It’s no secret that Major League Baseball is looking for ways to speed up baseball games in an effort to increase the pace of play.
That’s why new rules like the three-batter minimum for relief pitchers and the extra-innings rule have been instituted in the last two seasons, but neither of those two rules have really had a significant impact on how long it takes for a game to finish.
If Major League Baseball is serious about finding a way to increase the pace of play and not make games take over three hours — and approach four hours — on most nights, the best way to do it is to institute an automatic umpire behind home plate to call balls and strikes.
This, of course, is a topic that has been discussed in recent years, but mostly just in the art of getting the most common call in baseball correct every single time. In reality, having an automatic strike zone would increase the pace of play — and more importantly, create more action — than just about any rule that Major League Baseball could institute.
A by rule strike zone
Having an automatic strike zone would allow for balls and strikes to be called exactly how they are meant to be called in the rule book. By rule, the strike zone is supposed to go from the height of the hitter’s knees to the middle of the chest. With the width of the zone being equal to that of the home plate.
If the strike zone was called consistently by automatic umpires, pitchers would inherently throw more strikes. The biggest reason for so many more walks across the sport is because MLB umpires have shrunk the actual strike zone from the knees to the belt.
If there are more strikes thrown, hitters will be forced to swing the bat more, which is going to increase the number of balls that are put in play. That’s really the biggest problem that Major League Baseball is trying to solve, how to put the ball in play on a regular basis. The more hitters swing, the more ball is put in play, which means there is more action.
According to The Ringer, in 2018, over 35% of at-bats ended in a walk, strikeout, or home run. Everyone agrees that home runs are entertaining, but watching a hitter trot to first base or slowly walk back to the dugout isn’t the definition of entertaining. The automatic strike zone would help get rid of the increased walk rate in Major League Baseball over the last few years.
In reality, the increased strike zone will put more balls in play, which creates more action and more active swinging of the bat, both of those are good things.
Getting it right
The other advantage of having an automatic strike zone is the advantage of getting the most common call in the game right every single time.
The advantage of instant replay in all sports is that we are guaranteed to see the right call made every single time. Baseball has benefited from this since fully instituting instant replay in 2014.
Obviously, fans don’t want to see balls and strikes challenged by managers in key moments, and that’s why Major League Baseball hasn’t made it available for teams to challenge balls and strikes, but having an automatic strike zone would ensure that the call is made correctly each time.
The technology also isn’t very difficult to put into place. Nearly every broadcast of Major League Games already has the virtual strike zone on the screen so viewers at home can see whether or not a pitch should be called a ball or strike. The most difficult thing about it is finding a way to communicate the correct call with the umpire, and that’s not even difficult. It’s as easy as giving the home plate umpire an earpiece to communicate the correct call.
As long as the communication is efficient, there is no reason not to bring an automatic strike zone into baseball. Every pitch is called correctly, and more balls will be put in play, which solves two of baseball’s bigger problems.