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Ask Slashdot: Project Scope For MLB Robot Umpires? 141

Posted by Soulskill
from the go-tigers dept.
nightcats writes "The League Championship Series of baseball are upon us, and numerous sports media pundits, armies of fans at comment boards, and TV people are openly debating the possibility of robot umpires coming to Major League Baseball, to either replace or enhance the human umps' work on the field. Question: what kind of project are we reasonably talking about here? What would the scope and length be from planning/design to user testing/implementation (presumably in a spring training/minor league setting)? What kinds of hardware (video scanners, touch-sensitive bases/foul lines, etc.) and software would be required?" And, as long as we're on the subject — do you think it would be good for the game?
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Ask Slashdot: Project Scope For MLB Robot Umpires?

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  • by ebbe11 (121118) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @05:51AM (#37688332)
    There goes your excuse for calling the umpire an idiot.
    • There goes your excuse for calling the umpire an idiot.

      Well, you could argue about the correctness of the software. Calling the developers idiots included.

    • by pspahn (1175617)

      Manager comes out to argue a bad call:

      Manager: Would you throw me out of the game if I called you an asshole?

      Umpire: I certainly would.

      Manager: What if I just thought it?

      Umpire: Well that's fine, you can think what you want.

      Manager: Ok. Well I think you're an asshole!

    • There goes your excuse for calling the umpire an idiot.

      Not really. Human or electronic the umpire will be "confronted". "Hey ump clean your glasses" becomes "Hey IT clean the ump's optical sensor", "That umpire has been bought" becomes "That umpire has been hacked".

    • We could do this today. They have enough HD cameras watching the game and can play anything back in slow motion to make sure every call is 100% accurate. Part of the game IS umpires making bad calls. Sorry but that's true, otherwise they would have been replaced with cameras years ago.
  • Hawk-Eye, and done (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @05:58AM (#37688358)

    Pretty much everything could be accomplished using cameras, and software like Hawkeye (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawk-Eye).

    This is what they use in tennis to track balls moving well over 200km/h. It is supposedly accurate to within the fuzz on the tennis ball. This can handle strikes/balls, foul calls, home runs, and potentially even tag-outs.

    The technology is there. I remember hearing that it took a trailer full of electronics to draw the first-down line in football a decade ago, and now it can be run on a high end laptop.

    In baseball, with the rising number of incorrect calls at the plate, I'm all for electronic verification. We saw a perfect game (or was it a no-hitter...) stolen last year by a bad call at first base. The strongest argument against using these techniques is that it increases the barrier to entry for kids to "really" be playing the game they see on TV. With sports like soccer, options like these are rarely considered for this reason. To match what the kids see on TV, they need a few posts, a ball, and maybe their favorite player's jersey. Add cameras, and you've added an element no child can hope to include in their own game with their friends.

    • It's not that simple. Strikes and ball depend on the stature and even stance of the batter. The current system uses three cameras and the makers say it is not ready to take over officiating. As for "did he get tagged" that is really hard to say.

      The best I can see is augmentation.

    • by Belial6 (794905)
      Seems this is would be one of the few good things that pro sports would bring to society. The fact that kids couldn't get the cameras isn't an issue. Kids also can't get full pro sports stadiums, professional umpires, steroids (Well, OK, some of them can), the quality of equipment, and a host of other features that the pro sports have. That doesn't mean they can't play the game.

