June 25th, 2024

MLB says robot home plate umpires unlikely for 2025

By Ronald Blum, The Associated Press on May 23, 2024.

NEW YORK (AP) – Major League Baseball says robot home plate umpires are unlikely for 2025.

“We still have some technical issues,” baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday at a news conference following an owners meeting. “We haven’t made as much progress in the minor leagues this year as we sort of hoped at this point. I think it’s becoming more and more likely that this will not be a go for ’25.”

MLB has been experimenting with the automated ball-strike system in minor leagues since 2019. It is being used at all Triple-A parks this year for the second straight season, the robot alone for the first three games of each series and a human with a challenge system in the final three.

“There’s a growing consensus in large part based on what we’re hearing from players that the challenge form should be the form of ABS if and when we bring it to the big leagues, at least as a starting point,” Manfred said. “I think that’s a good decision.”

After instituting a pitch clock in 2023, MLB slowed innovation this year, with only small rules adjustments.

“One thing we did learn with the changes that we went through last year, taking the extra time to make sure you have it right is definitely the best approach,” Manfred said. “I think we’re going to use that same approach here.”

Manfred said discussions have not taken place with the players’ association on the shape of an automated strike zone. There is little desire to call the strike zone as defined in the rule book as a cube. The ABS currently calls strikes solely based on where the ball crosses the midpoint of the plate, 8.5 inches from the front and the back.

“We have not started those conversations because we haven’t settled on what we think about it,” Manfred said.

MLB’s meetings with players revealed a preference for a challenge system in order to continue to incentivize catcher framing skills.

“Originally we thought everybody was going to be wholeheartedly in favour of the idea if you can get it right every single time, that’s a great idea,” Manfred said. “One thing we’ve learned in these meetings is the players feel there could be other effects on the game that would be negative if you use it full-blown.

“Players feel that a catcher that frames is part of the – if you’ll let me use the word – art of the game, and that if in fact framing is no longer important, the kind of players that would occupy that position might be different than they are today,” Manfred said. “You could hypothesize a world where instead of a framing catcher who’s focused on defence, the catching position becomes a more offensive player. That alters people’s careers. Those are real, legitimate concerns that we need to think all the way through before we jump off that bridge.”

UNIFORMS

John Slusher, Nike’s executive vice president of global sports marketing, spoke to owners about the company’s much-criticized new uniforms, which will be altered for 2025. MLB and Nike announced on May 3 that uniforms will have larger lettering on the back of jerseys and individual pants customization will be available to all players beginning in 2025.

“I think they appropriately took responsibility for the issues with respect to the new uniforms and the rollout of those uniforms,” Manfred said. “It’s the first time the owners had had heard this directly from Nike. They had been consistent with me about taking responsibility.”

Manfred said Nike said it will address “the letters, the non-customized pants, the sweat through and the lack of matching of the grays.”

WORLD BASEBALL CLASSIC

Manfred said Houston, Miami, San Juan and Tokyo will be sites for the 2026 World Baseball Classic. The final will be in Miami for the second tournament in a row, after 2023.

BASEBALLS

MLB has switched efforts to develop a tackier baseball and now is working with Rawlings, its supplier since 1977. MLB had been collaborating with Dow Chemical.

“Dow has kind of cried uncle,” Manfred said. “They spent a ton of money and worked with us. They were great partners, had a lot of good ideas and we just were not able to come up with a ball that was playable. We’re now focusing our efforts on a tacky ball with the Rawlings people.”

REGIONAL TELEVISION STRATEGY

MLB is strategizing on a broadcast strategy to cope with the decline in cable television.

Diamond Sports, which has been in bankruptcy proceedings since March 2023, has rights to 12 MLB teams.

“If I were a betting man, I think that Diamond continues to operate and pay our teams through the ’24 season,” Manfred said.

Manfred said there are two issues: whether MLB should take control of local rights from clubs and if that occurs, how to distribute revenue to clubs.

“For it to have any steam, the conversation about nationalization, I think it’s dependent on getting in the relatively short term some body of rights: 14, 15, 16, 17 clubs, and you’d start down the path from there,” Manfred said. “I’m not so naive as to believe two weeks from tomorrow I’m going to have all 30.”

SEASON STATS

The strikeout rate of 8.38 per team per game is down from 8.61 last year and the .240 big league batting average is down from .248 for last season and on track to be the lowest since 1968.

“Strikeout rate was down a little bit. That’s a positive,” Manfred said. “Batting average was down a little bit. That’s not necessarily a good thing if you’re looking for action in the game. But, again, it’s a part of a season and you just don’t know whether it means anything at this point.”

AMATEUR DRAFT

Manfred said the attention given to the debuts of Baltimore second baseman Jackson Holliday and Pittsburgh pitcher Paul Skenes was partly due to the decision to hold the amateur draft in conjunction with the All-Star Game starting in 2021 and broadcasting minor league games on MLB.tv.

“Over the long haul for players in terms of developing their individual brands, it’s a real improvement,” he said.

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AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB

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