The Baseball Observer Nov-Dec 2015 vol 5 - Page 13


Rise of the MACHINES?

by: Staff

It’s become common place, while sitting watching a baseball game on tv, to see the strike zone graphic on screen just waiting to see if the umpire got the call right. But on Tuesday, July 28, 2015 at San Rafael’s Albert Park baseball stadium the umpire didn’t call one ball or strike the entire game.

moving too quickly, because I want to help you out.'" It's important for catchers to feel as if every pitch is on display, even in the bullpen or during practice. "They should get the feeling all the time that they're trying to sell that pitch," [Ed] Cheff says. "I want my catchers to have the mentality that, 'There's always an umpire behind me and this guy is going to make a call on this pitch and I'm trying to make it easy for him.' A lot of catchers are sloppy with this in drills and in the bullpen. Then they try to clean it up when they get in the game, and they can't."


The Independent Minor League baseball game between the San Rafael Pacifics and Vallejo Admirals had an umpire behind the plate but a computer called the game. The first pitch was thrown and instead of the plate umpire calling the pitch, a former major league outfielder (situated behind the backstop) looked at a computer screen and yelled into the microphone "Strike". This was the first

position in space from the moment it leaves the pitcher’s hand. But there’s one major flaw: the cameras stops tracking the ball a few feet from the plate, instead analyzing the trajectory to come up with a predicted location within an inch of where it actually shows up. Vince Gennaro, the president of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), is quick to point out that that’s immaterial, since data collection is the system’s sole purpose. “It wasn’t set up to in fact call balls and strikes,” he says. (source:

Also as with any technology, it's only as good as its human programmers and set up. If the set up isn't calibrated correctly the calls will be off. "For calibrating the broadcast cameras, technicians install an encoder on each camera that measures the pan and tilt angles, zoom voltage, and zoom extender positions. The encoders collect

these measurements 30 times per second and transmit them to the graphic overlay

Coming to an end?

professional baseball game where the balls and strikes were called by a computer...not a human.

But Technology Isn't 100% Accurate

The graphic works under the same principle as the yellow “1st-And-Ten” line in football - it gives the viewer more information and visuals to make tracking sports easier and more entertaining. But the “1st-And-Ten” yellow graphic is never 100% accurate and that's why they come out and measure. It could be as much as an inch or two off.

We have all seen PITCHf/x (created by Sportvision), FoxTrax, PitchTrax (TBS), K-zone (ESPN). In an article from July 2015 quotes Vince Gennaro, the president of the Society for American Baseball Research: "The system is impressive for its simplicity.

PITCHf/x uses three cameras to triangulate a baseball’s