MLB debuts 'robot umpires' for some Triple-A games as emergence in the majors looms

Umpire accuracy is a frustration for fans and players in nearly every game.

This season, MLB has launched so-called “robot umpires” in 11 Pacific Coast League Triple-A teams, putting it one step away from reaching the major leagues, to improve accuracy and reduce delays.

The automated balls and strikes system (ABS) debuted in a Las Vegas Aviators’ game earlier this month.

As cool and bizarre as it would be to see “Jetsons”-style robots on the field, most fans won’t notice the actual device — eight surveillance-looking cameras at the top of the bleachers.

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Home plate umpire Brian deBrauwere, left, huddles behind Freedom Division catcher James Skelton, of the York Revolution, as the official wears an earpiece during the first inning of the Atlantic League All-Star minor league baseball game, Wednesday, July 10, 2019, in York, Pa.

Home plate umpire Brian deBrauwere, left, huddles behind Freedom Division catcher James Skelton, of the York Revolution, as the official wears an earpiece during the first inning of the Atlantic League All-Star minor league baseball game, Wednesday, July 10, 2019, in York, Pa. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Like hot dogs and beer, some argue booing umpires for a bad call is a tradition at baseball games.

“Yelling at the umpire, just having a good time. You know, it makes the game feel authentic, makes it feel real,” said Ronaldo Echeverria, a Las Vegas Aviators fan.

But umpires make human errors, so MLB introduced an automated ball and strike system to increase the accuracy of calls and reduce delays.

Las Vegas Aviators Ballpark uses an automated ball and strike system. (Ashley Soriano/Fox News)

Las Vegas Aviators Ballpark uses an automated ball and strike system. (Ashley Soriano/Fox News) (Fox News)

“I think people have the misconception that it’s going to be a robot behind the plate. ‘Lost in Space’ is one of my favorite shows. It’s not the robot from ‘Lost in Space’ back there,” Jim Gemma, the Aviators’ media relations director, told Fox News Digital. “The umpire is going to have AirPods in, and the ball comes over… That basically tells them instantly if it’s a ball or strike.”

Cameras located at the top of the bleachers detect the strike zone based on the players’ height.

Major League Baseball debuted "robot umpires" in 11 Triple-A teams in mid-May.

Major League Baseball debuted “robot umpires” in 11 Triple-A teams in mid-May. (MLB)

Once it determines whether the pitch was a ball or strike, a robotic voice tells the umpire through an earpiece.

ABS was first introduced in July 2019 in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball.

It’s now reached the top of the minor leagues, and the majors could be next. 

“At the core, sport is a human endeavor, and we like to cheer for our fans. We like to vilify the umpires,” said Rayvon Fouché, a Purdue University professor of American Studies. “It’s a theater of sport and part of that would be lost if we moved to robotic officiating.” 

Fouché has studied technology in sports.

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He said there’s not yet enough evidence of whether this technology is improving umpires’ accuracy.

Fans are split.

The Las Vegas Aviators used the new ABS system at the team's first home game of the season on May 31. (Ashley Soriano/Fox News)

The Las Vegas Aviators used the new ABS system at the team’s first home game of the season on May 31. (Ashley Soriano/Fox News) (Fox News)

“It’s good in some ways, but not in baseball. Baseball’s an old-fashioned game,” David Baird, an Aviators fan, told Fox News Digital.

“In real high stakes situation like the World Series, we need the most accurate call possible you know,” Damian Young, another Aviators fan, added.

MLB has said it’s possible the system could eventually roll out in major league games, but they haven’t released a potential timeline.

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