ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – As Major League Baseball continues to experiment with an automated ball and strike (ABS) system, the Albuquerque Isotopes are the latest minor league team to use it. The “robot umpire” was in use for the ‘Topes series in Salt Lake, and makes its debut at Isotopes Park this week against Round Rock.
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“I liked it,” said pitcher Riley Smith. “There’s some things I like, some things I didn’t like, but at the end of the day, a strike zone is a strike zone. That’s what it is and we’re just going to have to deal with it.”
Smith is arguably the Isotope with the most ABS experience after making two starts in Salt Lake. He got the start in the first ever game where ABS was used in the Pacific Coast League, and got a second shot at it in the final game of the series. In those two starts Smith threw a combined 9.1 innings, allowing six earned runs on 12 hits and ten strikeouts.
While Smith continues to get comfortable with the new system, he’s come to realize that there isn’t much he can do other about the results. When an umpire calls pitches, strikes are commonly called balls and balls are called strikes. Part of that depends on a pitcher’s agility to consistently hit spots and the catcher’s ability to frame. Without an umpire making that judgment call, it all comes down to where the ball crosses the plate.
“I had one the other day where we were setting up inside and I kind of yanked it to the outside corner to a righty. It would’ve for sure been a ball if it wasn’t for ABS and I got a strike and it was an important time. You don’t want to ever miss your spots, but it’s going to happen. To be able to get that pitch, that’s pretty cool.”
Coaches and players are able to view how the ABS system tracks a pitch on tablets, similar to how a batter’s box looks when tracking live stats. Since they are able to view the results in real time, there isn’t much room to argue balls and strikes, and some players miss that.
“I think I lot of guys would say they don’t like it,” said DJ Peterson. “I’m not a huge fan, I think it takes the element of the human aspect out of the game a little bit behind the plate. Some of the pros, it takes away some of the arguments you’ll have with the home plate umpire, maybe less ejections, stuff like that. You just don’t have anything to complain about, but for the most part, I’d say its a 50-50 outlook from the guys.”
As a hitter, Peterson said his approach at the plate hasn’t really changed since ABS was put in place, even with an expanded zone. The horizontal strike zone seems to be pretty consistent at 19 inches across (home plate is 17 inches) , however the consensus from both pitchers and hitters seems to be that the vertical zone needs some work.
“I’ve had a couple change ups at the bottom of the zone, one of them bounced that I thought wasn’t even close that was called a strike,” Peterson said. “The iPad had it clipping the zone, so hard to argue with it. The stats are telling you, believe it or not, it bounced but it clipped the zone.”
It remains to be seen what the future of ABS will look like, however the Isotopes must get used to it, at least for the time being.
“Like I said, it’s 50-50 with guys,” said Peterson. “For me, I’m not a huge fan, but it is what we have and we got to get used to it. We’re going to have it for the rest of the year.”