If the ABS system comes to Triple-A, could MLB be far behind?

The automated balls and strikes system, known as ABS, is reportedly coming to all of Triple-A Baseball for the 2023 season. It is fair to assume this means the next stop could be the Major Leagues for the ABS system.

This is not necessarily a “robo-ump” system as some have called it and there will still be an umpire behind the plate on every pitch. But on pitches where a batter doesn’t swing, the ABS system and not the plate ump will determine whether the pitch was a ball or strike. My understand is the umpire wears an earpiece and gets the call. If it’s a strike he raises his arm as plate umpires have always done and a strike is called, although it would be the ABS system that determined that and not the ump.

The home plate umpire is still there to make those ABS calls known and also for checked swing calls and plays at the plate, etc.

According to this Jan. 12 story reported by ESPN (subscription may be required), the electronic strikezone will be used in all 30 Triple-A parks this season to include, of course Norfolk’s Harbor Park, the home of the Orioles’ Triple-A Norfolk Tides club. The report indicated half the Triple-A games will use the full ABS system for every pitch and half will use a challenge system that MLB also could implement one day. Under that system teams get three challenges a game, for pitchers and hitters. They can challenge a called pitch and ABS will determine ball or strike. If the challenging team is correct, they retain that challenge. If not, they lose it and are down to two remaining.

A twitter question I got raised an interesting point – will Harbor Park use the ABS system or the challenge system? Well, my understanding is it is likely all parks will use both, so all 30 Triple-A teams at home play about half the games with full ABS and half using the challenge system.

ABS uses cameras set up around the field and triangulates on the strike zone above home plate. After a pitch, when the batter doesn't swing, the system sends the call to the umpire.

A person sitting in the stands will also have a computer monitoring every pitch to ensure accuracy. The umpire has an earpiece to receive the information.

MLB will obviously closely monitor how this works in Triple-A and it was used in certain minor league games last year, to gather feedback. That feedback could determine whether the ABS system makes it to the majors, how and when. 

Why is ABS being considered for MLB?

Simple and this is my opinion, not fact. But some MLB umpires are just not consistently good at calling balls and strikes. With the advent of players making better swing decisions and learning the strikezone better than ever, I watch MLB games every night, thinking several of those players know the zone better than the men calling the actual balls and strikes. Too many missed pitches have brought us to this point.

An unintended consequence of this is how it will impact good defensive catchers that are outstanding at framing pitches. Well, it could make framing almost meaningless. Catchers have spent a lifetime working to have soft hands and make movements with their gloves to better frame pitches and buy pitchers strikes.

Their work here is vital to their pitchers. A catcher with solid framing skills can turn the first pitch of an at-bat into an 0-1 count rather than 1-0. Batters slugged .334 after an 0-1 count last season and .428 after a 1-0 count. 

O’s catcher Adley Rutschman, per Statcast, rated in the top 16 percent in the majors last year in framing. Statcast rated new O’s backup catcher James McCann in the top 36 percent for framing. Rutschman rated tied for ninth in the majors in framing strike rate at 49.6 percent, which is the percentage of borderline pitches he gets called as strikes via good framing. On the same list, McCann ranked tied for 21st at 48.1 percent. Both catchers are pretty good here and at least in 2023, their framing could make a big difference for O’s pitchers.

But if in the future, if MLB implements the ABS system full-time, it could negate the impact of catchers and their framing skills.

For now, we should keep in mind that MLB has not yet announced or confirmed the ESPN report that ABS is coming to all of Triple-A. And no one yet is talking about a date we could see the system in use in the majors. But it could be coming.

While it will diminish the framing skills of catchers, it would make ball and strike calls more accurate, taking the onus off a human and putting it all on technology.

Orioles make massive contribution to Baltimore nonprofit organization: Orioles chairman and CEO John Angelos and Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott gathered on the sixth floor of the B&O warehouse yesterday to announce the club's $5 million commitment to CollegeBound Foundation. 

The CollegeBound Foundation, is a multi-year support network dedicated to leading Baltimore City public school graduates through college by offering academic and personal guidance, empowering these students to successfully pursue and complete a college degree or other post-secondary options.

It is yet another way the Orioles are giving back to their city and the youth in the city in a very big way. For more on Monday press conference, click here





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