Electronic sensor technology is amazing. It can detect and measure virtually any known event that takes place in the physical world, at speeds measured in nanoseconds, with degrees of accuracy that boggle the mind. An ever-expanding industry, the use of electronic sensor technology is becoming more common place all the time. According to a recent TV commercial I saw, some cars now contain sensors that will detect when the driver is about to have an accident and the onboard computer system will automatically initiate corrective override action. Every major industry in the world is constantly evaluating sensor technology applications in an attempt to improve their products, delivery systems, and profitability. To do otherwise would be stupid.
Major League Baseball enjoyed revenues of 6.6 billion dollars in 2009.
Which brings me to last night’s game between the Royals and Tigers. It was brutal to watch. The Royals defense was terrible, as usual. The two errors could have easily been doubled or better, if not for some generous scoring decisions. And Royals pitchers allowed ten walks to go along with twelve hits. Ugly. But the Royals weren’t the only lousy performers on the field last night.
Tim Welke did a horrible job calling balls and strikes, a common occurrence when he is behind the plate. So common, in fact, that smart gamblers will bet the over whenever it’s his turn in the rotation. His inconsistent strike zone and refusal to call strikes at the knees had a large impact on last night’s game, in a very bad way. Small, skewed strike zones result in longer, sloppier games.
Even in an era of guaranteed long-term contracts, MLB rosters have a significant amount of personnel turnover every year, as does team management. Under-performing veterans get non-tendered and waived, and rookies get a shot. But the MLB umpire pool averages only one opening per year for 70 positions, a degree of job security normally only associated with government employee union members and tenured college professors.
There is a big push in some circles to expand the use of instant replay in sports. I despise the way it’s used in the NFL. How many amazing circus acrobat catches have been nullified because slow motion replay showed the receiver may have twitched his pinkie on the ball while falling out of bounds, thus failing to maintain complete control of the ball throughout the catch? It doesn’t make sense to let the minutiae in technicalities ruin the most exciting parts of your game. But the technology for ensuring a fair and consistent strike zone in baseball, true to the rules and spirit of the game, could easily be implemented in a way that would significantly improve the quality of the product on the field.
It was reported that the most recently negotiated five-year agreement between umpires and MLB allowed for the commissioner to implement an expanded use of replay. My suggestion for the 2014 contract is a push for automated balls and strikes call. I can’t think of a good reason not to do so. The games would be better, and a handful of incompetent umpires would have less of an adverse impact on a multi-billion dollar business.