      As you pointed out, the tech gets cheaper. It gets cheaper fast. If electronic umpires became the norm, you would likely se
    • by hal2814 (725639)
      Not exactly baseball fans here, are we? Anyone remember the big QuesTec [wikipedia.org] dust up a few years back? The system to detect balls and strikes already exists and is already in place to evaluate how umpires are doing. QuesTec was a limited deployment that is now gone but Zone Evaluation is the replacement system that's now in place in every MLB ball park. It's making live evaluations alongside the umpires to make sure they're making decent calls. It would take exactly zero effort at this point to let Zone Eva
  • by PRMan (959735) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @05:58AM (#37688360)
    But all that's changed in tennis is McEnroe's endless rants about bad line calls. Tennis has never been better. Umpires should still call out/safe calls, but ball/strike should have been given to a computer long ago, especially seeing what an inconsistent job the umps do at it.
    • by Chewbacon (797801)
      "The officiating in this league is, at best, substandard." -- Chipper Jones. Not a Braves fan, but there were some bullshit calls that game. Machines don't have a favorite team unless Anonymous tells them to have one.
    • by KillaBeave (1037250) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @08:10AM (#37689158)
      IAAFLLU (I am a former little league umpire) - I'd be all for having a sensor based ball/strike call. Nothing more annoying than having 1/2 the fans yelling strike and 1/2 yelling ball ... over a game for 9yr olds. A simple red/green light somewhere would be perfect. In my opinion the home plate ump is still needed though to ensure that foul balls are picked up properly and judge if the batter swung or not (some of those calls are really close). Not to mention tag out situations. If the system was a simple boolean limited to "was the ball in the strike-zone" or not I think it could improve the game by a large amount.
    • by pspahn (1175617)

      especially seeing what an inconsistent job the umps do at it.

      Baseball is a game of tradition. One of those traditions is each umpire having their own quirks, the calls of balls and strikes being one of them.

      I suppose the next step is to standardize every field to precise dimensions.

      • by mini me (132455)

        I imagine the next step is to replace the players with robots. Who wants to watch quirky humans swing strikeouts when a robot can hit a home run every single time?

    • by rilian4 (591569)
      Umps do a remarkable job at balls and strikes considering they have less than 2 seconds to see a pitch moving between 85 and 100 mph and judge whether it is in a small zone to call a strike.

      Agree about tennis though. I loved watching Johnny Mac rant and more often than not, he was right about the calls and had every right to be upset. That said, it's really nice that players can "have their day in court" (pun intended) when they disagree w/ a call and it takes all of 15 seconds to resolve.

      As for baseb
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Most broadcasts now have a "pitch zone" and you can watch the umps get it wrong regularly enough that robotic calls and strikes could be useful.

    • by ibennetch (521581)

      As the other AC commented, these pitch zone graphics aren't always accurate. It's a pretty complex system that needs to be calibrated properly each game, and that calibration could be affected throughout the game. In most ballparks, the camera angle isn't straight-on, so sometimes what you think you see is misleading. So while I'm under no delusions about the accuracy of umpires, I'm also not glued to the TV watching the pitch zone graphic, either.

      • There's one part that's easy to fix. An off-angle pitcher's view camera can be corrected by putting a camera directly above/behind the plate and another looking across the plate at the batter (you'd have to have two for left and right hand batters, of course). With three cameras a computer can trivially correct for the angle of the outfield camera.

        Virg
    • by way2slo (151122) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @09:42AM (#37690188) Journal

      The problems with the TV Networks "pitch zone" is that they are 2 dimensional, do not change for each batter, and the TV viewer has trouble seeing the true motion of the pitch. The strike zone covers all of home plate, including depth. Many pitchers use "back door" breaking balls/sliders to try and hit the very back side of the strike zone. In the "pitch zone" these would look like a ball, when in fact it crossed the plate in the zone. Also, the strike zone changes height for each batter as defined in the rules as the batter waits for the pitch. These "pitch zone" displays never do. Lastly, pitch movement is hard to pick up on television, especially when depth is involved. Pitches can curve around the strike zone and appear to be strikes as well as curve into the back of the strike zone. It is hard to tell from a single camera.

      • by Raenex (947668)

        Your post is completely wrong.

        they are 2 dimensional

        The pitch zones use multiple cameras and track the ball in 3 dimensions.

        Many pitchers use "back door" breaking balls/sliders to try and hit the very back side of the strike zone. In the "pitch zone" these would look like a ball, when in fact it crossed the plate in the zone.

