Humans make mistakes. Computers don’t. That was the thought process behind the San Rafael Pacifics’ decision to use a “robotic umpire” to call strikes and balls during Tuesday night’s game against the Vallejo Admirals.
Contrary to the robotic fans a South Korean baseball team installed in the stands last year, however, this “robot,” dubbed Pitchf/x, does not have any humanoid features. Instead, the technology is composed of three cameras scattered high above the field that triangulate the ball’s location once it’s thrown. The results of the pitch then beamed to a computer screen where former Oakland A’s player-turned-analyst Eric Byrnes announced the call over the stadium’s loudspeakers.
“You face [Hall of Fame pitcher] Greg Maddux and he’d get a foot off the plate,” Byrnes told ArsTechnica.com. “So if we have a chance to get it right, if we have a chance to get a pitch every time, why would we not?”
And he has big expectations. “It will change everything. I truly believe it will,” Byrnes told CBS San Francisco.
But will it eliminate the need for human umpires altogether? At the moment that answer is no, Byrnes said.
“I’m not looking to eliminate any umpires, not one,” Byrnes said (via Ars) of the game-changing technology. “If anything, we’re essentially going to add an umpire.”
While the home plate umpire’s duties were greatly reduced on Tuesday, he played an important roll in calling fair and foul balls, as well as home-plate plays — two things to which the robot umpire is blind.
Pitchf/x technology may sound cutting edge, but it’s not new. According to the technology’s manufacturer Sportvision and MLB, it’s been installed in almost every major league stadium since 2007. It’s not used to make calls during games, but it is often used to give home audiences a view of the ball’s trajectory.
As far as how Tuesday night’s experiment went in the game between the two San Francisco-area independent league teams, most everyone sees it as a success — including the players.
“I feel like it speeds the game up more, it gets the hitters to swing at more pitches,” Vallejo Admirals third baseman Joshua Wong told Ars. “It’s good for the game. Just being more accurate and having better calls is going to help us more.”