Nationals not ready to embrace computer-generated strike zone

The Atlantic League, an independent baseball league that has a three-year contract with Major League Baseball to experiment with new ideas, says that the computer-generated strike zone has been so successful, the system will be used the rest of the season.

The computerized system, called the Automated Ball-Strike System (ABS), will be used in the eight-team league, which includes the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in Waldorf. The technology will debut there Aug. 2.

The league used it for its All-Star Game in York, Pa., and the league president said that response from managers, players, umpires and fans was so overwhelmingly positive, the league decided to use for the rest of the season.

Basically, the plate umpire wears and earpiece that’s connected to an iPhone in his pocket. The earpiece sends a message to the umpire on whether the pitch is a ball or strike via Doppler radar.

Then, the umpire calls the pitch. There is no time elapsed.

Still, an umpire is needed behind the plate because the computer can miss a pitch, fail to call a pitch or call a strike on a ball that bounces in front of the plate and through the zone.

Also, check swings are not evaluated. And, an umpire can overrule the computer.

The Washington Post reports that the system has good support among Major League Baseball.

It may have struck a chord with the independent league, but an informal - and certainly unscientific - polling in the Nationals clubhouse this week tells a different story.

Ask Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki, and you could get one of those long, “Ahhhhhhhh, I don’t know” responses.

“It seems that’s where everyone is going, but it’s a tough one,’’ Suzuki says. “I don’t think it will be perfect. People will just start complaining about the computer.’‘

Reliever Fernando Rodney doesn’t like the electronics.

“Baseball works without the electronic strike zone,’’ Rodney says. “Baseball is never going to be perfect. Umpires are a part of the game. I don’t think the electronic strike zone is for everyone. I don’t like it.’‘

First baseman Matt Adams feels the same way: “I’m not for it. Baseball has had umpires since they days the games was invented. That’s all I am going to say.’‘

Second baseman Brian Dozier isn’t sure he’d like to see it in the big leagues. He says umpires do a great job and that the human element is part of the game. He doesn’t want the change.

Reliever Tony Sipp doesn’t like the system, but he does have suggestions for change.

“I don’t want them to take the human element from the game,’’ Sipp says. “The game is fine the way it is.’‘

However, Sipp has one suggestion. He worries that off-speed pitches that cross the plate in the zone but bounce in the dirt afterward might not be called fairly by a computer.

“I think pitchers should be given a challenge, if they think they threw a strike and it didn’t get called,’’ Sipp says. “That would be happy medium.’‘

Nationals manager Davey Martinez says automated strike zones are weird.

“I don’t mind umpires, they are part of the game,’’ he said. “I’d like to see the value and what the strike zone is going to be.’‘

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said that robot umpires are a long way to making it to the majors. He said it would have to pass tests in the Atlantic League as well as in other minor leagues before becoming part of the big leagues.

“We need to see how it works, first in the Atlantic League and then probably other places, meaning other parts of minor league baseball, before it comes to Major League Baseball,” Manfred said. “We kind of feel it’s incumbent on us to figure out whether we could make it work. And that’s what we’re doing.”