Major League Baseball and the umpires union reached a tentative agreement on a new five-year contract, the Associated Press reported Saturday.
That alone is notable news, however, there’s a very significant condition included in the pact that could have a long-term impact on the game.
Both the AP and MLB Network’s Jon Heyman are reporting that the umpires have agreed to cooperate with the league as it continues developing and testing automatic strike zone software. If, or perhaps when, the league opts to institute such a system, the umpires have agreed to assist with the transition.
MLB-ump 5-year deal provides umps with significant increases in pay/retirement benefits, including provisions to allow umps to retire earlier. Umps agreed to cooperate w/MLB in continuing to develop/test ABS (automatic balls/strikes) and assist if Commish opts to use In MLB— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 21, 2019
In other words, the door is now open for an automated strike zone to be introduced sooner than later.
MLB began testing ABS (automatic balls/strikes) during the independent Atlantic League season. The system was used at the league’s All-Star game and throughout the second half of the season.
The home plate umpire wore an earpiece connected to an iPhone in his pocket and relayed the call upon receiving it from a TrackMan computer system.
“We thought the Atlantic League was a really positive experience,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said earlier this year. “Positive in the sense that it worked well a very, very large percentage of the time. When it didn’t work, they were identifiable problems with the system, things that we can work on. I think a major kind of breakthrough with the Atlantic League deployment was the idea that you put an earpiece in the umpires and you don’t change the appearance of the game from the fan’s perspective.”
The automated strike zone will be utilized in select minor league stadiums during the 2020 season.
That caveat will be the main talking point that comes from the new agreement. As Heyman reports, there appear to be improved benefits for the umpires as well. Complete details have not yet been released and the deal itself will have to be ratified by both sides.
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