Major League Baseball is embracing new technology to modernize the game and improve the on-field product. And during this season, its experimentation with robotic umpires will reach the highest level of the minor leagues. Back in mid-March, the league announced that its automated ball-strike system (ABS) will be implemented into Triple-A West games after May 17 and in Triple-A East games played in Charlotte, North Carolina, throughout the summer.
The so-called "robo umps" were first used in the Atlantic League in 2019, and in 2021, the ABS system replaced human umpires in select games in the Low-A Southeast league and Arizona Fall League. This season, MLB is trying out a new challenge practice in Low-A Southeast. With human umpires calling balls and strikes, teams will have the ability to appeal three calls to the ABS system. Although this technology doesn't completely eliminate a human umpire's role and presence, former umpire Joe West remains skeptical about its efficacy.
"The problem with robotic umpires is, it's not as accurate as they're making it out to be," West told Maggie and Perloff on Tuesday. "They grade these major league umpires on every pitch they call. They grade them with a triangulation of scopes, so they can tell if the ball's over the plate, low, high. Each umpire is graded, given a score at the end of the game. We don't have an umpire -- and we haven't for the last four years -- who's scored less than 95-percent.
"There's a couple that are off a little bit, but 95-percent is well above the average of what this thing is. And the robotic umpires they're using, they've proven it misses 7-percent of the pitches. When the robotic umpire misses a pitch, it doesn't call anything. And when the umpire calls a pitch, he still calls something... So, believe me, if they thought they could put a machine back there that'd call all of the pitches, they would've done it before now."
The entire baseball conversation between West and Maggie and Perloff can be accessed in the audio player above.