        The problem is that the computers are good at catching these, and umpires are not.

        Also, the strike zone changes height for each batter as defined in the rules as the batter waits for the pitch. These "pitch zone" displays never do.

        This is taken into account also.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QuesTec [wikipedia.org]

  • by vlm (69642)

    do you think it would be good for the game?

    It would be bad because only a couple extremely well financed and large organizations could bribe the ump by reprogramming it, instead of the current system where anybody with cash can do it. Essentially, interference with a free market is gonna screw it up. I'm not sure why anyone other than the mob will benefit from this change.

    It could do "strike" "ball" but they will still need a human there anyway to enforce other rules "wait a second, that isn't an approved kind of bat" "the catcher called the batte

    • by Anonymous Coward

      That first paragraph is a little dumb.

    • Re:bribery (Score:4, Interesting)

      by cowboy76Spain (815442) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @06:47AM (#37688568)

      Mmmmm... first, the issue that from your words it looks like every umpire in every game in every sport is being bribed, or in risk of being. So much for conspiracy theories. There are economic interests in the game and when this happens there is always a risk of illegal behavior, ok. Jumping from that to "the system looks legit because there are too many groups trying to rig it" is quite unfounded. We know that for some people "free market" is the blanket answer to every question, but this is ridiculous.

      Second. Right now, if someone bribes an umpire, it cannot be proven other than by the money movement. An umpire does fail? It was not a good day for him. The fails favour only one of the sides? Bad luck. Change that against "the robot code is calibrated before the game, the SHA1 of the code compared with the official one, then calibrated again after the game and stored for independ review" and you get that cheating with robots is orders of magnitude more difficult than with human umpires. Changes in robots are traceable. An incorrect decision? Go to the program, feed the same input, find if it is a software bug or manipulation. You would need to have a signficant part of the organization in your pocket for it to work. If you think that someone can get away with it, I think it is safe to assume that "that someone" can already be owning all of the umpires, all of the officials, all of the teams, all of the games now.

      • by Grave (8234)

        There is also the fact that most broadcasts now show a visual of the pitch location, making any cheating exceedingly obvious to the viewers.

        • by ibennetch (521581)

          As I mentioned a few lines above here, these pitch zone graphics aren't always accurate. It's a pretty complex system that needs to be calibrated properly each game, and that calibration could be affected throughout the game. In most ballparks, the camera angle isn't straight-on, so sometimes what you think you see is misleading. Not to mention the fact that the camera location is on the order of 500 feet away from the plate while the umpire is like three feet away. So while I'm under no delusions about the

      • by andyring (100627)

        Just like cheating with electronic voting machines is orders of magnitude more difficult than paper ballots?

        • Just like cheating with electronic voting machines is orders of magnitude more difficult than paper ballots?

          Uh? Where did you get that analogy from? Can you get your money back?

          I'll write my second paragraph AGAIN, but this time a little slower so ANYBODY can get it...

          This article is about providing help to decide about something that can be difficult to evaluate (was the ball received before or after the base was reached? was it thrown well enough?) Put two umpires to evaluate a situation, you can get two different answers and it does not mean any of them is not honest (subjectivity). This subjectivity meant a

  • by wrencherd (865833) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @06:38AM (#37688534)
    An automated system for sensing and interpreting play on a baseball diamond wouldn't really be "robotic" would it?

    It would rather be a system of cameras and sensors and some calibrated displays so that close plays in the physical world could be replayed and interpreted.

    (Killing Bob Costas would not only be good for baseball, but just in general make the world a better place.)
    • by Rolgar (556636)

      Baseball has sensors that currently track every pitch of every game. This info is available to the teams and any fan or journalist willing to pay. Detailed trajectory data is kept, totaling approximately 700,000 pitches a year (2430 games (plus playoffs) at 250-300 pitches per game).

