I've been meaning to get this op ed out there for some time and I feel like now is the appropriate time. I'm sick and tired of people complaining about the strike zone. It's been a never ending war of attrition ever since that one guy installed all those high speed cameras like a decade ago. Now it's the easiest thing to complain about because we know first hand with hard data going on for over a decade that umpires uniformly suck. Even at the highest level of the profession, they're terrible and inconsistent and stubborn and brutal.
Is that new though? Umpires have always been shitty. That's one of the best things about baseball is that you have someone to complain about when you lose. You fail so much in baseball that you basically need a scapegoat to keep yourself sane. And now that scouting reports have advanced to include defensive shifts and complex pitch sequencing, mixed with the surplus of talent and this emerging pitching boom, hitting has really never been harder. If you completely automate the strike zone then you're going to force a lot of major league baseball players to confront an elusive reality: the pitcher objectively won the plate appearance.
Next time you watch a baseball game, pay special attention to how often an at-bat hinges on a borderline pitch. The hitter will take a long step out of the box. Maybe shake his head and adjust his batting gloves. The announcers will talk about how big of a difference it is to hit in a 2-0 count vs. 1-1. The camera crew will cut to the dugout and show the manager wearing mild disgust on his face. Maybe the announcers say the umpire's full name to help the viewing audience channel their angst.
FUCKING ANGEL HERNANDEZ
Two pitches later, you get a 3-hop bounce out to the second baseman. The hitter takes a slow jog across the infield back to the 3rd base dugout. He glances back at the home plate umpire and gives one more firm and displeasurable head shake. He gets into the dugout and aggressively racks his helmet while saying out loud to nobody in particular how are you supposed to hit with that kind of strikezone. And the messed up part? All the hitters in the dugout agree. You can't hit with a fucked up strikezone. That's Angel Hernandez's fault.
I just described one of the 51-54 outs that are generally recorded in a Major League Baseball game. I didn't run the exact simulations but it happens probably once a game to at least 4-5 hitters in each lineup. It's been going on for as long as this game has existed. It's baked into the competitive landscape that you get to blame an allegedly unbiased 3rd party for your failures. I know we like balanced and competitive landscapes but I really think we're overlooking just how much baseball players rely on the umpires as the bad guys. You take that away from them and you could see a complete emotional collapse across the league. Next thing you know it will be the hot dog vendors fault for talking too loud. It's the cup snakes fault for being too big. Nobody will be safe from the finger pointing if we get rid of the umpires.
That's one side of the coin.
It's preposterous that hitters can work to be so good and then just have their moment ripped away from a shitty call. They don't have a ton of opportunities to hit the ball hard on a day-to-day basis. You fuck a guy twice in one night and he's toast. It has to be the biggest mental tug of war to get a call one time then miss it the next. It's already impossible to hit, so you should at least have some confidence in the definition & application of balls vs. strikes. Added uncertainty is a huge disadvantage to any hitter no matter how good.
The ultimate question is whether that comfort outweighs the ability to offload a slump onto a self-important 50-something year old windbag umpire. I think it's a lot closer than you guys think but probably end of the day, they want the robots. They just don't know what they'd be giving up in the process.
Fortunately for me I came from a time when you could paint and expand. Sound familiar?
Stop complaining about the strike zone. It sucks for everyone and you'll miss the excuses when they dry up. Just my two cents.