According to ESPN, all 30 Class AAA ballparks will be using electronic strike zones during the 2023 season. As MLB aims to use the data and feedback from these games to inform future choices, the move marks another step toward possibly implementing this technology in the majors.
“We believe over the long haul it’s going to be more accurate, it’ll reduce controversy in the game and be good for the game,” said MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred during an interview with Fox Business. “We think it’s more accurate than a human being standing there. The current strike zone design is actually three-dimensional, and a camera is better at calling a three-dimensional strike zone than the human eye.”
The Automatic Balls and Strikes system, often referred to as ABS, will be deployed this year in two different ways. Half of the Class AAA games will be played with all calls determined by an electronic strike zone, and the other half will be played with an ABS challenge system. Similar to what is seen in professional tennis, the challenge system works by having a human umpire make the calls in real time, while each team is allotted a certain number of requests per game to have a call reviewed by the electronic system.
This is not the first time the league has tested electronic strike zones at lower levels of the game. In 2019, MLB tried out robotic umpires through a partnership with the Atlantic League, an independent baseball organization which was made up of eight teams at the time. That same year the Arizona Fall League adopted electronic strike zones as well to “very consistent” results. Two years later ABS was deployed in some Class A ballparks, and last season it was used for the first time in some Class AAA games.
“I’m not totally against it,” said Colorado Rockies outfielder and 2016 National League MVP Kris Bryant via The Athletic. “Umpires want to get the calls right. They’re not out there trying to influence the game one way or the other. If they have a tool at their advantage to every call right, that’s great.”
While there are currently no plans to bring electronic strike zones to the big leagues, there are other significant changes coming to baseball in the season ahead. With the use of a pitch clock, new regulations limiting defensive shifts, larger bases, and restrictions on pickoff attempts, MLB has shown that it is willing to evolve in an effort to make the game more exciting, and it may not be done yet.