      For balls and strikes where every umpire calls a different strike zone, and it could change from one pitch to the next. The desire of many fans is for this information to passed immediately to the umpire or scoreboard without th

    • by corbettw (214229)

      A "robot" is an automated system, it doesn't have to be autonomous or even ambulatory.

      • by wrencherd (865833)

        . . . it doesn't have to be autonomous or even ambulatory.

        I agree that a "robot" doesn't have to move around, but "not autonomous" seems to mean that any refined measurement system––like the one used in pro tennis, or even a good thermometer––qualifies as well. That appears to be the kind of thing that this question is asking about.

        Maybe it's just a personal bias, but it seems like a robot should not only sensor/measure the environment, but react "autonomously" to it, like do some useful work.

        Indicating whether a given pitch falls w

        • by Belial6 (794905)
          I don't know why you don't call a thermostat a robot. In the olden days, people had to feel how cold it was. If it started getting too cold, they had to go over to their heater (generally a fireplace) and manually add fuel to it. Your modern heating system has a sensor that constantly checks how cold it is. If it gets below a certain temperature, it autonomously adds more fuel to it's burner. It is sensing it's environment and autonomously taking physical action in response. Heck, most of them even ta
  • I will gladly provide you an estimate of the scope for such a development effort. My consulting fee is $150/hour.

    What, you expected people to plan your project for you gratis? Why would anyone do that? It will take days of work to properly estimate something like that.

  • AR headset for ump (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jpapon (1877296) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @07:12AM (#37688706) Journal
    Give the umpire behind the plate some sort of augmented reality HUD headset that shows the strikezone and highlights the ball as it comes over the plate. The feed from the Umps headset could also be used in broadcasts. Uses technology without removing the human element of the game. I'll start working on it if MLB wants to pony up the cash...most (if not all) of it would just be COTS hardware.
  • You could probably just run the whole game on statistics and quantum probability. Despite where the ball actually fell, over the course of N games the ball was statistically most likely to fall over there, based on the records of this batter, pitcher and field. This would be less costly than "optical hardware". So all you need are past statistics and a random number generator. The number of "bad calls" would be statistically equal over time.
  • I've heard many a player interviewed when they say they're OK with umps making a mistake during the regular season because they all even out during the course of those games. During this last ALDS I thought the umps were terrible with calling balls and strikes, especially during Game 3 of NYY @ DET. There were many instances of CC Sabathia not getting strike calls when his pitches hit the edges of the strike zone (pitchers would very often get that call during the season), while Justin Verlander would get

    • by sconeu (64226)

      Boo frickin' hoo. Every other team in the league has been a victim of the "Yankees zone".

      Even worse was the (non) double play at third in game 4 of the 2009 ALCS.
      The umpire was standing right there, and blew it.

  • Well... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Syberz (1170343) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @08:00AM (#37689050) Homepage
    It would certainly be funny to see a red-faced coach screaming at a camera that it should get its lenses cleaned and sensors calibrated.
  • Padres struck out Jeeter, he even began walking away from the plate. The ump called it foul. All video replays showed essentially a perfect pitch. Even the commentators couldn't see how it was a foul.

    It essentially turned the tide of the world series as Jeter would go on to hit a home run. The Yankees had hitherto been getting their butts kicked. But when you have to pitch 4 strikes, it changes all the odds. This will eliminate a LOT of bought off umps as well.

    Likewise, soccer, World Cup last year. The U.S

    • by yohaas (228469)

      Padres struck out Jeeter, he even began walking away from the plate. The ump called it foul. All video replays showed essentially a perfect pitch. Even the commentators couldn't see how it was a foul.

      It essentially turned the tide of the world series as Jeter would go on to hit a home run. The Yankees had hitherto been getting their butts kicked. But when you have to pitch 4 strikes, it changes all the odds. This will eliminate a LOT of bought off umps as well.

      Jeter didn't have any home runs in the 1998 World Series. Other than that, good story.

