before they exit the game, unless the pitcher becomes injured.
- Increase the size of 1st, 2nd and 3rd base from 15-inch squares to 18-inch squares.
- Require two infielders to be on each side of second base when a pitch is released (if not, the ball is dead and the umpire shall call a ball).
- The time between innings and pitching changes reduced from 2:05 to 1:45.
- Distance from pitching rubber to home plate extended 24 inches, in the second half of the season only; with no change to mound height or slope.
The experimental playing rule and equipment changes are part of a new three-year agreement between MLB and ALPB. The deal covers the transfer of players from ALPB to MLB and enhances MLB’s scouting coverage of ALPB games. MLB will provide statistical and radar tracking data from ALPB games to MLB Clubs.