After so many questionable ball and strike calls in Game 5, it was natural that so much of the talk on MLB Network Radio yesterday would be about the emergence of the electronic strike zone.
As might be expected, opinions on either side were passionate.
On one side was the “human error is part of the game” camp. On the other was the “technology can get the calls right, and isn’t that the whole point?” camp.
Both sides have merit. Technology certainly hasn’t made instant replay a success. But it has gotten a lot of calls right that were originally called wrong. The human error argument, however, should apply to the players, not the officiating part of the game. The rule book is pretty black and white on most issues. There’s no room for, “as good as possible.”
Then there’s the argument that the computer might not be one hundred percent accurate. But all that would matter is that it’s one hundred percent consistent, which is really the heart of the problem with so many umpires. The exact same pitch is called a ball one time and a strike the next time. Or, worse, different umpires have different interpretations of the strike zone. “I call a high strike.” “My zone is wider.”
It’s not “your zone.” It’s baseball’s zone. It’s defined in the rule book. Don’t make hitters and pitchers conform to your interpretation of it. You conform to it.
Again, it’s understandable that calls are missed because people make mistakes. But if technology can easily correct those mistakes, won’t that be better? (Key word being easily.)
Perhaps the most enlightening part of the discussion was how important getting the call right actually is because, really, the entire game comes down to the count. Which makes it imperative they get the call right.
The game is totally different when the count is 1-0 than it is when it’s 0-1. But where it really matters is when the count is 1-1. The next pitch is the most important pitch in baseball.
The difference between a 2-1 count and a 1-2 count is astronomical. And, it’s perhaps the best argument for getting the calls absolutely right. Major league hitters have a combined batting average of .351 when the count is 2-1. When the count is 1-2, they have a combined batting average of .161.
Take a look at how Rangers hitters fared in 2019 when faced with a 2-1 count as opposed to a 1-2 count:
While the 2-1 versus 1-2 count disparity is the most glaring, it does illustrate how one pitch called wrong dramatically changes the outcome of at-bat.
Baseball is all about the count. That’s where the game is won or lost. If technology can perfect it, I’m all for that.
Stephen Strasburg vs. Justin Verlander
Game time: 7:07 on FOX