      What you may be referring to is the 2-2 pitch to Tino Martinez in the 7th inning of game 1. With the bases loaded and two out, Tino took a pitch that was probably a strike. The umpire called it a ball and then Tino hit the next pitch in the the upper deck giving the Yankees a 9-5 lead. Of course at that point, the game was already tied. The Yankees ended up sweeping the Padres so it may be difficult to blame 1 pitch.

  • Catchers would become a lot more useless, no longer being able to try to affect the umpire's call by moving his hand when catching the ball (to move an obvious ball to being in the strike zone), not to mention strike zones can change depending on a batter's height, stance, etc. I could, however, see them use it to judge how accurate umpires are, to at least keep them on their toes.
  • Is it good for us? Robot flubs the call - it gets called a programming error and the lynch-mobs are after anyone who has a pocket protector.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Already there. They have been installed in most stadiums for years. That's how they get the graphics to display on telecasts. They have also used this information to determine if there is racial bias in calls. http://www.freakonomics.com/2011/07/01/strike-three-do-mlb-umpires-express-racial-bias-in-calling-balls-and-strikes/ Short answer: there is slight racial bias (umpires of the same race as the pitcher give them a tiny but measurable amount of help). This bias disappears as umpires gain experience.

  • But why does the MLB limited it so much when there needs to be more?

    • by sbillard (568017)
      The progression of events that can occur after a ball is put in play makes too much instant replay hard or impossible.
      It's working well for home run review and I agree with others in this thread it can be expanded to calling balls/strikes.

      Things happen on the field very quickly in response to out/safe calls. One things leads to another and in rapid succession. Very hard to unwind and make right the events of a play if an "out" call was changed to "safe", or the other way around.

      Runners on 1st and 3rd.
    • by sjames (1099)

      NO! We do not need to have everyone standing around while the video is reviewed on every play. Just play the game. In spite of complaints, the ump actually does get it right the vast majority of the time.

  • by pwileyii (106242) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @08:49AM (#37689522)

    As someone that has attended one of the two professional umpire schools in Florida and had conversations with the umpires actually working in MLB, I'd like to bring some perceptive to this. These umpires are highly trained, high paid individuals that are the cream of the crop in their profession. They are under constant scrutiny from the Umpire Supervisor (who is Charlie Reliford, an excellent umpire in his own right) and his observers who ensure they are performing to the best of their ability. Obviously, mistakes are made and with instant replay, we can relive them over and over again. Umpiring is about being in the right spot at the right time to see the play and make the call. It is 95% positioning and 5% actually calling what you see. If you aren't in the right position, that is when you get in trouble.

    Back to robots and their place in the field of umpiring. I think monitoring fair/foul like in tennis and similar things is a valid application, but anything beyond that is not very feasible as proper positioning is very subjective to the situation. I'd think that some sort of eye piece with a HUD that was able to track the ball and allow the umpire to reply what he saw would be the best option for baseball. Not sure if it at all feasible, but I don't think you'd get too much opposition for the umpire association. Instant reply has problems with when should it be used, how long should it take, and the like. Nearly all plays in baseball have significance and have the chance to alter a game, especially during a close game. Baseball can already be a long game and IR would just add to it.

    • by Reziac (43301) *

      I love good umpiring. And most of it IS good. But even when it's not...

      Baseball is often called "a game of inches". It's not about the perfect plays, nor the perfect calls. If all was perfection we could just run the stats and go home. What makes baseball unique is that those tiny flaws, those mere *inches*, determine everything. And to my mind thats not only the pitching and hitting and running and fielding, it's also the umpiring. The half-inch off the plate one allows as a strike and the next doesn't. Th

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The official rule:

    Strike Zone is the area over home plate, the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the knee cap. The Strike Zone shall be determined from the batter’s stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball.

