Baseball, Bullsh*t, and BATS

Another Twins post-season, another sweeping loss to the Yankees amid controversy. Granted, I’m a biased Twins fan, but this time the technology exists to prove the Twins’ misgivings about umps were justified, and this episode could be a catalyst for a technological revolution in baseball.

First, a review from the article:

By now, the Minnesota Twins are used to crucial calls in the postseason going against them, though that doesn’t make them any less masochistic about it. When one happens, they want to see it.

And so they exited the dugout, took a right turn, then a left into the room that houses the BATS Video Coaching System. It replays pitches from any number of camera angles, and it affirmed their first impression: Hunter Wendelstedt, the umpire whose strike zone would’ve been bad for a Little League game, had indeed blown the most important call of the night. The tailing fastball from Carl Pavano had crossed home plate, and it should have been a called third strike on Lance Berkman for the second out of the seventh inning.

When Berkman slammed the next pitch over Denard Span’s head in center field for a go-ahead double in the New York Yankees’ 5-2 victory at Target Field, the Twins couldn’t help but lament their fortunes. Last postseason, a muffed call by umpire Phil Cuzzi cost them in an eventual Yankees sweep in the American League Division Series.

And so history repeats itself. It’s alright – there is next season, I suppose, and we do have Randy Moss back with the Vikings. However, this episode shouldn’t get swept under the rug or dismissed so quickly, and it isn’t just about the Twins. It raises serious questions about baseball’s already shaky integrity and how it impacts MLB’s revenue. You could argue that one bad umpire cost MLB a television slot, and cost hundreds of New Yorkers a day’s wages working Yankee Stadium because there was no fourth game. Yes – it really was that bad:

Here’s what can be said about the pitch to Berkman: It was a strike – in plain view, in slow motion and captured by the cameras of the Pitchf/x system that provides data on every pitch thrown today in the major leagues. Pitchf/x is the enemy of umpires because it holds them accountable and highlights their mistakes. And Thursday night, Hunter Wendelstedt made an unconscionable number of errors for a playoff umpire.

It wasn’t just the Berkman pitch. Wendelstedt’s strike zone was askew all night. A website called Brooks Baseball takes the Pitchf/x data and filters it by pitcher, at-bat and even umpire. With the umpiring data, the site calibrates each at-bat to reflect a hitter’s height, then puts out a data plot showing his accuracy on balls and strikes.

The Berkman pitch was one of 31 wrong calls by Wendelstedt. Thirteen other times he called a ball on a pitch inside the strike zone, one of them on a cutter to Derek Jeter that literally was in the center of the strike zone, at the belt, halving the plate. And 17 times – most of them actually benefitting Pavano – Wendelstedt called a strike on a pitch outside the zone.

This is not normal. It is not close. In the Atlanta-San Francisco game Thursday, Dana DeMuth missed nine calls. With Texas-Tampa Bay, Jim Wolf was wrong 12 times. Both were reasonable. Both, too, are good umpires

Ah – accountability. Anathema to toddlers, progressives, bureaucrats and baseball umpires everywhere. This digital revolution has already sparked debate on an increased role for instant replay. However:

This is a matter of integrity. Umpires, as Yankees manager Joe Girardi said, “aren’t robots, and they don’t have X-ray vision.” They must, however, live up to a high standard, and those who don’t ought to be jettisoned. Forget the union. MLB broke it once. Forget the politics. Baseball need not kowtow. There is too much at stake.

Huh. But… what if they were robots? Heck – they can make robots that do almost anything these days, even dance to Beck songs. Then we wouldn’t need instant replay on pitches because a robotic umpire would always have an accurate strike zone, properly adjusted to the hitter’s height. And best of all, robots would not demand a union contract. Maybe leave the humans in the field so they don’t feel threatened by the outsourced position of home plate going to the robots. And give the robots cool celebrity voices like Darth Vader. Go on, MLB. Embrace the Dark Side, I mean, technology.

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4 Responses to Baseball, Bullsh*t, and BATS

  1. 71lespaul says:

    Well I feel really bad for the Twins’ fans….
    OK I feel better now.

  2. Drae says:

    Imagine how cool “strike three” would sound if said by Darth Vader.

    • 71lespaul says:

      Putting Darth Vader as umpire would tend to discourage any players or coaches from arguing over balls and strikes. Might speed up the games a bit.

  3. Drae says:

    I think the idea of robot home umpires is the wave of the future. The technology is there. Maybe the Japanese will try this first since they do love robots and baseball.

    The Darth Vader voice has been added to GPS devices. I can’t imagine getting directions from Darth Vader, but there it is. Someone must want it or it wouldn’t be on the market… so adding that voice to home plate umpire robots seemed a natural progression. Vader needs a job too, you know.

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