    What if the robot can't see the top of my pants? (My shirt is loose and blouses over)
    What if my shoulders are angled? (Where's the 'top'

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by pwileyii (106242)

      To comment on a point you made on the double play, the umpires allow the player to not touch the base to avoid injury from the incoming base runner. In the umpires judgment, the player would need to have been able to touch the base. Players, umpires, and managers all agree on this point and would rather short cut the touching of the base than risk a serious injury to a player.

      • I'm aware of this. My point though is how would the robot do this? Do the batter have a 1-ft bubble around him, and if that bubble touches the bag the runner is out? What if using that 1-ft bubble was the only way the fielder could have beaten the runner to the bag? Does the robot have the ability to identify that and make the correct call?
        • by pwileyii (106242)

          I assumed you were aware, I just wanted to let other people know the reason behind allowing the fielder to not tag the base. I don't think a robot could handle the flexibility and abstractness of the baseball rule set (or nearly any complex team sport in general). There are so many situations in baseball that a robot couldn't handle. Think about the balk rules, it is difficult for even an experienced umpire to see some balks, which is why you have four umpires looking for them. Interference and obstruction

          • by Belial6 (794905)
            You bag touching description is one of rules. They are questions that should be answered before the game ever starts. Claiming that the rules are "subjective" is basically admitting that the sport has just accepted cheating as the status quo. I understand that with limited technology, and the very real situation that humans a falable, accepting that we have to follow the rules as best we can is sometimes the only answer we can give, but (not being a sports fan) I hadn't realized that cheating was officia
    • by schwit1 (797399)

      For the strikezone inside and outside of the strike zone are not subjective. I'm sure imperceptible RFID sized sensors could be placed on uniforms to provide an upper and lower limit. The other items are subjective.

    • by Belial6 (794905)
      Making a patch on the uniform that indicated the position of the knee, shoulder and belt would solve the zone problems trivially. We are talking about improving accuracy in a PROFESSION. A slight uniform change requirement isn't a huge thing to ask, and the claim that being a sloppy dresser should exclude them from accurate judgement is kind of silly. Questions like "What if my shoulders are angled?" or "When is the boundary zone determined?" are rules questions. They should be answered before the game
  • by Zebraheaded (1229302) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @08:58AM (#37689624)
    (goddamn it, I wasn't logged in) The official rule: Strike Zone is the area over home plate, the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the knee cap. The Strike Zone shall be determined from the batter’s stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball. What if the robot can't see the top of my pants? (My shirt is loose and blouses over) What if my shoulders are angled? (Where's the 'top'?) What if I have loose pants and a locked knee stance? (Where's my knee, and thus the hollow below the cap?) When does the robot determine the boundaries of the zone? (If it's at the windup, I'll crouch during it then stand up. If it's as the pitch comes in, I'll squat on high strikes) A living, breathing umpire makes all these subjective decisions on every pitch. There's no way to trick the umpire into giving you a smaller or undefined strike zone. You have to keep umpires, even if there's instant replay. For another example: on a large fraction of 6-4-3 and 4-6-3 double plays, the infielder making the play at second base doesn't actually tag the bag. Umpires are very generous on the player touching the base on the turn. Relying on a robot to make that call would be incredibly disruptive with the way that call has been made for over a century.
    • and my formatting broke. shit where's my coffee? The official rule:

      Strike Zone is the area over home plate, the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the knee cap. The Strike Zone shall be determined from the batter’s stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball.

      What if the robot can't see the top of my pants? (My shirt is loose and blouses
    • Yeah, I pretty much agree with you. I like the semi-looseness of baseball: the phantom tags and such. Some of that has just been developed naturally for safety over the years and you would pretty much have to outlaw any kind of take-out slide to also eliminate phantom tags and such.

      To me, baseball is what it is today from its history, nostalgia, and aura around the game. It might sound somewhat mystical, but in some ways, the umpires are as important to the game as the players. Plus, I don't want baseball t

    • by radtea (464814)

      What if the robot can't see the top of my pants? (My shirt is loose and blouses over)

      Then the umpire can't either. If the umpire can infer the location of the top of the strike zone, so can the robot.

      What if my shoulders are angled? (Where's the 'top'?)

      Umpires apply a heuristic to solve this problem. So will the robot.

      What if I have loose pants and a locked knee stance? (Where's my knee, and thus the hollow below the cap?)

      Umpires apply a heuristic to solve this problem. So will the robot.

      When does the robot determine the boundaries of the zone? (If it's at the windup, I'll crouch during it then stand up. If it's as the pitch comes in, I'll squat on high strikes)

      Over the same time range that umpires do. It is not clear why you are insisting arbitrarily and without any reason whatsoever that the robot must determine the boundaries of the zone from a single time-point. Is that the way umpires do it? If not, why would

    • What if the robot can't see the top of my pants? (My shirt is loose and blouses over)
      What if my shoulders are angled? (Where's the 'top'?)
      What if I have loose pants and a locked knee stance? (Where's my knee, and thus the hollow below the cap?)
      When does the robot determine the boundaries of the zone? (If it's at the windup, I'll crouch during it then stand up. If it's as the pitch comes in, I'll squat on high strikes)

      Actually, I think determining all that to a very high degree of accuracy is possible with just software based on a certain set of criteria, but I don't think it matters anyways.

      Sports are overall very subjective. They are heavily based on emotion, feeling, and the heat of the moment. When I go to a hockey game I don't go thinking "I hope every call is made perfectly", I go thinking "I hope this game is exciting and I have a good time". Part of what makes sports so much fun is the drama of good and bad calls

      • by Belial6 (794905)
        Some people call stealing form the bank in Monopoly, "part of the exitement of the game". Some people call it cheating. I would be in the latter group.
        • Some people call stealing form the bank in Monopoly, "part of the exitement of the game". Some people call it cheating. I would be in the latter group.

          I would also be in the latter group. Blatant cheating and judgement calls are very different though.

          A better (but not perfect) analogy would be:
          Some people call selling their own properties to other players at a different cost than on the card in Monopoly, "part of the excitement of the game". Some people call it cheating because players could wind up being overcharged or undercharged.

          Maybe there should be a calculator buit into the game that calculates the values of all properties based on each players as

          • by Belial6 (794905)
            No, it would be like the Banker deciding to sell property from the bank at a different price than what the card is listed at. The umpires are not their as players. They are there to make sure the rules are followed. Up until this point, we have accepted that they are human, and will sometimes make mistakes. The umpires making mistakes was never in the rules. If umpires make intentional "mistakes", then they are not mistakes. They are cheating. Just as if the banker in a game of Monopoly decides not "
    • There's no way to trick the umpire into giving you a smaller or undefined strike zone.

      This, sadly, is not true. A study at the Hardball Times [hardballtimes.com] showed that umpires vary by up to about 5% from the league average in terms of the number of strikes they call, which suggests that human umps aren't so good at calling the defined zone. Umpires have idiosyncratic strike zones, based on personal interpretation of the strike zone, and often on what they can see based on where they set up behind the catcher. Some call strike zones wildly different from the rule book one (most famously, Eric Gregg consist

  • Its part of the game. However I can see using the computers to see how often umpires bad calls and getting rid of bad umpires.

  • It would not be good for the game. Some favorite chants of the crowd would no longer be valid. No more "Kill the umpire!" or "The umpire is blind!"? You will take away a vital part of the game.

  • Pitch f/x can already be used to determine balls and strikes. It may not be perfect, but it's a darn sight better than the inconsistent strike zones we see on a regular basis. Right now each umpire has his own strike zone - and some even talk about it as if the definition of the zone is their own rather than what's defined in the rulebook.

    Alternatively - if we could just get rid of C.B. Bucknor the average quality of baseball umpiring would go up dramatically.

    FWIW I used to be against any sort of automated

    • by geekoid (135745)

      hmm, I like the human element, including the mistakes. The more you automated it, the more boring it gets. I also suspect viewership will change because right now, not matter what team you like, you always have a common enemy, the umpire and his 'idiot' calls.

      I mean, with a perfect system, you can't even argue about any details.

      OTOH, major televised sports event can go the way of the dodo as far as I'm concerned. They have been an annoyance my entire life.

      • hmm, I like the human element, including the mistakes. The more you automated it, the more boring it gets.

        Funny thing is, for most parts of the game I agree with you - I wouldn't want to see an automated system of sensors to determine whether or not a runner is safe at first, for example. But it seems like I've seen so many really bad ball/strike calls, I wouldn't mind that being automated.

        Of course training might also be able to address that issue. A few years back MLB decided to crack down on inconsistent strike zones, and for a while it really seemed to make a difference - but now we seem to be back to the

    • by sjames (1099)

      Manipulating the apparent strike zone is part of the game. The pitcher looks for it's edges, the catcher tries to sell the strike, and the batter tries to compress it as much as he can. Why would we want to dumb he game down?

  • You can use cameras to detect ball location around strike zone. Get rid you that responsibility.
    Nearly every play can be called automatically.
    It's the close tags that are the only real issue.

    • by sjames (1099)

      Actually, there's a lot of plays that will call for a human decision. For a few examples:

      Runner slides hard into second forcing the baseman to jump over him as he tries to turn the double play. Fair slide or interference?

      Batter starts to swing at a ball. Did he go around?

      Ball wedges into the padding in the outfield wall (I've seen that happen). The rules call for the ump to decide what would most likely have happened if it didn't get stuck and put things where they would have ended up.

      Pitcher hits a batsma

  • Sure, why not? Because fans might get upset if the call doesn't favor their team?

    Hey, nobody protests when we decide elections by voting machines!

  • Why stop with just robot umpires? Why not robot players? Robot bats? Robot fans?

    Part of the allure of baseball for many fans is that it is a pure sport that hasn't dramatically changed for over 100 years (certainly there have been advances in player training, in the ball, and in bat design, but those are fairly minor compared to the changes in many other sports). While a robot umpire would perhaps be more "accurate," it wouldn't make baseball a better game because it would be fundamentally making it a di
    • Why stop with just robot umpires? Why not robot players? Robot bats? Robot fans?

      Part of the allure of baseball for many fans is that it is a pure sport that hasn't dramatically changed for over 100 years (certainly there have been advances in player training, in the ball, and in bat design, but those are fairly minor compared to the changes in many other sports). While a robot umpire would perhaps be more "accurate," it wouldn't make baseball a better game because it would be fundamentally making it a different game.

      The "purity" of baseball is a myth. Take off the rose-colored glasses and wake up and smell the game-throwing [wikipedia.org], steroid abusing [wikipedia.org], racially-biased [smu.edu], and ethically bankrupt [wikipedia.org] reality that is MLB. To cite this fantasy purity as justification for not bringing in a machine that actually *is* pure in the sense you are using the word is fucking ludicrous.

  • Not to self-promote (or self-congratulate) but I wrote a story 5 years ago about just this subject, and even produced it as an audio play. It's free to listen at http://planetretcon.com/blog/?p=32 [planetretcon.com]

    I even set the story in 2011, though my reasoning was that 2011 was 5 years in the future from the time of production. The software works after some initial bugs, but there's just one final bug they can't correct.

  • You should have seen it!
  • I make a good bit of coin betting on pro sports, and participating in fantasy sports leagues. Removing the refs from pro baseball would blow an effective statistical model I've been using for nearly a decade. I've been pretty successful at predicting per game performances for pitchers (especially strike counts) in MLB by correlating the races of the homeplate umpire and the pitcher in question, and if the umpires are replaced by non-racially biased computers, I lose that edge. Unfortunately, somebody has [smu.edu]

Lo! Men have become the tool of their tools. -- Henry David Thoreau

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